Older blog entries for Skud (starting at number 232)

What I’m working on

I emerged from WisCon last weekend invigorated and inspired (and, okay, a bit sleep deprived). I have a whole lot of new things I want to work on, in addition to all the things I’m already doing, and I thought I might just take the time to write down what my current projects are, since I realised that even I don’t have a clear idea of them all, let alone making them clear to other people.

And so:

  • Growstuff – founder and tech lead on this open source/open data project for people who grow their own food.
    • Working on a combination of features and developer experience (i.e. making it nicer/easier for developers to contribute)
    • We have/had a side-project app, Pear, for arranging pair programming sessions across different timezones, but it wasn’t entirely working out for us, so I’m not sure what its future is; still, I think it was a good concept and I’m hoping we can find the time/inspiration to make it more useful.
    • By the way, Growstuff is having a hack night in San Francisco on the 18th of June.
  • 3000 Acres – tech lead for this non-profit which is helping people in Melbourne start community gardens on vacant land
    • I’ve mostly been working on features but now I’m shifting my efforts more toward…
    • … nurturing our nascent volunteer tech community, documenting our code and processes, etc, so that the project can be maintained beyond the initial government grant funding.
    • Soon, I hope this platform will be rolling out to other Australian cities and that I can be involved with that.
  • I do some tech work for Appropedia, a wiki of sustainable solutions to the world’s problems. It’s Semantic Mediawiki and my work is a mix of sysadmin, wiki admin, and semantic ontology stuff.
  • I just volunteered to help WisCon with their open source app for managing conventions; WisCon’s programming is democratic and mostly panel-based, and their code is used by at least one other SFF convention, but if improved could be used by more cons and attract more developers. I’m particularly interested in developer experience (DX), best practices for open source projects, and making it easier for people to contribute. Not sure where this will lead but I have a lot of ideas buzzing, and I’m looking forward to talking more with them about it.
  • As an offshoot of working on various non-profit tech projects, I wrote I want to help!, a set of questionaires to help techies talk to non-profits or other such orgs about their tech needs, rather than just swanning in with an “I know what you need!” attitude (something I struggle with myself).
  • I founded and am still actively involved in the Geek Feminism wiki and blog, although I have stepped down from some of my administrative duties there (and I’m really glad we are finding more sustainable/higher-bus-number ways of admining those resources/communities!).
    • One resource I’m working on at present (we started the draft at WisCon) is a document of resources for therapists, aka a FAQ/101 document on misogyny in tech/geek circles that you can give to your therapist to bring them up to speed, because we’re all sick of explaining this stuff over and over again. We also hope to make a list of tech-misogyny-aware therapists so that those of us facing harassment/etc can find support without having to do a heap of education first.
    • I am co-organising a gathering of Australian feminists (especially those within a degree or two of separation from Geek Feminism) to be held later this year. I’m hoping this weekend-long event will be an incubator for more geeky feminist stuff in Australia.
  • I co-founded a women’s tech meetup group in Melbourne called the Disreputable Order of Hopperites. It’s on hiatus as all the organisers moved away, but I don’t consider it dead and am wondering how/whether to revive it, either locally or as a concept that can be spread to other geographical areas. I really loved the format (women + guests, short talks on technical subjects, grassroots/non-commercial, and aimed at a variety of skill levels) and wish there were more of that around.
  • In collaboration with a handful of artists and beta-readers, I’m working on a zine about genderqueer/non-binary genders/etc, probably about 40 pages long, full of 101-level information and resources for people who are exploring non-binary gender or for their friends/family/associates/allies to understand them better.
  • I am also working on a zine about sandwiches, which is actually a stealth manifesto about home cooking. It’s aimed at people who are daunted and frustrated by trying to learn to cook and by “easy”/”beginner” cookbooks that assume too much. Making sandwiches is pretty un-daunting, though, and you can learn an awful lot by doing it, if you just realise that even things as basic as going to the supermarket, estimating quantities, choosing flavours you enjoy, and knowing what’s in your fridge/pantry are skills that you can learn and improve.
  • I run a monthly craft night at my house. This is my first step in trying to open my home up to a variety of community activities/gatherings. I have the space for it and love hosting, so I want more of this. (I also host ad-hoc food preservation days, and hope to do more of that.)
  • I’m preparing two talks for Open Source Bridge this year:
    • a history of Geek Feminism and lessons learned so far; as part of this I have been preparing the Geek Feminism Family Tree documenting which geeky/feminist/women-in-blah orgs influenced which others, and so on.
    • “knitting for programmers” — teaching design patterns in knitting so that if you know the basic stitches, you can knit any garment
  • I co-created and maintain Written? Kitten!, a writing productivity tool used by about 30,000 writers every month (and more around november during NaNoWriMo). You write 100 words, you get rewarded by a cute fuzzy kitten (or puppy or bunny or whatever). Surprisingly, and yet unsurprisingly, popular!
  • A few months ago, I taught at the first iteration of the Fitzroy Institute of Getting Shit Done, a bootcamp style event for people who want to learn how to, well, do what it says on the tin. I was their “technology expert” (I feel funny saying that, but probably shouldn’t) and taught a mostly non-technical class about how to communicate about technical ideas, choose tech platforms/products, manage tech projects, and spread their ideas through openness (licensing, APIs, etc). I really want to teach this, or something like it, again — especially to social enterprises, non-profits, and others doing Good Things.

