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Zack Rogoff
Campaigns Coordinator
Thanks new and old friends for making LibrePlanet awesome.
Sumana Harihareswara
Coding and Management with GNOME, Mailman, MediaWiki, Wikimedia. Writing for, GeekFeminism.
Inessential Weirdnesses in Free Software was last year, very popular,
available on
She has a very unconventionally structured talk for you today. But before
that, she's going to draw the last two prizes
*draws numbers*
I'd like to thank the FSF, the MIT SIPB, LibrePlanet and it's sponsors, and
you for staying here and listening.
I acknowledge the Wampanoag People, and the involuntary and exploited labor
from the people from all the lands that created Cambridge.
I'm wearing appropriate garb. (Shows off Tshirt from late 90's EFF days)
I arrived in Berkeley, and fell in with the Hippy Nerds. I learned about FOSS,
and the GPL, and reading Slashdot, and installed maybe Mandrake on a 386, and
that set me on the path I'm on today. Since 2009, I've worked and made my
living or endeavored to exchange my labor for money in Free Software. My
personal connections, my hobbies, my spouse, have all been part of FOSS.
What do I wish I could have learned just a smidge earlier. I'm in front of a
Sci-fi author, so I need to establish some time-travel rules:
I can't say "you should take time off of school and design ballots in
I'm taking inspiration from the infinite wrench.
24 - Rumpelstiltskin fallacy
Naming a problem is enough to make it disappear. Myth of Rumpelstiltskin...
tl;dr, a person has to give their first born child to a demon. When you say
it's true name in the myth, it stamps it's foot and tears itself in half.
In the real world, just saying "this is the X problem" doesn't make the demon
stamp it's foot and tear itself in half
29 - bug tracker v 10x programmer
We all must have this ability to be a part of the community. Anyone can submit
a bug to the tracker. What does it mean to have a wiki that anyone can
contribute to. It is the case, that anyone, whom I've never met, that doesn't
look or sound like me, may have a better idea than me. We should listen. We're
demonstrating it.
Then there's the programmer who's like the John Henry of Code. Why would you
ever listen to the crowd? Allowing for the possibility that a stranger may be
smarter than you, is stronger than the myth that you can be a code autocrat.
20 - Different people learn differently
There is a myth I ran into early on, very Paul Graham-y, "the really good
people..." "well, you know..." anybody can just learn by themselves if they
want. Really great contributors are auto-didacts. Why give any mentorships? I
met a guy who said "no one ever became a better engineer from mentoring?"
Guffaw. There were no emoji back then for the tiny bits of spit
escaping my lips. Learning styles may not be connected with learning
outcomes, but FOSS, we are not that great who want structured
apprenticeship. We have this "aftermarket add-ons" like Outreachy and
GSOC, but that's not built in. If they're already in community, versus
joining the community via means of contribution. Look up Dr. Mel Chua who has a great blog posts I wish I could.
11 - Describe more than prescribe, and watch out
When I'm talking about what works and what doesn't, I try to say more about
what seems to be the case in a descriptive way. If I'm being prescriptive,
about what "ought" to happen, I'm careful to say "this is what I should do" vs
"You, second person singular" or "Y'all" third person singular. In thinking and
reasoning and listening, it would benefit young Sumana, when they say "You
should do X" they are talking about themselves.
26 - Freedom, Safety, OpSec
You may have seen my OSBridge Keynote from 2012
. I was talking about my family background, Indian raised in the
states, they wanted to keep me safe. They wanted me to be happy, and
believed much would be in keeping the faith(?) I was about to enter
the shaky process of stopping the process of holding safety
highly. Not physical, but the emotional safety of failure exploration
On the National security level, not on that, but in our individual lives. We
need to make choices to stay emotionally vulnerable, like asking questions in
public where you may get judged on your ignorance.
I wish I could tell Sumana earlier that sometimes free is better than safe,
and you can take steps earlier that feel like People are judging, and you are
uncertain, but that is what learning is. The feeling of being uncertain and
uncomfortable can feel unsafe until you know the difference. Those risks, like
saying something unpopular online, you shouldn't need the OpSec of Jason
Bourne to live online. (knowing laughter)
No one should have to put so much effort into avoiding divulging PII. I would
encourage 98 me to take care about not putting ID online, but also putting
shoulder to wheel on making sure others don't need to either.
