Category Archives: Geek culture

Come to AdaCamp DC, July 10–11

From the Ada Initiative blog:

Applications now open for AdaCamp DC

Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. by Bernt Rostad, CC-Attribution
© Bernt Rostad, CC Attribution

Applications for AdaCamp DC are now open – apply now!

AdaCamp DC will be July 10 – 11, 2012, in Washington DC, co-located with Wikimania 2012. We are likely to have more applications than available slots, so apply now to have the best chance of attending. Applications close June 15 (May 11 for those requesting travel assistance).

Who should apply

AdaCamp DC will bring together a wide variety of people from open technology and culture, all of whom are working to support women in open tech/culture. We’re looking for people who:

  • Participate in open technology and culture: any field involving open/grassroots/community participation and sharing the results of your work for free: open data, open source software, wikis, open government, open libraries, remix/fan culture, open video, and more
  • Can share information about women’s experiences in that field, including talking about women’s achievements and the challenges they face
  • Want to work together and share strategies to support and promote women in the field
  • Share the Ada Initiative’s feminist approach to supporting and promoting women in open technology and culture
  • Are young and old; students, professionals and hobbyists; from a diverse range of backgrounds; and reflect the breadth of the open technology and culture field

AdaCamp is open to people of all genders. However, since AdaCamp and the Ada Initiative exist to support and promote women in open technology and culture, prospective attendees who are not themselves women will need to demonstrate a high level of prior engagement and experience with the issues faced by women in those fields in order to be invited.

Find out more about AdaCamp DC at the event webpage.


The Ada Initiative thanks our generous AdaCamp sponsors for making this event possible. Our current sponsors are the Linux Foundation, Intel, Facebook, Red Hat, Collabora, and GitHub.

Interested in becoming an AdaCamp sponsor? Email us at and we will send you more information on the benefits of sponsorship.

An appeal for the Ada Initiative

When I was 15 I went on the web for the first time. A boy in my computing class went to Yahoo!, typed in “girls” and spent some time showing me porn.

Photograph of Mary Gardiner

I’ve programmed since I was a kid. I’ve loved the idea of open technology since I read a curious article in the 1990s about people all over the world, fixing complex bugs in an operating system that a university student had named after himself.

But every so often, I’m reminded how my Internet experience began. Women friends haven’t been safe on mailing lists, they haven’t been safe on Wikipedia’s talk pages, and they haven’t been safe at conferences. And even when they are safe, sometimes they’re lonely: estimates of women’s participation in open source run to about 2%, and as Wikipedia editors at 9%.

Thus, I’ve been a volunteer creating communities by and for women in open source since 2000. It’s been the equivalent of an unpaid part-time job for several of those years. But a year ago, Valerie Aurora became more ambitious, and proposed that since we were doing real work, we should do it as our real job. Together we created the Ada Initiative, a non-profit supporting women in open technology and culture. We rely on your support for our work:

Donate now!

Within a year we’ve organised our first AdaCamp, surveyed thousands of people about their perspective on women in open technology and culture, wrote and encouraged adoption of an anti-harassment policy by over 30 conferences and organizations in open tech/culture, and much more.

To continue our work in 2012, we need your help! Please donate to the Ada Initiative, and contribute to our planned work, including future AdaCamps, methodologically rigorous research into women in open source, and training for women contributors to open tech/culture projects and their allies.

Donate now: we can’t do it without you!

Interested in women in open tech and culture? AdaCamp Melbourne wants you!

My non-profit organisation, the Ada Initiative, wants to go full steam ahead into 2012, and we’re holding an AdaCamp event in Melbourne to kick off the year!

The Ada Initiative supports women in open technology and culture, ranging from open source to free culture to grassroots community organising to makerspaces to remix and fandom culture to open government initiatives and more. This stuff is powerful: it’s already shaping society and is going to continue to do so more and more. The Ada Initiative is focussed on supporting women in becoming an integral part of these communities.

AdaCamp will be a one day “unconference” (that is, it will have free-form sessions scheduled by participants) focussed on furthering women’s work in open technology and culture. It will be held on Saturday January 14 in Melbourne, some travel funding is available.

AdaCamp places are by invitation, if you’re interested in coming along please apply today. Applications close December 14. Hoping to meet some readers and ‘net friends there!

