Tag Archives: blogging

Man's face in profile overlaid with mask in profile

Quick hit: the science front of nymwars

While the discussions about pseudonym use on Google+ continues on, there’s a different front that opened up in mid-August: Science Blogs, which is the home of a huge number of top science blogs, has decided to end psuedonymnous blogging.

On August 18, biomedical researcher DrugMonkey wrote:

I have just been informed that ScienceBlogs will no longer be hosting anonymous or pseudonymous bloggers. In case you are interested, despite extensive communication from many of us as to why we blog under pseudonyms, I have not been given any rationale or reason for this move. Particularly, no rationale or reason that responds to the many valid points raised by the pseudonymous folks.

Years ago, Janet D. Stemwedel wrote a scientific-career-focussed list of reasons to use a pseudonym:

You are a student whose advisor will equate your blogging with time not spent doing research… You are trying to get a promotion/tenure and you have no idea how the committees that will be deciding whether to promote/tenure you view blogging… Blogging about what you blog about under your own name might significantly reduce your safety. (This might include doing research with animals, providing reproductive health care services…)

Closely following this, epidemiologist René Najera was tracked down by an online opponent and this resulted in his employer asking him to stop blogging. Tara C. Smith writes that science blogging isn’t new to this:

These things aren’t just theoretical. HIV denier Andrew Maniotis showed up, unannounced, at my work office one day a few years ago. The recently-arrested “David Mabus” showed up at an atheist convention.

Maggie Koerth-Baker has a great piece at Boing Boing about the difference between being a professional writer and a scientist¸ which also has links to a lot of discussion in and near the Science Blogs community:

I know who DrugMonkey is [in the sense of knowing his pseudonymous persona] and I know that he has to be as responsible for everything he writes under that name as I am responsible for what I write as Maggie Koerth-Baker. The difference is that writing is my profession. It’s not his. Instead, he has to balance the needs of a profession in laboratory science with the needs of a writing hobby.

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Linkspamming saves lives (3rd August, 2011)

  • A timely reminder: are you running a blog? Make automated backups and store them on a different server to your blog in case of disaster. For WordPress, two plugins that will email you backups on a schedule are Online Backup for WordPress (both database and WordPress installation) and WordPress Database Backup (database only).
  • Pseudonyms:
    • My Name Is Me: Be Yourself Online. Statements in support of pseudonymity. Share the link, and if you are well-known or respected and support the use of nicknames or pseudonyms online, consider making a statement.
    • Electronic Frontier Foundation: A Case for Pseudonyms: It is not incumbent upon strict real-name policy advocates to show that policies insisting on the use of real names have an upside. It is incumbent upon them to demonstrate that these benefits outweigh some very serious drawbacks.
  • Women, Let’s Claim Wikipedia! : Ms Magazine Blog: I believe that more women would be involved in editing Wikipedia if it were a social activity, rather than an insular one, so I hosted a WikiWomen party at my house to make the experience collaborative. In attendance were five female chemists: myself, Anna Goldstein, Rebecca Murphy, Chelsea Gordon and Helen Yu. We started the night with a dinner, over which we discussed the experience of being a graduate student and how writing for Wikipedia compares to teaching undergraduates.
  • In praise of Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger series, praising the series that wasn’t, and The Further Adventures of Hermione Granger
  • Factors Influencing Participant Satisfaction with Free/Libre and Open Source Software Projects:

    The purpose of this research was to identify factors that affect participants’ satisfaction with their experience of a free/libre open source software (FLOSS) project. […] The central research question it answered was, What factors influence participant satisfaction with a free/libre and open source application software project? […] These suggest that being able to be an active participant in a FLOSS project is one factor that should be examined, and therefore the first sub-question this project answers is, What types of contributions do participants make to free/libre and open source software projects? […] Do the factors that influence satisfaction vary for different types of participation? If so, in what way?

  • New Toronto Initiative Supports First-Time Female Game Developers – Torontoist: A new program, the Difference Engine Initiative, to support women wanting to make their first video game will be starting up in Toronto next month.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Wikipedia and non-mainstream views

I was cynical about Wikipedia’s openness to minority views in the comments of a previous post, I’m a woman, and I’ve edited Wikipedia. Based on past experience as a former, obsessive Wikipedia editor several years ago, I felt that Wikipedia’s notability guidelines amplified mainstream views while suppressing non-mainstream views. This works for dealing with quackery, but it also frames white, male worldviews as objective and universal.

