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NOW v4: Big personal news, frustrations about current events, a tiny bit of hope

Updated my Now page, contents below for posterity. This one contains probably the biggest news in my personal life since we moved. 🐣 Fewer emojis in this update because it just feels too casual considering the somber state of things right now.


It’s late February 2021. We’re coming up on a year since we hastily moved out of our flat in London a week+ early to avoid getting stuck in top-tier pandemic 🦠 lockdown without a home.

Personally, these past few months have looked largely the same as every other month since early 2020. I’ve been exceptionally fortunate throughout in that every sticky situation caused by the pandemic or current events has turned out alright. Sometimes this has been down to luck or timing, but more truthfully, it is directly related to the privilege of having very supportive family, friends, and collaborators.

Of course it’s been just more chaos in the wider news. Since my last Now update there was the election in November 🗳, an astronomical spike in Covid cases and deaths tied to winter holiday travel and celebrations, then the Capitol insurrection in January followed by a pared-back, pandemic-appropriate presidential inauguration. There was the very recent terrible freeze in Texas which resulted from a catastrophic combination of extreme weather and exceptional incompetence on the part of state legislators and ERCOT. How can we blame wind turbines freezing when people in Arctic territories manage to keep theirs running smoothly? And how did state regulators not see this coming considering the 2011 federal report explicitly recommending winterization efforts? Friends in Austin reported being without power for over 50 hours, indoor temperatures around 48F or below. Many Texans lost their homes or lives, a child in Conroe died of suspected hypothermia in bed next to his three-year-old stepbrother. The US coronavirus death toll just passed half a million. And all of these headlines are from the US alone.

But the vaccine 💉 distribution also started towards the end of last year, and the curve is dropping. Even though there’s some uncertainty surrounding the vaccines’ efficacy, particularly in preventing transmission or against new virus strains, even though there have been problems with efficient distribution, it still gives me a bit of hope. It’s a drop in the bucket when you consider all of the broader problems, but it’s something. Sam’s parents got the jabs a while back, then my grandpa, then my parents. I should be eligible for the vaccine in less than a month according to California’s current schedule.

The reason I’m eligible so soon is that we’re expecting. Some very happy personal news. 🙂

Perhaps it’s an odd time to have a baby, but it’s not like we’ll be disrupting a busy social calendar. They’re due to arrive this summer, possibly right around when we can start seeing people again. At least I really hope.

Navigating self employment and maternity leave has been interesting. I plan to get back to work when I can, I really like what I do and the people I get to work with. And it’s going to be very stressful not earning for a bit! But I’m under no illusions that it will be easy and am planning to take a solid few months completely off. Will probably have to find childcare ASAP, which I hear is a tortuous and expensive undertaking in SF… Talking to friends and collaborators that have been through this has been essential. It’s reinforced my feeling that planning and flexibility are two sides of the same coin. The unknown aspect of it (did you know that only roughly 5% of babies come on their due date?) makes it a little difficult to figure certain things out, but we’ll get there.

Work-wise 👩🏻‍💻 I’m currently focusing on wrapping up big preexisting projects before my maternity leave and fitting in maintenance work to pre-empt requests that otherwise might have arisen while I’m out for a few months.

My bigger projects include: working with Nick Sherman to add some exciting functionality to the super-useful Variable Fonts website; developing a new site for Danish art 🎨 school Det Jyske Kunstakademi designed by Sara De Bondt studio; helping out long-term collaborators Corridor8 with some major website improvements; developing a website designed by John Morgan studio for a major London-based gallery 🖼 including the automated migration of over 4000 entries; developing a new website for Gort Scott Architects designed by Polimekanos. I’m still collaborating with Bec Worth on the WIP 🚧 open-source WordPress theme that powers this website, though that project has been dormant for a bit due to maternity leave prep busy-ness.

I’m still offering free 30-minute open office hours sessions on Wednesday mornings Pacific Time for anyone that has web-related questions, but am now just using email to schedule this. Dropped Calendly for scheduling since it felt like unnecessary admin. My most recent sessions included walking someone through how I worked with the Are.na API on Gemma Copeland’s site and discussing how best to make content adjustments to a personal site for SEO purposes with a lovely former collaborator who is embarking on some exciting new personal projects.

Limited free time at the moment is mostly taken up by mindlessly watching feel-good shows like The Repair Shop and Taskmaster, and by anxiety-driven research. That all needs to change. Some of the research has been dedicated to wrapping my head around the blockchain and NFTs since so many of my colleagues are now jazzed about it despite prior misgivings. But most of the research is made up of learning more about what on earth having a kid is supposed to entail in 2021 and beyond. If anyone has tips on teaching kids about social media safety let me know, I’m already worried.