4 - ASCII and Sovereignty
I wish I had told me of 98, please please, everytime that you save
data, make sure you save it in an open format. Don't trust Corel
WordPerfect's format. Don't upload the fun music to Google Video,
cause they'll take it down and you'll never get it back. If I had only
saved lots of stuff, and took better care of my data. Realizing that
I was the master of this, and once I upload, I cannot analyze,
correct, or give it away, and it will go away without notice.
8 - People keep dying
When i was that young, I was really fortunate. I think that, I dunno,
that I had not experienced a difficult death of anyone close to
me. Many by the first year of college have. Therefor, it came as a
shock, when a prof died. Then it happened again. And Again. OK,
alright, fine, old people, they will die, sure, but I never had braced
myself when people my age, or younger, that maybe I knew through this
community died. Like Aaron Swartz. Or last year, in 2016, I found out
in 2 days in a row, that 2 people in Wikimedia, Kevin Gorman and Chip
Deubner, both died. I was rocked. Every year, for the rest of my life,
I need to budget ahead for grief. There'll be days that are for sick
days, or vacation, but there'll be days that will come from people who
die, and it will increase faster than I expected. And People will
leave our community. I talked to someone recently, who wasn't feeling
so great, and he does great stuff. He said I was the first one who
noticed or said anything.
What the hell, what civilization are we that doesn't take care of others
through the whole cycle.
19 -
When I arrived in 98, I had a set of people who's work I got introduced to.
These are the people who's words and Ideas you need to follow, and they come
to campus. None were women, all were white. We didn't talk about the
contributions that women made to free software. We didn't talk about the
contributions of people like me, who look like me, made to the infrastructure.
I talked about Linus, and RMS, and ESR.
I was at the MLK student Union, to see a panel, with Linus. The CS student
assoc got ESR to come, and he couldn't make it, and there was sadness. First
time I saw RMS, it was a similar thing. All these people made contributions,
and then all of them showed their colors.
Sometimes they don't return the respect you show them.
98 wasn't then
Alex Bayley, founded Geek Feminism
Ashe Dryden, done a tremendous amount of work to make Ruby and Free Software
so many people in this room, I wish I met you in 98, but I didn't know to
look. I didn't know to look for Aaron, or Chelsea Manning, or Eddy Snowden. If we called him Eddy (Snowden) would that make him more approachable???
(big laughs)
I wish I knew earlier the decisiveness and charisma, and self-confidence, can
be a Warning sign as much as a useful trait. This is one of those "I mourn my
own innocence" no, I wish I had a dossier.
17 - Enlightened Self-interest versus infrastructure
Maybe this was in CatB, but it is in the enlightened self interest to support
infra, of course they'll just do it, right? (I wrote 'hahahaha' in my notes.)
just because it is the right idea, you may have written a silly poem about it.
It turns out that money is not available for things that need doing, that are
not visibly salient to those with the purse strings. Call it greed, call it
shortsightedness. Standard anti-feature, but it seems like what we do. So many
people came to help heartbleed?
The angst that come from predictable tragedies. The invisible 90% of the
iceberg will hit. You really gotta learn the skill of making that thing
salient, so those with the purse string people know why to support it, or just
control the strings directly.
12 - That person who thinks they are contrarian, but they are conforming to
the same beat of the different drummer as all their friends. It is important
to get the word out.
Community sounds great.
Society sounds awful.
Marketing sounds awful.
I did work for GNOME, and it sounded like "hey neighbors, here is where the
recycling bins should now go." If it hadn't been for that insight, I might
still be here saying "marketing/self-promotion?" Why doesn't anyone know about
my work?
It doesn't have to be gross. It is harder to read code than write it. There is
a missing balance in execution in tasks. To help curb that, lets mention a
Jupyter and Jupyter notebooks are a great way to collaborate with people.
Great for Scientific computering.
Library Simplified. Initiative by libraries that lend books kind, including
NYPL, to make it easier to borrow ebooks. There is a bunch of LibreSoftware.