However, it’s not all hopeless.

David Sindel has edited the Wikipedia article on Rape culture (trigger warning) by including prominent examples of rape culture: people defending Roman Polanski, Julian Assange, and Penny Arcade because they are famous. I thought that the protests of feminist and survivor bloggers (and microbloggers) would be considered non-notable, but his edits remain.

(David Sindel had e-mailed me to ask about other examples of rape culture criticisms that have received press coverage. Do you know of others?)

I also checked out the unfortunate Nice Guy Wikipedia article just now, and it now includes a criticism of “nice guy” from Heartless Bitches International (HBI)*. Things are getting better, even if there was a notability fight.

It is possible to edit Wikipedia with non-mainstream views and not have your edits reverted. The Geek Feminism Wiki also works as an alternative to Wikipedia for some topics.

* Fun fact: Heartless Bitches International was started in 1996 by a Canadian, female software developer named “Natalie P”, and “It was one of the earlier websites catering specifically towards women at a time when the World Wide Web was largely a male domain.”

Kids these days spend so much time linkspamming they don’t know what real friendship is (14th January, 2010)

  • tigtog has some tips for bloggers at How I minimise the online abuse I receive: So here is an assortment of technical tips & tricks whereby bloggers can cut down the volume and the repetition coming from this cyberbullying cadre of keyboard jockeys, making the harassment little more than a tiny hiss of background noise instead of an overwhelming flood of spite.
  • “Amazingly, less than 1 per cent of Silicon Valley investment money goes to women-founded technology companies. Less than 3 per cent of the money goes to companies with women as CEO.” From Melissa Clark-Reynolds’ Diary of an Entrepreneur
  • Eleni Stroulia writes about Women, Computing and Other Minorities “It seems to me that the fundamental reason why there are few women in CS is because our society still (and always) has a gender-specific value system”
  • Shameful Gender Discrimination at UC Davis Veterinary School: I thought at first that someone might be messing with me. It was unbelievable to me that someone would treat a pregnant student this way, leaving her [grades] to the [vote] of her classmates.
  • Syne Mitchell’s History in Code: After this initial taste of programming success, I decided I wanted to learn computer programming “for reals.” I knew that computers thought in binary, but I wasn’t able to find a binary programming book. So I settled for something called Assembly language. Unfortunately, I had no 8080-assembly compiler handy, so it quickly became an exercise of writing PEEK and POKE code calls on paper to store and recall variable amounts and then checking my work manually. Even a truly geeky thirteen-year-old girl will find this dull after a while.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the geekfeminism tag on delicious or the #geekfeminism tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Quick hit: getting too close to power

Trigger warning: this post describes and discusses harassment and threats.

Sady Doyle writes on Tiger Beatdown:

When feminist women reach a certain critical mass of readership or influence, then mass negative exposure and harassment invariably comes their way. Sooner or later, there are just too many people who know about you, and the threats become credible: Blacklisting, hacking, smear campaigns, invasion of private property, maybe even straight-up bodily harm. At a certain point it goes beyond grudges or trolling or sarcastic comments or even just isolated scary dudes; it becomes a large-scale Thing, and it attracts its fair share of people who operate without anything even vaguely resembling a conscience.

I mean, let’s review just a few of the more famous cases. They often have something to do with women approaching positions of power: As we all know, when Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan were hired for the John Edwards campaign, there was a national and frequently televised campaign aimed not only at getting them fired, but at making them functionally unemployable. It went on for a long while, it was vicious, and it involved Bill O’Reilly, which is never fun. Furthermore, Jessica Valenti was accused of slutting it up with Bill Clinton because she was in a room with him along with some other people… In each case, this happened because the women were getting too close to power: A President, a presidential candidate. The idea that these women might be doing politics, not “just” gender politics. That was enough to set it off.

