s07e04: Do Better

What, another subtitle?

0.0 Sitrep

0.1 Here’s the plan

This newsletter is going paid on Monday 23rd September.

Between now and the 23rd, here’s the plan (plan subject to change according to mental health and other commitments):

  • Three more episodes this week!

After the 23rd, here’s the plan:

  • Paying subscribers get everything! Up to around four episodes a week once I’m in my groove.

  • Non-paying subscribers will get one to two free, public episodes a week

Subscription options (and some tweaks)

I had a chat with the nice people at Substack and we’ve tweaked the subscription options. You can now:

  • Be a free subscriber, which is totally cool and awesome

  • Pay $7 a month, and get everything

  • Pay $70 a year, and also get everything (yes, this is new, keep reading)

  • Pay $150 a year or anything you want above $71 a year because you can afford it and choose to, and also get everything (yes, this is new)

So: A new, cheaper annual subscription, and a clearer and more flexible “pay more because you can and want to” subscription.

Everyone who’s subscribed at $150 a year already? You are amazing and you have all my emoji hearts, emoji kisses, emoji kissing heart cat things, forever and all time.

One last note. Some people have suggested I offer a discounted organization/group/institutional-type subscriptions for multiple people on one payment.

If you’re the kind of person who works somewhere and has ever forwarded my newsletter to colleagues with an introduction like “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS” or “THIS IS WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT” or “HOW DO WE GET AMANDA TO UNDERSTAND THIS” or “I’M PRINTING THIS OUT AND PUTTING IT ON THE WALL”, then please think about this kind of subscription and let me know by sending me an email to a special address that you can just hit send on without writing anything!

(Because if you’ve ever done those forwarding things, it sounds like what I have to say is useful to you and helping keep you sane, so if it flies on your company’s expense policy, then paying me for it will make everyone happy!)

0.2 And here’s the sitrep

It’s Monday 16th September, 2019 and I am still listening to that DJ Shadow track from the iPhone announcement and it is because my taste in music is Basic, but in my defence, I don’t care for pumpkin-spiced-things.

1.0 On With The Things

You might think this is a heavy one, but I believe the saying is something along the lines of not getting to a better world without doing the hard work.

And for what it’s worth, I feel uncomfortable about all this, but it’s the kind of uncomfortable that I know I need to do, to live up to the person I want to be.

1.1 Do Better

There is a meeting room at my day job, where I freelance with the State of California. For the last three years - nearly four - I’ve been advising the state on how to replace and modernize the IT system that runs child welfare across the state.

To get people formerly separated from each other, I lobbied for a new building. Designing and delivering new services that meet peoples’ needs - vulnerable children, tireless social workers, program chiefs, doctors, teachers - needs a change in how government and other bureaucracies traditionally work.

When you get a new building, you get to name meeting rooms. And this building is a very not-government-feeling building. It has open space. It has lots of meeting rooms. It has adjustable, standing desks.

And at some point, one of the meeting rooms on the second floor, where all the meeting rooms names begin with “S” (for second floor), the equivalent of the board room got named Stallman. After Richard Stallman.

I know why, and how, this happened.

From the beginning, I’ve lobbied that where the project uses public money to create software, that software should be open source by default. For all humanity, that kind of thing. And if a thing doesn’t exist, and we’re making it right and for users, then we want everyone to benefit.

So this project has always had an open source philosophy. At times, that philosophy was misunderstood and corrupted from what I had personally intended or wished for - which is fine. Sometimes, it was an “open source first” approach, that meant choosing open source over commercial products. I have my own opinion about using tools that will get the job done, of using the most mature tools that also make sense appropriate to what you’re doing, and when you’re doing it.

So when the historical leadership named the room, I let it go. People told me it was inappropriate. I can’t remember if people told leadership at the time that it was inappropriate. But people told me how it made them feel in the context of other conversations. And while I did try to do things about the larger context, I didn’t do anything about the room name.

I’m a freelance strategy and product consultant. I’m not in the org chart. I’m not a directory never mind even a deputy director.

But I am and have been from the start someone that people listen to, all the way from the bottom to the top.

It would have cost me nothing to have made a request - and I don’t think I’m being overly egoistical in thinking it would have been carried without any significant debate, but I didn’t.

If I think about it, it’s for two reasons: First, that I didn’t think it was my job - I wanted to give the new organization and its leadership space to define itself. I got confused between making a decision for people, and recommending something. Second, and this is the one I am most ashamed of: I didn’t treat it as important.

Well, I like to think that I’m capable of learning. A few weeks ago, a new wave of allegations about predatory behavior in the games industry came out, one of them involving someone I’d known when I was in the games industry in London. From what I knew and saw then, and what I learned recently, I believed the allegations.

So it was easy for me to say: I believe these women.

But what changed for me was seeing a plea for influential people who have nothing to lose, who this individual might listen to, to call them out. To tell them their behavior was unacceptable. To tell them you believe these women. Because if you’re really going to be an ally, the least you could do is to publicly show what’s acceptable behavior.

So I did, and I called Alexis Kennedy out.

And I’ve learned about what someone in my position needs to be doing.

I’ve learned the difference between feeling anxious about making decisions without giving a new team the space to grow, and making recommendations that the team can choose to act on.

It would have cost me nothing at all to speak up.

Stallman was already problematic before his support Jeffrey Epstein came out in his emails to the MIT CSAIL list. There was already a whisper network. I wasn’t part of it, but I did know.

I am sorry I did not speak up sooner. I might not have the responsibility of making decisions, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have the responsibility to speak, especially when I know I am listened to.

If you are someone in a position like I am, my intent is not to shame you. It is to call ourselves out, to hold us to account and to change our behavior. We get one freebie. If we don’t change our behavior after getting feedback, that’s a problem.

I will do better. We all have to do better.

2.0 And Finally

This is the bit where I put little Things that caught my attention, or have a little bit more space for tiny reckons that might turn into something bigger. Or, as someone has pointed out elsewhere, “I know you’re trying to deflect attention by trying to be funny here, but you’re actually on to something here”. The only problem is knowing which is which.

Okay! First, thank you to everyone who has replied. When I say I love to get notes, I really do love to get notes, especially ones where people just say hello. I think it’s partly because I get to pretend I’m having a conversation with you, and we’re doing that thing of using the internet to make an “authentic connection” with each other, as opposed to those other internet things that make authentic connections and result in people dying.

Second, I’ve got a bunch of interesting things that came out in some of the replies. More on those later.

Third, gosh, it’s rained a lot in Portland lately. Definitely autumn now. What’s the weather like where you are?




Richard Stallman resigned from MIT CSAIL and the Free Software Foundation.

Now begins the long work of growing the open source software community.

Sam Becket never made it home.

Oh right, and another subscribe button because let me tell you the conversations I’ve had with my therapist on learning to be OK to ask people to pay money, if they would like to. Man, is it hard. And also probably the source of a forthcoming “Therapist: And what do we do when?” meme-y joke. (Hello I’m Dan and I can’t write “remember to mash that subscribe button with your credit card!!!!!” when a gazillion words will do instead).