What’s The Buzz, Tell Me What’s-a-Happening

This space has been very quiet for a while now. I make no apologies for that as I often go through periods where I don’t write anything for months. A few weeks ago, I decided to try deleting all entries that were published before 2011, but instead I managed to delete all of my entries from 2016 instead. Since I don’t have backups, why not try to create some new content instead?

We’ll see how long this lasts.

Reading/Watching/Listening

Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down is a beautiful mess. Lovesick (the sitcom formerly known as Scrotal Recall) is far better than it’s juvenile title indicates. I’m only up to my ankles in N.K. Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate, the second novel in her The Broken Earth trilogy, but it feels as if I’m slowly being consumed by the world Jemisin has built. Is polyamory a sexual orientation? I remain unconvinced. Hey – you’re an adult: stop making people do your work for you and LOOK IT UP. The biggest obstacle to diversity in libraries is we don’t really want it.

Thinking About

If being a “good girl” has gotten me nowhere, why can’t I bring myself to be a “bad girl”? Just how difficult is it to unlearn cultural conditioning and societal expectations?

Tweet of the Week

Scene From The Staff Elevator

I work in a scent-light workplace, so I try to be conscious of wearing heavily perfumed grooming products. This morning it couldn’t be helped because I was out of my usual hair gunk and had to use Oyin Handmade Burnt Sugar Pomade on my hair.

A guy who works in IT got on the elevator and remarked “It smells like maple fudge in here.” I pointed to my head and sheepishly apologized. “No, it smells good. Can I lick your head?”

I’m sure it sounded way different in his head. 😆

For Want of a Title

The WNBA’s Glory Johnson and Brittney Griner were arrested on charges of assault and disorderly conduct. Both Johnson and Griner have since been released. A few media outlets were quick to paint this as an intimate partner violence situation, which feels inexact for a number of reasons. First: BG and GloJo are physical equals. sure, BG is taller, but on the surface, it’s hard to imagine the unequal power relations that are a frequent indicator of spousal/partner abuse being at play in this relationship.

Second: there’s a spectre of “butch-as-aggressor” framing going on in the media. Many articles only mention BG in the headline, a construction that elides Johnson’s involvement. You see BG’s mugshot more than you see Glory Johnson’s. While it’s true that Griner has the higher profile, it seems to me that BG is being given the perpetrator edit.

Autostraddle is one of the few media outlets to refrain from using mugshots in their coverage, and as far as I know, they’re the only publication that included Johnson’s name in the headline. Their reporting has been fair and nuanced, which I’m ashamed to say, wasn’t something I expected to see on Autostraddle. Kaelyn, the author of the Autostraddle piece, sounded off in the comments about assumptions people were making about the nature of the Griner/Johnson relationship, and her comment showed the kind of sensitivity and thoughtfulness you wish all media would display1.

This is a difficult issue, and my status as the ultimate Griner stan may make you take this opinion with a grain of salt, which is only fitting, considering I wasn’t there when the incident happened. I had such high hopes for this couple, and I hope they’re able to get whatever help they need to make it through this situation.


Thanks to everyone who has signed up for The Librarian Cabal. I started the channel so library folk would have a safe, open place to talk about All Things Library without fear of recrimination. The Cabal has a Code of Conduct in place, and I hope everyone will honor the spirit and the letter of the CoC. It’ll probably be a little tough to enforce. I’m committed to try, because like Anil Dash said, “If your website’s full of assholes, it’s your fault.”

Additional thanks to everyone who shared or commented on my Bridging the Experience Gap article. I think some great things will come out of the conversations that sprang up, including a tweet chat, and possibly a mailing list (if I can find an alternative to Google groups, that is). I’m not sure how to move on as an interest group/sub-group of a national library association when many of the people who replied are outside of the United States, so if you have any ideas about how to make that work, I’m happy to listen.


I’m contemplating moving away from Jekyll and back to WordPress to power this site. Jekyll is powerful, and learning to work with it has increased my comfort and familiarity with Ruby programming. But to tell the truth, there are times that I really miss a web-based CMS, or one that comes equipped with a robust mobile app that supports blogging from anywhere. I’ve been slowly moving some posts over to a WordPress site I’ve kept around for just such an occasion, but I probably won’t flip the switch for a few weeks yet. I’d like the switch to be as seamless as possible, so I’m taking some time to reformat entries and ensure that URLs stay the same between the two platforms.


  1. It was also the first time I’d heard the term “common couple violence”, so additional kudos to AS for teaching me something new today. 