If it’s not power, it’s geek stuff. Because we are on the Internet, and the geeks are powerful. Kathy Sierra was subject to one of the most vicious, frightening campaigns of harassment and death threats that anyone has ever seen, because she spoke about software development. And being a lady, but mostly: Being a lady as it related to software development. “I am afraid to leave my yard, I will never feel the same. I will never be the same,” she wrote, to explain why she had to quit working and earning money as a speaker for a while… Then there was Harriet J and her criticism of Google Buzz — no, not Google Buzz!!!! — or McEwan, again, who got one of the biggest pile-ups of her career on a post about a video game called “Fat Princess.” Video games, tech, Google, basic Internet geek stuff: These are the things you’re not allowed to approach, for fear of harassment…

Other people are allowed to seek popularity. Other people are allowed to think it is a good thing. And yet, over here, we know that popularity is not good, but BAD. Feminists often RUN THE HELL AWAY FROM POPULARITY. At least, we do if we’ve got any darn sense in our heads or have seen this happen often enough. (I have a little sense. Not a lot, or enough.) Or if we don’t run away from it, our first instinct is to disavow basic things to which all writers should be entitled, like pride in our work, or a hope that our work might be read and respected. And the reason is this:

Because you cannot so much as mention “not deserving to be raped,” in a blog post about freaking GOOGLE PRIVACY SETTINGS, without getting hundreds of comments about how you should go get raped immediately, because you deserve to be raped so very much.

It is, as I hope is obvious from the quote, worth reading the whole thing.

But I wanted to highlight the relevance of this for this blog and the people who write for it or are in its community. None of this is news, and it is fairly obvious what I mean: we are critiquing geekdom, and geekdom is powerful here on the Internet.

And consequences like these have in fact of course already happened to us and near us. This blog itself doesn’t right at this moment undergo persistent trolling in moderation, it has in the past and undoubtedly will in the future. To give the best known example, MikeeUSA has been reappearing periodically since 2005, and that’s just in communities that I personally follow, and making threats of violence or death all that time, including explicitly invoking and praising the actions of murderer Hans Reiser and mass murderer Marc Lépine.

People who describe themselves as geek feminists and geek feminist activists regularly burn out or take planned breaks in various ways: they go back to technical blogging and technical work, they stop giving unicorn talks, they move their commentary partially or entirely to locked networks rather than public spaces. They may or may not come back to public activity.

I myself have not been a target of sustained personalised harassment campaigns—and even saying that is indicative of the problem, that someone who has “merely” experienced one-off incidents, or harassment aimed at women geeks in general rather than her in particular doesn’t feel like she’s experienced the “real” problem—but I have seen the weapons that are being used against my friends.

I want to, here, acknowledge these people and the work that they did, are doing, and will do. As firecat wrote a long time ago now:

Let’s say that fighting sexism is like a chorus of people singing a continuous tone. If enough people sing, the tone will be continuous even though each of the singers will be stopping singing to take a breath every now and then. The way to change things is for more people to sing rather than for the same small group of people to try to sing louder and never breathe.

Does my linkspam look big in this? (14th November, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention (twitter uses can use #geekfeminism). Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

How to Appear Incompetent in One Easy Step

Amber is a Capital Markets Technology consultant who currently works on Wall Street making trading platforms suck less. If she’s not online kicking ass in PvP, you can probably find her somewhere on the Lower East Side, kicking ass on the pool table. She blogs at idiosyncratic-routine.com.

[Content warning for ablist language in the excerpts]

Leslie Sobon’s blog post “Get a Geek in Five Easy Steps” was a maelstrom of fail. In an Engadget editorial piece, Laura June has done a great job of explaining why the advice is terrible:

Its source:

This piece is on an official AMD blog, and Leslie Sobon is writing in her capacity as the vice president of one of the company’s departments. As such, her attempt at lame Carrie Bradshaw-isms are out of place, unprofessional and an embarrassment to the company that she works for, even if there’s a standard “opinions expressed here” disclaimer attached to the blog.

Its perception of women:

Sobon’s advice is like any ladies’ magazine from the 1950’s, in that she assumes you have nothing in common with your prey (you are man hunting, are you not?), that you never will, and that that’s okay. In fact, changing everything about your actual self in favor of a new, improved, less truthy “nerdy” girl is the best way to go about catching one of these rare and beautiful creatures.