I think that’s most of what I’ve been up to this year. No wonder I feel busy.

Many/most of these projects are open/community-based and welcome volunteers — if you’re interested, drop me a line.

Or, you can help support my work through Gittip. I find it hard to ask for money this way, but your support really does make a difference to my ability to do non-commercial/open/community-based stuff, so if you value my work please consider tossing a few bucks my way.

Syndicated 2014-06-03 16:05:12 from Infotropism


Growstuff website screenshot

Growstuff is a website for people who grow their own food. Here's a picture: Growstuff website screenshot

Syndicated 2014-05-28 19:02:02 from Infotropism


Screenshot 2014-05-27 16.48.42

Growstuff is a website for people who grow their own food. Screenshot 2014-05-27 16.48.42

Syndicated 2014-05-27 21:20:36 from Infotropism

You don’t need to change all your passwords

This is probably going to be a wildly unpopular opinion and IDGAF. So many of my non-technical friends are freaking out that I feel the need to provide a bit of reassurance/reality.

First, an analogy.

In 2005 we learned that you can open a Kryptonite U-lock with a ballpoint pen. Everyone freaked out and changed their bike locks ASAP. Remember that?

Now, I wasn’t riding a bike at the time, but I started riding a bike a few years later in San Francisco, and I know how widespread bike theft is there. I used multiple levels of protection for my bike: a good lock, fancy locking posts on the seat and handlebars, and I parked my bike somewhere secure (work, home) about 90% of the time and only locked it up in public for short periods. Everywhere I went I saw sad, dismembered bike frames hanging forlornly from railings, reminding me of the danger. Those were paranoid times, and if I’d been riding in SF in 2005 you can bet I would have been first in line to replace my U-lock.

These days I live in Ballarat, a country town in Victoria, Australia. Few people ride bikes here and even fewer steal them. I happily leave my bike unlocked on friends’ front porches, dump it under a tree while I watch birds on the lake, lean it against the front of a shop just locked to itself while I grab a coffee, or park it outside divey music venues while I attend gigs late at night. I have approximately zero expectation of anything happening to it. If I heard that my bike lock had been compromised, I wouldn’t be in too desperate a hurry to change it.

Here’s the thing: if you are an ordinary Jane or Joe living the Internet equivalent of my cycling life in Ballarat, you don’t need to freak out about this thing.

Here are some websites I use where I’m not going to bother changing my password:

  • The place where I save interesting recipes
  • The one I go to to look at gifs of people in bands
  • That guitar forum
  • The one with the cool jewelry
  • The wiki I edit occasionally
  • The social network I only signed up for out of a sense of obligation but never use

Why? Because a) probably nobody’s going to bother trying to steal the passwords from there, and b) even if they did, so what?

This Heartbleed bug effectively reduces the privacy of an SSL-protected site (one whose URL starts with https://, which will probably show a lock in your browser’s address bar) to that of one without. Would you login to a site without SSL? Do you even know if the site uses SSL? If you’d login to your pet/recipe/knitting/music site anyway — if you’d do it from a coffee shop or airport — if you’d do it from a laptop or tablet or phone doesn’t have a strong password on it — if you don’t use two-factor authentication or don’t know what that means — then basically this won’t matter to you.

