Attention Rob Thomas

I could write plenty about my experiences at Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE) this weekend, and I probably will, later. But I had a quick thought during Steve Rambam’s talk on privacy loss yesterday that I wanted to share with you all.

How great would it have been if the Veronica Mars movie had focused on big data, surveillance and privacy issues instead of that throwaway murder mystery plot? I’m imagining Mac as a major player – a sys-admin for the government and perhaps a Snowden-esque leaker, or a corporate whistleblower. The Kanes are, in story, technology tycoons – you could easily make them a stand in for Facebook, Google, etc. There could even be a subplot about the Neptune police department buying drones and using new tools to invade people’s privacy.

It would have been relevant, provocative and even educational for viewers. Mac could’ve name-dropped real privacy tools like Tor, SecureDrop, CryptoCat, etc and Veronica could wrestle with the hypocrisy of fighting for privacy rights while she invades people’s privacy all the damn time.

Bonus: the focus would be on the two smart, complicated female leads and their friendship, rather than on predictable romantic subplots.

Maybe there’s hope for the next movie?

It’s my time

A little over a year ago I did a survey at the job fair of a major tech conference. At each booth I asked whether they were hiring people part time. The response was almost entirely no way, nuh-uh, never.

There is plenty of research showing that more time at work does not equal more productivity. (Caveat: I have not read the primary research here.)

I want to offer some anecdotal evidence.

I am a freelancer (or a contractor, or self-employed, whatever you want to call it). My main client right now is OpenHatch. Last year the hours I spent on OpenHatch worked out to approximately quarter time. This year my hours are the equivalent of half time. This means that at the end of June I had worked the same number of hours as if I had been hired on full-time for six months. So, what did I have to show for myself at my internal “six month review”?

  • I organized or co-organized 21 Open Source Comes to Campus events, personally running 15 of them.
  • I spoke at two conferences on behalf of OpenHatch, and wrote a proposal to speak at Grace Hopper this year. (The Grace Hopper proposal took an unexpectedly long time, as the process is quite competitive – approximately 20% of submissions are accepted.) I have also run workshops at three conferences.
  • I improved and documented our event planning process and made it far more efficient to use, both internally and for those who want to “fork” the project.
  • I created multiple tools which have been useful both for OpenHatch, and which other projects have shown interest in using/adapting. These are our In Person Event Guide, WelcomeBot, and Merge Stories.
  • I wrote 25 blog posts for the OpenHatch blog.
  • I helped redesign and maintain the program website.
  • I’ve done interviews (Wired, In Beta, Linux Magazine) which resulted in good publicity for OpenHatch.
  • Other small improvements including leading documentation sprints, creating and instituting a Code of Conduct for the IRC channel, organizational planning, and helping with the fundraising drive.
  • I have answered an uncountable number of questions via email and IRC.

I am almost certainly forgetting things.

I think this is more than most people can do in six months of full time work. It’s more than I could do in six months of full time work! Clearly, OpenHatch is benefiting from this arrangement.

And I’m benefiting too. I have tons of free time with which I can pursue other opportunities, whether that means working for other clients, or personal pursuits such as writing novels and children’s books, maintaining and writing for the Open Science Collaboration blog, taking online classes and reading non-fiction, and being there for family in the hardest times.

I wish more organizations were open to hiring contractors, because I know that I – and others! – can be amazing assets when given flexibility and independence. It’s funny how the capitalist desire to wring every last drop of productivity out of a worker often extinguishes the spark that makes them productive.

I’m guarding my spark. If I never work full time again, I don’t think I’ll regret it.

This is just to say

I got interviewed about OpenHatch / Open Source Comes to Campus for an article in Wired. Pretty cool!

How to hit a softball

I did a lightning talk at AdaCamp called “how to hit a softball”. This talk was born of frustration: the only activity I participate in which is less gender-diverse than open source software is softball. I’ve played in games where I’m the only woman on either side, out of 20+ people.

(I find this especially heartbreaking as softball currently functions as a way to keep women out of baseball. The rules, equipment, and pitching motions are just different enough that it is incredibly difficult to switch from one to the other. Talented girls are then forced to decide between the limited but attainable rewards of softball, which provides many with college scholarships, and the risks of baseball, which has given riches and fame but only so far to men. I could go on – and have – but for now, lets get back to my lightning talk.)

There are three simple tips I give completely new players that can get them from “missing 90% of the time” to “solidly connecting 90%” of the time. They are:

1) Watch the ball

This may seem obvious, but many novice players take their eyes off the ball when they swing. This not only makes it harder to hit the ball, it also messes up the motion: with the correct swing, it should be possible to watch the ball wherever it goes. If you can’t follow the ball with your eyes, it’s a sign that your swing is off.

You can see a demonstration here.

2) Keep your back foot planted

The power in a swing comes from shifting weight from the back of your body to the front, not in throwing your body at the ball. While the front foot may move, the back should never leave the ground (though it often will twist in place). If you find yourself twirling when you miss a pitch, you are surely making this error.

You can see a demonstration here.

3) Line up your knuckles

The above two tips should help you connect with the ball most of the time. To help the ball go farther when you connect with it, there are a number of subtle things you can do with both your upper and lower body. Perhaps the easiest of these things to learn is: when you grip a bat, line up your knuckles. This position forces you to hold the bat in your fingers, not your wrists, which allows your wrists to move fluidly, an important part of having a powerful swing.

You can see a demonstration here.

(Extra tip: your back hand should be higher up on the bat than the hand which is closer to the pitcher. Most people will place their hands this way naturally, without being told to, as it is the most comfortable.)

This has less of an impact on your swing than the above two tips, so if you can only remember a few things at once, practice the above before working on this one.


What I like about these tips is that they’re something anyone can do: you don’t need to lift weights, study pitches for hours, or memorize dozens of muscles movements in order to make these changes. Just remember: watch, plant, align (or eyes, back foot, knuckles) and your swing will go from embarrassing to serviceable very quickly.

Bonus! This gorgeous video of a fastpitch softball pitch in slow motion:

Open Source Bridge

Three things to share from Open Source Bridge, which I went to this week.

First, my talk. You can find the slides here:

(pressing ‘s’ brings up the speaker notes, which should give them some context)

Second – I did my first podcast! In Beta interviewed me and Britta about OpenHatch. You can listen here:

In Beta Episode #107: Welcomed, Even If It’s By a Robot

And finally, at the end of the last day, the organizers raffled off a number of technology books, including Thinking With Data by Max Shron.

“Hmmm, that name sounds familiar,” I thought. I borrowed the book from the raffle winner, flipped to the acknowledgements, and found this:

I had completely forgotten I’d ever given feedback on this book. So that was a nice surprise!

Other than that, Portland was lovely. Lots of parks and coffee shops and I found a cat to follow on social media. All in all, I’d say the trip was a success.