Its perception of geeks:

Sobon, who has worked in the “high tech” industry for most of her professional life (she put in eight years at Dell before joining AMD in 2006), seems to have only encountered a pop cultural stereotype of nerds, not actual human beings.

Correct on all counts, yet the Engadget response barely scratches the surface of the reasons I was filled with enough rage to track the author down on twitter and give her more than 140 characters of my mind.

Before jumping ahead, though, let’s tackle the idea that the piece was meant as “humorous,” “tongue-in-cheek,” or as a [poorly executed] “satire.”

Exhibit A: Sobon’s July 2010 AMD blog post entitled “What Women Want“:

There are a lot of mixed messages here. For example, women don’t like “pink” marketing, but also don’t buy “black” computers. We “don’t like buying PCs,” but account for 66% of the market. Unlike the “Get a Geek” article, she throws out a perfunctory nod to women who build their own computers, but notes that technical jargon can be detrimental to the buying experience.

Moving past the lack of innovative thought or cohesive message, the “What Women Want” article indicates that Sobon truly believes that the average female PC shopper is a bastion of female stereotypes – relying on word of mouth rather than technical specifications, disregarding price for emotional connection, yearning for a luxury buying experience, eschewing in-depth knowledge of the product to be purchased, and caring more about form than function.

For my dollar, she’s probably not wrong. Most women don’t run overclocked, water-cooled systems, work in science or technology based industry or know the difference between an FPS and an RPG. But guess what – most men don’t either.

Sobon has fallen prey to the fallacy that the amalgamative line-of-best-fit woman she has created as a tool to sell the most widgets (she is, after all, trying to pitch AMD products at the end of the day) represents the majority of women in reality. She’s shoved aside all the diversity of women that don’t fit her model and written to a fictional audience that, should it actually exist, is unlikely to cull its dating tactics from the blog of a company that produces tiny things in sterile rooms.

The map is not the territory.

I could forgive Sobon this transgression if she were a lowly Marketing Department lackey, stuck churning out clip art laden PowerPoints all day. In fact, I could see a variety of these “What Women Want” points being used internally to jumpstart a brainstorming session for a new advertising campaign. (Not that they should, but I’ve worked in product development, and trust me – the internal vision of the end consumer is rarely flattering.)

But PowerPoint lackey she’s not. Leslie Sobon is the Corporate Vice President of Product Marketing for AMD. She should be the one to encounter an article like “Get a Geek” and stare slack-jawed at her monitor, wondering what kind of lack of oversight would allow something so amateurish to exist on a corporate sponsored blog.

I’m not going to waste space bullet pointing the outdated and incredibly inaccurate assumptions that most women are computer illiterate temptresses who will date someone with whom they have little in common, so long as the rewards package is good enough … and that all geeks (who are all male in the first place) are poor dressers, uninterested in sports and are so hard up for female attention that they will become captivated with any woman who deigns to speak to them at a “TweetUp.” Rather, let’s take a look at the more insidious assumptions which perpetuate a system where my tweet positing the article’s sexism garners me replies such as “The article is definitely guilty of playing to gender roles, but sexist it is not.”


Don’t worry, the same user takes the time to educate me about what sexism is:

Sexism is the belief or attitude that one gender is inferior to, less competent, or less valuable than the other.

Thanks for that. Again, I’m not going to belabor the many ways in which the article implies women are less likely to be competent users of technology and more likely to be ok with subjugating their interests to that of a male, while that male need not pander to hers, or even the axiomatic heteronormative perspective.