Zulip. This is a free software for groupchat. Python, Django. We did zulip
bot, which makes it easier to deal with organizations. GitHub believes that
maintainership is binary, not like "I want notifications for this part of the
repo" for example. We have great standards for engineering.
Software Carpentry. Project to get researchers to use free software and tools.
Dreamwidth. Fork of Livejournal. Very friendly community. Emphasizing metrics
and teaching, and doesn't use mailing lists.
Beautiful Soup
Archive Of Our Own
GNU Mailman 3
Be unsurprised by ignorance. Marketing.
15 - FLOSS people aren't all like Seth Schoen.
He's the Free Software version of Mr. Rogers. Imagine if that first person
you met was Mr. R, and everyone was like him?
I met a bunch of nerds in my dorm, and i met this person who "wouldn't even
windows." and "have you ever read Slashdot" and gave me a copy of "In the
beginning there was the command line" I saw him preaching the GPL in the
plaza once I think :P
If you say something inaccurate, or you don't know something, he doesn't do
that "well actually" or "you don't know that???" he'd say in a collaborative
or curious thing to understand where your mental models diverge. Maybe he's
wrong about the root of the word, or how Debian pacakaging works? For those of
you who are not TV watchers, there was this guy named Fred Rogers, who was the
most kind person on TV, and consistently demonstrating that you can be your
best, and that you can use emotional self-regulation even when it's hard. I
thought everyone was like this...
(big laughs)
Then there's like Hans Reiser. The people who offered me the greatest
Betrayals, they too, were free software people. I'm gonna think for a second
about the stuff I can't say. Maybe you have some stories you can't talk about.
Maybe I can tell those to Sumana. Why did you do that to me?
33 - No one is Yudishthira
He is so pure and so good and so full of integrity, his chariot floats above
the ground. You can be pure on one axis, but my taxes pay for Dronestrikes.
None of us.
Harm reduction.
[buzzer goes off]
I'm really grateful. Is anyone frustrated that we didn't get all the way
through? I could post these on my blog later. I know that some of you wanted
to know everything on the menu, and that you can see the things you are
missing out on, but the people we are trying to reach, they don't know that
frustration that will get them to act, because they don't know what they are
being denied or deserved.
We Haven't done the work that gives them the menu that shows them what to be
angry that they are being denied. Those people who are contributing, we're only
dimly aware, by looking more inward than outward about our communities.
That FOMO, I didn't get to go to FOSDEM, the social comparison, or
completionism , is often
about the wrong things. I wish that young Sumana spent more time
learning the languages that my parents speak. I wish that I had kept
my Russian.
Reading wisely, and learning to learn perspectives of People not like you, as
a strategy of .... by Vajra Chandrasekera
To read widely, is to learn, using sense of touch in the dark, where you scars
I wish that younger Sumana might have learned earlier, something that I'm
still struggling with now. The willingness to be wrong, to live with tension
and ambiguity, and to not shrink from contradiction but meditate on it.
Humility, and Seth, and the ways we can be. We have this amazing strength, to
find out we're long. Do you let people report bugs to you? Or report bugs
against yourself?
Young Sumana I wish you could have learned earlier, how to be OK with being
wrong. It is better to be wrong than to stay wrong, and it doesn't have to be
a shameful thing. It can make you a better person.
That is my advice to you.
Thank you.
(standing Ovation)
Thanks for coming out, we have some acknowlegements
Thank you all for coming. Thanks to the folks who made this possible. First of
all, volunteers, can I get a round of applause.
Thank you sponsors
Thank you exhibitors
Thank you Staff
If you want to leave some feedback, in the spirit of Sumana's talk, we'll take
it to heart. or paper at welcome desk
You'll be happy to know there is one more social event. The classic Grendel's
I hope to see you all at LibrePlanet 2018, and until then, Happy Hacking.
I really appreciate Sam Duchovny, our main rep from SIPB. The student
group made it so we can have our conference here the last 4 years.
It is a great privilege for MIT to have LibrePlanet here and I hope to
have you back next year.
these folks worked really hard for you, starting in about August, so one
more round of applause, then let's head out.
Thank you!