Besides that, I’m still contributing to the Feminist Open Source Investigations Group. Cooking and baking 🍲 used to be my main pastime but that fell seriously by the wayside due to first trimester woes. I did successfully bake my MIL’s top-notch lemon drizzle cake 🍋 recently, which was a big win. Sam and I have been doing a little more walking and exploring outdoors, not enough. And we just started making some furniture based on Rietveld’s crate designs. More on this to come soon. I haven’t kept up with my anti-racism reading recently, nor other reading, so need to revisit the reading list 📚 I set for myself a while back. And I need to make more effort to make IRL friends in the SF Bay Area. I put it on the back burner since lockdown measures combined with being extra-cautious due to pregnancy made seeing people in person seem unfeasible. But that is changing as numbers go down. Have had a lot of luck reaching out to people on Twitter though, every one of those digital encounters has been really nice. Still looking for a new choir 🎵 in the Bay Area, though I’m not expecting to find anything that rivals Musarc in terms of breadth of repertoire and experimentation. We’ll see!

Am I allowed to say that things are maybe, just barely, looking up? 🤞 Don’t hold me to it, time will tell.

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Lichens are not plants

I’ve been taking pictures of “little plants” for a little while. The most consistent aspect of this photos is that they contain lichen, sometimes moss.

Turns out a lichen is not a plant. See Wikipedia for more info but in short: “A lichen is a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi species in a mutualistic relationship.”

Ah well, still going to refer to them as little plants. But let the record show that I now know my error.

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“It is also difficult to express the full magnitude of our disinterest in passing some Internet Randolorian’s ‘free speech’ litmus test”

I’ve hosted this site with NearlyFreeSpeech.NET (NFSN) for a few years now and have always been happy with their service.

It’s super bare-bones and no-nonsense—probably not the right platform for people or orgs that need more hands-on support or maintenance, so not one that I usually recommend to clients—but it does exactly what I need it to at just about the lowest cost out there (about $1.96/mo for my site at time of writing). This blog post by Blake Watson is a decent introduction to what they’re like as a host.

They don’t have a flashy website and aren’t ones to post often on their blog, but they did recently post a response to the extremists that have been trying their luck on the platform post-insurrection in no uncertain terms.

We’ve received quite a few emails (and signups) from them in the past week or so. They appear to believe that “free speech” means they can say whatever they want without repercussions. (It does not.) They expect us to agree with them about that. (We do not.) And they believe they’re entitled to our reassurance and, in some cases, assistance. (They are not.)

We have zero time and even less energy to waste on such nonsense. It is also difficult to express the full magnitude of our disinterest in passing some Internet Randolorian’s “free speech” litmus test.

It’s worth reading in full, read “Free Speech in 2021” on the NearlyFreeSpeech blog.

They know what they’re about, as they say they’ve been in the game for 20 years. This post reinforces my satisfaction with them as a hosting provider.

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Lemon drizzle cake

From Alison Bradley via Bernie Baldwin
Makes one 1lb loaf

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F), and line a 1lb loaf tin1.

In a large bowl, beat together 57 g (¼ c, ½ stick) softened butter2, 70 g (⅜ c + 1 T) granulated sugar, 1 large egg3, 2 T milk, a pinch of salt, and the zest of ½ lemon. Then mix in 85 g (⅔ c) self raising flour4.

Pour in to the loaf tin and bake 50 minutes at 175C (350F). In a small bowl, prepare the drizzle by mixing the juice of ½ lemon and 1½ T icing sugar. Set aside.

When done, remove the tin from oven and place it on a cooling rack. Poke holes from top of cake all the way through with a skewer, then slowly pour over the drizzle so that it soaks through. Leave to cool at least halfway, then remove the cake from the tin.


  1. I can never remember if my loaf tin is 1lb or 2lbs. The rule of thumb I now use is if it seems “normal”, sort of pound-cake-sized, it’s probably a 1lb tin. If it seems hefty, more the sort of thing you’d use to bake a nearly full-sized loaf of bread, it’s probably a 2lb tin. If you only have a 2lb loaf tin, you’ll need to double or even triple the recipe, and it will take around 10–15 minutes longer to bake. If you have two 1lb loaf tins, consider making two cakes and freezing one for later since it freezes well.
  2. The quickest way I know to soften a stick of butter (at least for a standard shape stick in the US) is to microwave it on full power with the paper on for 5 seconds on each side.
  3. Egg sizes aren’t standard across the world, so for better results, you might want to adjust how much egg you use depending on where you live. Wikipedia has a good article on egg sizes, though keep in mind that these measurements include the weight of the shell (around 8% of the egg weight, supposedly). This is a British recipe, so one large egg should be at least 63g and no more than 72g. In the US, this means that you should ideally use one very large / XL egg.
  4. If you don’t have self raising flour, add 2 t baking powder per cup of flour. Be sure to whisk them together beforehand. For the 85 g (⅔3 c) flour in this recipe, it’s probably best to add 1 + 1 scant t baking powder.

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To read: “Maintenance and Care” by Shannon Mattern for Places

Read the article “Maintenance and Care: A working guide to the repair of rust, dust, cracks, and corrupted code in our cities, our homes, and our social relations” by Shannon Mattern for Places, published in November 2018.