Rather, there are more subtle turns of phrase that reinforce sexism specifically with relation to the geek community. As a femme woman who works in technology, an avid sci-fi gamer type, and dater of more than one “geeky” guy, this is the stuff that just chaps my ass:

  1. Implicit association between a Good Man and a Geek
    Some men are geeks. Some men are douchebags. Some men who are geeks are douchebags. Shocking!!! In fact, the historically anti-female (or female devoid, at best) stereotypical male geek environment has been the basis for some good articles about why geeks aren’t the answer to every girl’s relationship woes.
  2. Lack of any discussion about a male non-geek trying to get a female geek
    Some women are geeks. Some women aren’t very good at getting laid. Some women who are geeks aren’t very good at getting laid. Granted – this advice is just as terrible when the gender roles are reversed, but a nod to the possibility of trying to woo a female geek would have gone a long way to mitigating the fail.
  3. Assumption that a geeky guy could or would be useful in every broken-technology/stuff scenario
    Writing QA scripts for 10 hours a day does not magically imbue one with the ability to troubleshoot my wifi connection. Similarly, being a network administrator doesn’t magically imbue one with the ability or desire to dig up my yard and fix a broken sprinkler.
  4. Implication that women would rather secure access to specialized labor/skills via … let’s call it “sexual outsourcing”… than by learning to do things that are useful themselves, while men wander around aimlessly, waiting to be objectified for said labor/skills, devoid of any desire to see seen as complex people with emotional needs.
    The basic premise that geeks are useful because your gadgets break (which, uh, I thought women didn’t actually use in the first place) is as ridiculous as saying you get sick a lot, so date a doctor, or you have a lot of legal problems, so bag a lawyer. It’s a wonder any mechanics in New York ever get dates. So few women in the city own cars.
  5. A woman’s ultimate goal is to get married
    “Most geeks don’t wear pants. They wear jeans or shorts. Just get over it and wait for the ring to diversify his wardrobe.”
    …There are no words.

The bottom line is that Leslie Sobon’s writing is lazy and it reinforces gender and subculture stereotypes. Remembering that Sobon was writing for the least common denominator of a mythical female softens the blow somewhat, should she have been sixteen and posting to her tumblr blog. As an article directed at a general adult audience on the official blog of a publicly traded technology company, however, it is inexcusable.

CompSci Woman: Looking for stories of women in computer science

My friend Cate and her friend Maggie have started a blog called CompSci Woman that I think many of you will enjoy reading, and hopefully some of you in computer science will be interested in contributing too! The idea is to make it easier for younger women to find role models who are already involved in the field. They note that although there’s actually lots of us, being female and in computer science is usually an aspect, not an identity, so we’re not all going to show up in Google. Read about the ideas behind this project here.

For September/October, they’re accepting guest posts especially on the topic of “How I got into CS.” I know many of our readers and writers here have interesting stories, so if you have some time, please consider writing a post for the project! The letter for potential contributors is at the bottom of this page, but here’s the short version: “If you are interested in contributing, submit your post (include a link to an illustrative image if you like) along with a brief bio and a photo. You can email this to female.compsci.blog AT gmail DOT com.”

I just put my own story up there. Mine’s slightly unusual because unlike many women who suffer from impostor syndrome especially when they first start out, my story was shaped a lot by feelings in the opposite direction…

How I Quit Computer Science (And What Drew Me Back)

To explain how I ended up in computer science, you have to understand the story of how I quit.


First year computer science was geared towards students who had little to no experience with computers, and I realised that I’d be wasting several years of my life waiting for my peers to catch up. On top of that, it was boom times and CS was being viewed a shorter path to a 6-figure salary than the more education-intensive med school or law school. The people who were there weren’t really in love with the discipline; many were just in love with the idea of being rich. I wasn’t interested in paying thousands of dollars per term to waste my time with peers I didn’t respect in a program that was boring me to tears.

I was disappointed, disillusioned, and wanted a challenge that was clearly going to be a long time coming in CS. So I dropped out.

Read the rest at CompSci Woman.

Open Thread: But what if I want to hear about more than 10 terrific tech blogs?

BlogHer has a post listing 10 Terrific Tech Blogs (written by women). We’re even included, as is my university friend Gail! I enjoy seeing these lists and learning about a few new blogs, but it always makes me wonder… what other great blogs am I missing out on?

A related thought about missing out: I know my technical blog doesn’t particularly mention my gender, so it’s not likely to make a list of women bloggers unless I put myself on it. I’m sure I’m not the only one who “suffers” from this side effect of indeterminate names/pseudonyms.