Sunday Spam: apple and cinnamon risotto

Apple and cinnamon risotto is one of Matthew Evans’s recipes in The Weekend Cook. I have some quibbles with that book, mostly that if anyone tries to romance me with the things listed under “romantic weekend” their expectations will be dashed, but this sounded ambitiously tasty.

In other news, I’m enjoying the Instaright Firefox add-on, which adds an address bar button and a right-click menu item for sending a link to Instapaper. Still liking Instapaper just fine except that it will only ever send 20 articles to one’s Kindle, and one day I managed to queue up close to 40 articles.

It would be kind of cool if Instapaper let me put out Sunday Spam as an instapaper. (I believe the ability to instapaper things to other people is an often requested feature.)

The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy

Linked in several places, this is an article about selective reductions (ie, aborting one fetus in a multiple pregnancy) from twins to singleton pregnancies. I’m not really sure why I was so interested in this—I’ve read several articles on reductions over the years and they’re all pretty similar—but I was. Perhaps it’s just that I definitely share the public fascination with twins described in the article.

Jenny is an asshole, and so, of course, am I

Infertility blogger Julie of A Little Pregnant shares her thoughts on Two-Minus-One: again nothing ground-breaking, but I enjoy Julie’s blog so have a link.

Jailhouse phone calls reveal why domestic violence victims recant

Phone calls between alleged perpetrators of domestic violence and their victims (which were known by the parties involved to be being recorded) show that the typical strategy for getting the victim to recant is getting their sympathy for one’s terrible situation facing trial and jail (rather than, at least in these cases, of threats of more violence).

Are software patents the “scaffolding of the tech industry”?

Counter-arguments to pro-software-patent positions, largely stressing that these particular pro-patent positions are concerned with the ability of the first inventor to profit from their invention, rather than with encouraging innovation in general.

Top 10 Things Breastfeeding Advocates Should Stop Saying

From earlier this year, includes “formula is poison” and “Moms who use formula don’t love/value their babies as much as moms who breastfeed”. I know people who have been hurt badly by statements this strong, in one case seriously considering giving up all plans for future children because of a failed (and mourned) breastfeeding relationship with her first child.

HPV: The STD of a New Generation

I’m pleased to have found Amanda Hess’s current online home again. Here she is on the interesting status of HPV: the STI that so very many people have, with attendant interesting interpretations by everyone from vaccine manufacturers to social conservatives.

What if Publishers are right about eBook prices?

Arguing that there’s a strong case that ebook prices will go to $0, and that this would not be a public good. Interesting, undoubtedly highly arguable. (Does not answer the question about why digital music prices haven’t and thereby make the required distinction between the two arguments.)

You Do Something with Your Hair?: Gender and Presentation in Stillwater

Gender presentation in Saint’s Row 2 is pretty unrestricted, and the game has gone out of its way to avoid using pronouns to refer to your character.

Crashing the Tea Party

David E. Campbell, an associate professor of political science at Notre Dame, and Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard, argue that their research shows that the Tea Party brand is getting toxic in the US, together with some data showing how closely Tea Party affiliation/identification corresponds with Republican Party membership and belief in a less strong church-state separation. Perhaps not a very exciting article for people who follow US politics more closely than I do.

11 Percent

11 percent of housing in the US is unoccupied, s.e. smith writes. In addition to the good of housing people, wouldn’t fixing this housing up stimulate demand in construction?

Sunday Spam: scrambled eggs and pesto

I have Instapaper now! Which means I read more stuff. Which means that every so often I will share things with you. On Sundays, sometimes.

This week is biased towards American stuff, because Instapaper’s Browse page tends towards longer stuff from The New Yorker, The Atlantic and so on.

On the Overton window : Thoughts from Kansas

This is one post in a series of discussions among skeptics about whether they should apply skepticism to evaluating their own outreach (see Skepticism means caring about evidence for the main thrust of that). This is an interesting side-note, which is that the Overton window, which is often cited casually by at least some of my activist friends, is not actually a very rigorous or reliable phenomena. (The idea of the Overton window is that the existence of radical voices helps establish a moderate version of the radical’s position by including that radical position in the window of visible opinion.)

Domestic aviation and a carbon price

Robert Merkel sketches out some sums suggesting that on various models, pricing carbon and other climate effects into Australian domestic air travel still makes flying cheaper than high speed rail between Sydney and Melbourne.

Can the Middle Class Be Saved?