Moving Away From Google

Lately I’ve been thinking about the degree to which I’m willing to turn over my private data to web service companies. I’ve also been thinking about privacy in general, and while Canadian laws tend to protect consumer privacy to a greater degree than in the United States, I’ve concluded that I’m no longer happy using services where my private communications can be mined, sold, re-used, or thrown away when the service reaches the end of its life. That’s why I decided I would stop using Google for email and search.

I started this process a couple of weeks ago by drawing up a list of features I couldn’t do without. Those features had to be comparable to Google to make this effort worthwhile; regardless of my privacy concerns, if moving was a hassle or if I felt I had to compromise on services or ease of use, there wouldn’t be much point in making a change. The features I considered were:

  • Calendar syncing across all devices
  • A fast, responsive web interface
  • IMAP syncing across devices
  • Two-factor authentication or app passwords
  • Excellent archiving tools
  • Excellent spam detection
  • Conversation threading
  • Respect user privacy (namely mine!)
  • Doesn’t save search history
  • Servers outside of the US

Eventually, this list led me to choose Fastmail for email and calendars, and DuckDuckGo for search.

Why Fastmail

Fastmail

Switching email providers is more complicated than switching search engines. If you depend heavily on email making the decision to switch isn’t one you can make lightly. We (have to) use Outlook at work, so I don’t have a choice of platform for corporate communication, but for everything else I used Gmail for the last seven years. Google’s decision to shutter Reader was a serious blow, and that provided the push I needed to investigate other options. When companies provide services for free, its easier for them to decide to “sundown” those services (hi, Posterous!). I didn’t want to find myself in a similar situation with email.

Fastmail provides everything I was looking for in an email provider. Their web interface is sparse and uncluttered, but options are clearly labeled, which helps with recognition. Fastmail’s web interface even recognizes Gmail shortcuts, something I really only use to reply and compose messages, but shortcuts that are handy nonetheless.

Fastmail interface

Fastmail’s headquarters are in Australia, but they have servers in the United States. As an Australian company, they’re only subject to Australian law and are only required to turn over identifying information to Australian authorities. If you’re concerned about the NSA program to search every email that leaves or comes into the United States, Fastmail provides a bit of a safety net. Even though their servers are in the US, Fastmail maintains that while it’s possible the United States could convince Australian authorities to comply with surveillance attempts, it would be highly unlikely.

I’m glossing over a bit of detail here, so if this is important to you, check out Fastmail’s privacy policy or the blog post where the company outlines what the location of their servers means in terms of privacy and surveillance.

Pricing

Fastmail has a variety of plans, ranging from a $10/year light plan that provides 250MB email storage, to a $120/year premier plan that gives you 60GB email storage, mail and calendar sync, the ability to use your own domain, and priority support. I opted for the $40/year enhanced plan that comes with 15GB of email storage, mail and calendar sync, and the use of my own domain. If you’d like to try the service, Fastmail provides a free 60-day trial at the enhanced level. All of Fastmail’s plans are ad-free.

Mail Setup and Migration

I wanted to see how well I liked the service before shutting down my Gmail account entirely, so I created a personality (what Fastmail calls accounts) that would let me send mail from Fastmail, but have it appear like it comes from my Gmail address. In the two weeks since switching to Fastmail, I hadn’t experienced any problems with this setup until a couple of days ago, when mail sent via Gmail started bouncing back as undeliverable. After trying — and failing — to get a response from Fastmail via Twitter, I quick web search turned up an easy solution that only required toggling a switch in my settings. So far, so good.

Migrating mail from one service to another can be a challenge, particularly if you have to rely on proprietary import/export mailbox formats. Fortunately, Fastmail makes migration painless; all I had to do was enter my Gmail user name, password, and server settings, and their migration script moved 15,000 messages in just under four minutes. I opted to import my mail using the same mailbox structure I used in Gmail, but you can choose to import the messages directly into your Fastmail inbox, if you prefer.

Spam hasn’t been an issue since moving from Google to Fastmail. I haven’t received a single piece of spam since switching. Not one. I still can’t quite believe it.

Fastmail provides fast, dependable email service. They won’t mine your messages so they can serve targeted advertising, they promise to protect your privacy, and the service makes migration, managing multiple accounts, and setting up mail for your domain easy. Documentation is plentiful and easy to understand although support could be more responsive. Because you pay them to manage your mail, it’s in their interest to offer a secure, seamless, and reliable experience, and I believe they’ve done that.

Why DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo Logo

I’m a librarian who would rather enter terms into a simplified search box and retrieve “good enough” results for my personal use instead of using the library’s (excellent and vast) collection of resources. Convenience is important to me, and despite my search skills, if I can use a simple search and near-natural language to return a list of serviceable results, I’ll reach for a search engine over a database nine out of ten times.

