Linux Conference Australia: Haecksen

January 29, 2013 § 5 Comments

After Radia Perlman’s keynote talk, I spent today at the Haecksen miniconference, which focuses on women in open source. It was great to see a mixed audience, rather than an all-woman audience.

While much of Radia Perlman‘s talk on networks was focused on technical systems that are beyond me, it was still interesting because she talked a bit about the reasoning behind the adoption of different network protocols. She emphasised that the protocols which are widely adopted are not always those that are best, and made it clear that the development of network technology doesn’t always follow a ‘rational’ path of development. I also liked that she illustrated her talk with references to her children: it’s good to have people talk about their work in ways that acknowledge that it’s just one part of their lives.

I gave the first talk at Haecksen, critiquing ‘open-source politics’: you can find my slides and the abstract here.

 

A bee and a bee-mimic.

One of these is a bee. One of these is not. It’s doing just fine anyway.

Denise Paolucci‘s talk on Overcoming Imposter Syndrome was great, and happily included quite a few tips:

  • Watch your language: don’t reinforce the problem, for example by saying that you’re “just” or “only” a beginner (or a researcher, or whatever it is you are); avoid “I think” – this is implied by what you’re saying; avoid saying that you “should have…” done things a certain way; you could try a ‘self-deprecating language’ jar.
  • Teach what you know, even if you think you don’t know it. Explaining something will help you to realise what you know.
  • Question corrections (especially nitpicking about small details, but also larger criticisms). Have faith in your own work, and remember that not all criticisms are legitimate.
  • Ask questions.
  • Ask for perspective checks from a friend.
  • Keep a list of your accomplishments.
  • Get background information for comparison: if your boss or colleague is being very critical, for example, there’s a chance that it’s not you. Talking to other people who have worked with this person might give you more of an idea of what’s going on.
  • Remember that you are awesome.

Denise also talked briefly about how helping other people overcome their imposter syndrome: by providing appropriate support and encouragement, Dreamwidth has ended up with contributions from a much more diverse range of people than most other projects.

Mortar damage to a road, filled in with red concrete.

A Sarajevo Rose, marking a fatal mortar attack. Joh used this image to emphasise the difference between real war and ‘cyberwar’.

Next up, Joh Pirie-Clark gave an excellent critique of ‘cyberwar’ rhetoric, Cyberwar: Mo’ Metaphor, Mo’ Money, Mo’ problems? She argued that the analogies we use to describe the world shape how we respond, and the language of ‘cyberwar’ is problematic because it applies terms that refer to massive damage and loss of life to digital attacks which, for the most part, don’t. For example, NZ laws around “making, selling, or possessing software for committing crime” are clearly modelled around drug and gun laws, whereas it would be far more appropriate to base them on dual-use tools (like crowbars) that have legal uses. The cyberwar narrative is building a million-dollar industry, particularly in the use, and contributing to a sense of states under siege by vague and shadowy sources.

After lunch, there were a couple of talks looking at cool geeky craft stuff: Kathy Reid talked about integrating the Arduino Lilypad with knitting projects, and Ruth Ellison spoke on laser-cut jewellery (including some cool climate data visualisation jewellery).

Fee Plumley‘s talk on Open Source Cities raised some interesting points about how we think about cities, diasporas, and nomadic living. I was quite uncomfortable with the use of the term gypsy throughout the talk (more about this here). I’m always nervous about raising issues with problematic language at conferences, but happily Fee was open and asked for more resources to read up on: always a good way of responding if you get a call-out, even if you ultimately don’t end up agreeing with what’s said. We all make mistakes, including me, and I’ve had some great moments of learning when people have pulled me up.

 

A room full of young women sitting at computers and smiling.

Click on the image to see Kate Miller’s slides.

Katie Miller spoke on programs for teaching school-aged girls how to use FOSS, using FOSS programs. She had some good suggestions on specific lessons learned, including the need to break up large chunks of text and to include examples. Jacinta Richardson’s suggestions on getting your conference talk accepted had helpful tips, especially for those starting out: think about how difficult it is to get accepted to a particular conference; make sure that you write well, because organisers are likely to use this is a shortcut to guessing whether you’re a good speaker (including using clear language good paragraph structure); skip titles like “x for fun and profit” and “making x sexy”; consider asking for help from people who know the area, including people from the papers committee.

While the technical content of Mary Gardiner and Breanna Laugher’s demonstration of py.test didn’t make much sense to me, I liked the format of the talk. Breanna gave instructions to Mary (who hadn’t used py.test before) on how to use it for various tasks and Mary typed up her work on the screen. This seems like a useful way to make discussions less abstract, as well as to ensure that issues an experienced user might forget to cover are made visible.

A crocheted toy robot.

(Not this robot.)

Finally, Samantha Cheah and Lauren Hassall talked about the Robogals project, which uses university volunteers to run robotics workshops for highschool students. These workshops are designed to introduce girls to engineering in a fun way, with positive and relatable role models. The project’s been very successful, with several chapters in the Asia-Pacific (including Perth), UK, and North America.
Despite some initial worries that my knowledge base is too far away from the focus of Linux Conference, it’s been great so far. Even talks where I didn’t get all the technical detail were useful in other ways, and of course it’s lovely to meet new people, as well as meeting people in person who I usually only see online.

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§ 5 Responses to Linux Conference Australia: Haecksen

  • Anonymous says:

    I very much like your slides responding to the idea of “open-source politics” (and much of what you said applies to “tech politics” or “geek politics” in general). I agree with many of the points you’ve made, and I thank you for making them.

    One point I think many advocates of “geek politics” neglect as well, which I think you’ve touched on several aspects of in your slides: the assumption that a significant number of “geeks” will agree on points not related to geekdom.

    Sure, you could probably get near 100% consensus on things like “don’t regulate the Internet” or “repeal laws that make bypassing DRM a criminal offense”. There are also a small handful of broader “ought to be common sense” issues on which geeks are ahead of most, such as the rights of many minority groups not currently recognized well, or the “we need to do something, this is something, we need to do this” of security theatre.

    However, when it comes to most non-geek politics, I think the only statements you’d get anywhere close to universal consensus on would be those expressing general dissatisfaction with the current state of government, such as “traditional two-party politics is broken and doesn’t differ on important issues” or “my government doesn’t represent me very well”.

    Beyond that, I’d say geeks are more likely than most to hold minority views and principles, but those views may vary from extreme socialism to extreme libertarianism to fascinating hybrids of both on an issue-by-issue basis. I’ve found most “geek politics” groups fairly biased towards one or the other of those extremes, and those groups typically treat views that oppose in meaningful ways as actively offensive (in an “I feel like I need to leave this room before the glares incinerate me” way).

    • sky says:

      Hi! Yes, this talk was specifically looking at efforts to apply the principles of FOSS to politics, but much of what I’ve said is more broadly applicable, as you’ve said. Happily, I don’t think I had to deal with any fierce glares at LCA (or if I did I missed them). Mostly people had interesting things to say, even when they were critical.

  • Matt Tyler says:

    Sounds like it was an interesting conference. I’d love to go LCA one day. Delighted to see that Robogals was represent; I am the training manager at Robogals Perth!

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