Don Peck in The Atlantic on the growing gap between the upper-middle (or “professional middle”) and upper-class of Americans (the top 15% or so) and the rest of the middle-class, particularly the non-college educated. Has some interesting observations on gender too, namely that while service and caring jobs are growing in number and manufacturing and construction shrinking, men are not making the switch to the growing fields.

The Youth Unemployment Bomb

More typical Instapaper Browse fodder, this time from Business Week. Revolutions, unrest, and un(der)employed, highly educated, young adults.

Open Source Report: Is Defective by Design getting any traction at all?

An older link I was sent earlier this year as part of a discussion about geeks wanting to make sure their activism makes sense to people who aren’t already converts. It’s criticising the Free Software Foundation’s Defective By Design campaign.

The Attempt to Understand Puerperal Fever in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries: The Influence of Inflammation Theory

I dug this up after a discussion about the process of discovering that puerperal fever could be greatly reduced by birth attendants washing their hands before attending. This is an overview of the eighteenth and nineteenth century theorising about what caused puerperal fever, namely a tension between inflammation theory (a theory that blood was pooling in some part of the body, setting off a general inflammation chain-reaction and requiring blood-letting) and putrid theory, that the body had been poisoned by some external matter and the fever was either the result of this poison or an attempt to throw it off (this theory regarded bloodletting as harmful and focussed on protecting the post-partum woman from breathing fresh air, in many cases).

The interesting thing here, not directly addressed in this link, is that the sheer disgustingness of dissecting corpses and not washing your hands before attending a childbirth is only obvious to us because of germ theory. In fact, regular hand-washing as etiquette is really an artefact of that (see also Karl Schroeder on science-informed etiquette this week). Sometimes the puerperal fever sequence is portrayed as if man-midwives must have been actively callous or hateful to not be washing their hands: in fact, it’s (more?) that they entirely lacked any theoretical framework for believing that what you touched half an hour ago had any serious impact on what you were touching now.

Was Aaron Swartz Stealing? I haven’t been following closely, so this was a good overview from a point of view a little closer to my own perspective on copyright than US governments.

I was pleased to come across this, again via Browse, because previously I’d only read the indictment text.

A petty rant

See the title? Consider yourself warned.

OK, geek culture. I am ambivalent with claiming particular things as being geeky or not in the first place, because half the time I fall outside it. (I’m not a night person, I don’t especially identify with or even like cats, to give some trivial examples.) And if it excludes me, it must be wrong. Duh.

But perhaps we should claim being petty and pedantic. Here’s my line in the sand: you do not count discrete things starting at a zeroth thing. Well, if you do, I say it’s not geeky.

There’s a sort of a general understanding that “geeks count from zero”. Here’s where it comes from: in many programming languages, arrays begin at zero, so array[0] retrieves the first item in the array and array[1] the second and so on. This is actually somewhat confusing, and results in plenty of off-by-one errors (for example, if an array has length l, then one is tempted to ask for the last item as array[l] when it’s actually array[l-1], and forgetting that is not at all uncommon).

It has meaning: it’s fairly obvious why this is done in C, it’s because elements in a C array are stored in contiguous memory and the name “array” is already a pointer to the first memory address. Say the array starts at memory address 7, then to access the items of the array you would do:

  • array[0], which is an alias for *(array + 0) or *array, ie, find out what is at memory address 7 (the dereference operator * means “look up what is at this memory address”)
  • array[1] or *(array + 1), ie, find out what is at memory address 7 + 1 = 8
  • array[2] or *(array + 2), ie find out what is at memory address 7 + 2 = 9

And so on.

Dennis Ritchie’s The Development of the C Language shows that this notation is inherited from C’s precursor B.

And it’s not a silly way to count some things. It’s the same way we count age in the Western world: at the beginning of your first year, you are age 0 and at the beginning of your second year, age 1, and so on. The first year of someone’s life begins at birth[0] as it were.

But it’s a silly way to count objects. It is not more geeky to count, say, two apples as a zero/zeroth apple and a first apple. You could perhaps refer to the zeroth apple offset, ie, the point just before the beginning of the first apple, if you had reason to refer to that point (I never have).

Try as I might, this has always bugged me about the history of CALU was not the “zeroth because it’s geeky!” It’s like someone made that up specifically to annoy me personally. I will find you, whoever you are, and I will take your zeroth apple away from you and unlike you, I will have my first apple. And I will enjoy it.