So here’s your chance to brag about your own blog, or rave about awesome blogs you read. The ground rules for this link love-in are that the blog must have a woman author, and the subject has to be geeky. If you can, try writing a little paragraph about why we should check this blog out and give us a quote like the BlogHer article does — I know as a busy person, I rarely click on links unless there’s some reasonable context there to make me interested.

But this is also an open thread, in which you can discuss older posts, ask questions, tell stories, suggest other link round-ups, or anything else that takes your fancy. Go!

Ladies celebratin’ ladies

Like a lot of people, I think, I became an instant convert to the cult of Sady when I read her 13 Ways of Looking at Liz Lemon last week. I’m a big 30 Rock fan but not blind to the show’s problems, especially in its treatment of race and class, and I loved Sady’s trenchant take. But I think her piece on Parks and Recreation for Feministe’s Weekend Arts Section is even better. I haven’t watched the show but I sure will now. Here’s a chunk I found especially chewy:

Since your life is about your work, and about feminism — not in the abstract, Liz Lemonist sense, either, but in terms of actually and truly connecting with and helping other girls — and about your ideals and your friends and your goals for the city of Pawnee and for yourself, and very definitively not about any one dude or dudes in general, having Your Life Minus That One Dude was simply not a very big deal. It was sad, but it definitely wasn’t going to ruin you. You already had a full plate, a whole interesting life, and dudes could come in and out of your life without altering that fact. So, no matter what happens to you, dude-wise, you’re going to know that you’re pretty great. And since you put your whole self into all you do, since you care about people and it shows, other people are going to know that you’re great, too. They’ll be there for you. And that’s how you’ll get by.

I talk a lot about feminism, Leslie, and I think about feminism a lot, and I have to tell you: I think this was one of the most genuinely feminist moments on your show.

Wow. I mean wow, seriously, especially in the wake of the always-provocative Ada Lovelace Day. This made me think about how profoundly my relationships with women have changed in the last decade. I was a bad feminist in my twenties. I wanted to be the special one, the one who was into physics and maths and programming and who could talk to boys, and I saw other women as competition, and so nearly all my friends were men and nearly all women found me incredibly irritating and divisive.

I’m not claiming to be a great feminist in my thirties, but one dramatic change has been the quality and intensity of my relationships with other women. These days when I meet an awesome woman my first reaction is not, or isn’t always, to be threatened and defensive. The self-confidence that has been the single absolute best thing about growing older has made it possible for me to hold my own in awesome company, not because I think I am awesome, but because I mind less and less what other people think. And of course awesome women tend to be awesome friends, if you gather up the courage to approach them, and when you realize that you somehow without really meaning to have created this network of strong intelligent kind entertaining adults on whom you can rely – well, it makes the prospect of middle age look downright pleasant to me.

It’s what Wired magazine and the Burning Man organization used to call the shift from a scarcity economy, where people competed over constrained resources, to a surplus economy, where people just give each other gifts, because. That model looks like questionable economic theory these days but it’s certainly true that love and friendship don’t need to be constrained resources, and that the more you give, the more you get. Another economic analogy might be investment. Romantic relationships were for me always very high-risk, high-return propositions – a VC investing in a startup – and I wish I’d never risked more than I could afford to lose. (I did, of course. Oh well. I wasn’t using that dignity anyway.) Platonic friendships, in this analogy, are dividend-bearing stocks.

Among the dividends: these relationships have also improved my friendships with men – including a handful of very intense friendships left over from my single days. It’s my women friends who have taught me to shut the fuck up and listen, to not try to fix things. That sometimes all you can do is show up.

I’ve noticed these patterns at work as well as in my personal life. I’ve sought out professional mentors, and younger women have sought me out. I feel completely inadequate to offer anything to the latter, of course, but at the same time I have a strong sense of indebtedness to the older women who have given me their advice and support. I’ll always seek out qualified women for jobs, and I’ll always try to make time for younger women who seek my advice: it’s the least I owe to myself.

Bottom line, I guess: I really honestly believe that it’s true, that women can have a complete and fulfilling life made out of work and friendships, with or without a significant other. If I could go back and give my 18-year-old self advice it would be to love my friends more, and let the dudes come and go as they please. What about you? What are your hot tips for the investment of your affection and time?