(I’m not saying it shouldn’t matter. You should probably set strong passwords and use VPNs and two-factor authentication. Just like you should probably lock your bike up everywhere you go, floss, and get your pap smears on the regular. Right? Right? *crickets*)

So if you’re a regular Jane — not working in IT security, not keeping state secrets, etc — here’s where you really need to change your passwords:

  • Any site you use to login to other sites (eg. Google, Facebook)
  • Any site that gives access to a good chunk of your money with just your password (eg. your bank, PayPal, Amazon)

(To do this: use this site to check if the site in question is affected, then if it’s “all clear” change your password. Don’t bother changing your password on a still-affected site, as that defeats the purpose. Oh, and you should probably change your passwords on those sites semi-regularly anyway, like maybe when you change the batteries in your smoke alarm. Which I just realised I should have done the other day and didn’t. Which tells you everything, really.)

Beyond those couple of key websites, you need to do a little risk assessment. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Has anyone ever heard of this site? Does anyone care? Is it likely to be a target of ominous dudes in balaclavas?
  • If I lost my login to this site, or someone could snoop what I had on that account, what is the worst that could happen?

If your answer is “I’d lose my job” or “I absolutely cannot survive without my extensive collection of Bucky/Steve fanart” then by all means change your password.

If your answer is “Eh, I’d sign up for a new one” or “Wait, even I’d forgotten that site existed” then you can probably stop freaking out quite so much.

DISCLAIMER: I am not an Internet security expert, just a moderately well-informed techhead. Some people, including better-informed ones, will disagree with me. You take this advice at your own risk. La la la what the fuck ever, you’ll most likely be fine.

Syndicated 2014-04-09 00:21:46 from Infotropism

Seeking a volunteer for 3000 Acres (Melbourne, Australia)

As you might know, I’ve been working on 3000 Acres over the last few months. My time there is almost up and they’re looking for volunteers to continue developing the site. If anyone in the Melbourne area is interested in working with me on this, and then taking it over, please get in touch! It would be a great way to get involved in a tech project for sustainability/social good, and the 3000 Acres team are lovely people with a great vision. Feel free to drop me an email or ping me via whatever other means is convenient, and please help us get the word out.

3000 Acres connects people with vacant land to help them start community gardens. In 2013 3000 Acres was the winner of the VicHealth Seed Challenge, and is supported by VicHealth and The Australian Centre for Social Innnovation (TACSI) along with a range of partners from the sustainability, horticulture, and urban planning fields. We are in the process of incorporating as a non-profit.

Our website, which is the main way people interact with us, launched in February 2014. The site helps people map vacant lots, connect with other community members, and find community garden resources. Since our launch we have continued to improve and add features to our site.

So far, our web development has been done by one part-time developer. We are looking for another (or multiple) volunteer developers to help us continue to improve the site, and to help make our code ready to roll out to other cities.

We’re looking for someone with the following skills and experience:

  • Intermediate level Rails experience (or less Rails experience but strong backend web experience in general). You should be comfortable using an MVC framework, designing data structures, coding complex features, etc.
  • Comfort with CSS and Javascript (we mostly use Bootstrap 3.0 and Leaflet.js) and with light design work (eg. layout, icons)
  • Familiarity with agile software development, including iteration planning, test driven development, continuous integration, etc.
  • Strong communication skills: you’ll particularly use them for writing web copy, advising on information architecture, and project management.
  • You should be in Melbourne or able to travel regularly to Melbourne to meet with us. Phone, Skype, and screen sharing may also be used — our current developer is based in Ballarat.

We welcome applications from people of diverse backgrounds, and are flexible in our requirements; if you think you have skills that would work, even if they don’t match the above description exactly, please get in touch.

We envision this role being around 8 hours a week ongoing (somewhat flexible, and mostly from your own location). Initially you will work closely with our current developer, who can provide in-depth training/mentoring and documentation on our existing infrastructure and processes. Over the next 3 months you will become increasingly independent, after which time you will be expected to be able to create and maintain high-quality code without close technical supervision.

For more information you can check out:

If you’re interested in working with us, please drop Alex an email at skud@growstuff.org. No resume required — just let us know a bit about yourself, your experience, and why you want to work with us. If you can show us an example of some relevant work you’ve done in the past, that would be fantastic.

Syndicated 2014-04-08 04:12:33 from Infotropism

Post offices in the US: a guide for Australians

This holiday season I’ve had a few Australian friends travelling in the US, and something I’ve seen repeatedly on Twitter is, basically, this:


— lianaskewes (@lianasmooz) January 2, 2014

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