Search Results

The results from DuckDuckGo are for the most part useful, and in the two weeks since I’ve used it as my primary search engine, I’ve been pleased with the results. It’s taught me a couple of things: (1) Google’s search history and tracking shaped my expectations around the relevance of search results more than I previously thought, and (2) I’m willing to trade increased relevancy for results that are free of spam and advertising.

DuckDuckGo provides instant answers, maps, image searching, and integration with Wolfram Alpha. If you type weather into DuckDuckGo, the search engine will retrieve a five-day forecast for your location (I use this more than you might think, especially during a heat wave). If your search term has a related Wikipedia entry, DuckDuckGo shows the results at the very top of the list and provides a list of links to related entries.

DuckDuckGo's results for intersectionality - note the helpful Wikipedia searches
DuckDuckGo’s results for intersectionality – note the helpful related topics
Google Search results
Google’s results for intersectionality contains a link and brief snippet of the Wikipedia entry.

DuckDuckGo is a fraction of the size of Google, and as a small team they can’t rely on a large team of engineers to build their search engine. Instead, the company uses their own web crawler to create an index based on hundreds of sources. It’s a comparable Google alternative and its principled stand on privacy pushes it to the top of the list as the search engine I’d most likely recommend to patrons…if I still had a job where I interacted with patrons.

Unlike switching email services, changing search engines will cost you nothing in terms of productivity. If you’re unconvinced, try DuckDuckGo for a week and draw your own conclusions.

What’s Next?

Over the next little while, I’ll try using Fastmail’s calendar as a replacement for Google Calendar, and I’ll look into finding a replacement for Google Drive and Google Hangouts. I take part in a few distributed committees that depend on Drive and Hangouts, and while I don’t feel hindered by this, I am reluctant to use any other email address with Google’s services. The team I manage uses Google Hangouts/Google Talk for communication, and I don’t want to be the kind of manager that foists change upon them for no reason other than my discomfort.

If you’re looking to switch services, start with something simple like switching search engines. I recognize that deciding to switch from a free email service to paid email hosting isn’t a decision that everyone can make lightly. However, if you care about your privacy, I wouldn’t recommend switching from one free email service to another. If you are using free services to send sensitive information of any sort, you’re granting these services permission to use your information in any way they see fit, from serving advertisements to cooperating with forced surveillance demands from government agencies. Weigh the benefits of convenience against privacy.

Lastly, If you’re a library worker, consider changing the default search engine on public workstations to DuckDuckGo instead of Google, Yahoo! or Bing. When teaching patrons how to sign up for email accounts, consider adding information about privacy and managing your digital footprint to the course syllabus, and help your patrons understand how to make more informed decisions about who to trust with their communications.

If You Skate Upon Thin Ice

brave souls skating on thin ice
click for larger view

It was a chilly 2°C/34°F as I rode around the seawall today; cold, but not that cold. Everywhere I saw water I saw DANGER! THIN ICE signs, except for this little pond just off Georgia Street in Stanley Park.

I asked one of the guys how he knew where not to skate. “Pretty much anywhere I see water,” he replied. He said he and his friend had been out on the pond for the past four days. You can tell by looking at the etches in the ice from their skate blades.

I said it would probably be the last day they’d be able to skate, as the weather forecast indicated a warm-up later in the week. I waved goodbye and shouted “Enjoy it!” as I pedaled away.

Sometimes you have to go against conventional wisdom and think the unthinkable, to do something utterly ill-advised, naysayers be damned, to find your own moment of bliss.

The Disappearing Butch

butch woman holding a hammer
photo by flickr user arlette

Butches are all about chivalry, old school manners, and swagger… that’s how you’re going to know a butch.” – Butch Jaxson

As a femme-identified person who is attracted to more masculine women, I worry about whether butches are disappearing. Recently, Elan Morgan and I had a Twitter conversation about my discomfort around transgender issues as they relate to me. I would like to consider myself a trans-ally, but when I see that more butches are becoming men it seems, from my admittedly narrow perspective, that more women are transitioning to male, a little corner of my heart sinks. I don’t feel particularly comfortable admitting that, primarily because I don’t want to be seen as transphobic.

This issue becomes more complicated for me because I also identify as bisexual/queer. You would think that someone who is attracted to cisgender males would also find erotic appreciation for transmen as well. For better or worse, that isn’t the case. I’m not certain I want to unpack that here on this blog (but maybe if you buy me a beer, we can talk about it…), instead, I’d like to direct you to a discussion on the disappearing butch that took place on CBC’s The Current last week.

(I’m deliberately hedging and not revealing my true feelings on this issue, because I am not sure this is a discussion I’m quite ready to have in an unsafe space. All I can say is I’m reading, listening, trying to learn, trying to figure out what this has to do with me, if anything at all. I’m trying. That’s all I can offer at the moment.)