Yet even if we build an army of repair robots (a longtime sci-fi dream) and maintenance AIs, their hardware and software will still require upkeep. They’ll still depend upon well-maintained, interoperable technical infrastructures. They’ll still require cleaning staff — “industrial hygienists” — to maintain pristine conditions for their manufacture. We’ll need curators to clean the data and supervisors for the robot cleaning crew. Labor is essential to maintenance.

As Jay Owens reminds us,

There will be dust. There is always dust. By that I mean there is always time, and materiality, and decay. Decomposition and damage are inescapable. There is always the body, with its smears and secretions and messy flaking bits off. There is always waste and it always has to be dealt with, and shipping it out of sight overseas to the developing world does not change the fact this work has to be done (and it is dirty, dangerous work that demands its pound of flesh).

That’s true whether we’re talking about ditch-digging or dam-building or data-diving. Maintenance at any particular site, or on any particular body or object, requires the maintenance of an entire ecology: attending to supply chains, instruments, protocols, social infrastructures, and environmental conditions.

A lot of this relates to the push and pull between maintenance and innovation, how much more attractive innovation, the shiny and new, is in the public consciousness.

This brings me back, yet again, to Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction. The heroic versus the contemplative, the careful. The spear versus the receptacle. The linear versus the cyclical. Resolution versus the infinite.

What about a Carrier Bag Theory of Everything?

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Questions and questionable answers on the blockchain and cryptocurrencies

Quick note: This post is way too long… but it felt weird to split it up considering it all came from the same burst of research, and I didn’t want to cut some of the finer details because I’m using this for reference. So apologies! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Illustration of blocks in yellow, pink, and blue

Illustration of blocks in blue, orange, and yellow

I’ve been aware of cryptocurrencies and the blockchain for a long time but have never taken a moment to dig in. Recently there’s been a lot of buzz around the blockchain amongst people I know and like. Some of these people have historically been pretty skeptical about it, as have I, so this has made me curious about what might have changed.

This is an attempt to get to the bottom of a few concepts and questions that have been lingering in my mind. It starts with a very basic attempt to describe the blockchain and crypto and then moves on to topics I’m particularly concerned about, especially energy usage, risk / legality, and the impact on the digital divide. I’m calling these answers “questionable” because I’m definitely still learning, but I’ve done enough research and thinking around it all that I’m comfortable with what I’ve written here. If you read any of this and think I’ve gotten something wrong, let me know.

I’m most interested in why non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are getting so much hype right this moment but decided to focus on the blockchain and crypto first since it forms the foundation of NFTs. A dive in to NFTs is to come separately.

Illustration of blocks in blue, yellow, and pink

What is the blockchain?

The blockchain is a way of storing data cryptographically. You can think of the term quite literally: blocks of data are chained together to form an ever-growing and nearly immutable ledger. The blockchain as we know it was invented in 2008 and was implemented for the first time with the Bitcoin protocol in 2009, creating the cryptocurrency bitcoin.

The blockchain is decentralized, meaning it isn’t stored in any one place. It is instead distributed across every different computer, or node, that has interacted with it on a particular network. The blockchain is one of many decentralized technologies, but it is more of a concept than a unique protocol such as Dat or the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) (neither use the blockchain, to be clear). There are many different blockchain protocols with different advantages.

On the blockchain, each block of data and the way it is connected to the previous block is permanent and verifiable without the need for any third-party involvement or intervention. Because of this, one of the most common applications for the blockchain that we’ve seen so far is cryptocurrency transactions and investment.

But it’s worth noting that the blockchain can be useful for much more than cryptocurrencies and decentralized finance (DeFi). I’m particularly interested in the Handshake Network, a decentralized domain name system (DNS) alternative. And the blockchain could also be used to track the supply chain to prove with 99.9% certainty that a particular product’s manufacturing didn’t involve things like child labor.

Read more

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Growing up in a DDT dumping ground

Rat beach near Torrance, California in 2010

Rat Beach in 2010

I came across the article below recently and was pretty floored.

“How the waters off Catalina became a DDT dumping ground” by Rosanna Xia for the LA Times, 25 October 2020

I grew up in Torrance till I was 5 and Palos Verdes until I was 13. I played in the ocean at Rat Beach all the time, caught tadpoles in the storm drain just next to PVBAC, went tidepooling in Abalone Cove. I had no idea about the Superfund site, this is the very first time I’ve heard of it. How on earth is that?

Lunada Bay in Southern California, 2010

Lunada bay in 2010

It looks like the Superfund site starts just south of Lunada Bay and gets worse as you pass Portuguese Bend down towards San Pedro (see map).

And now they’ve verified punctured DDT waste barrels that have been sitting on the sea floor just off Catalina, possibly since the 1980s. This could be three to four decades of leakage from up to half a million barrels.

They leaned in to examine an icicle-like anomaly growing off one of the barrels — a “toxicle,” they called it — and wondered about the gas that bubbled out when the robot snapped one off. To have gas supersaturated in and around these barrels so deep underwater, where the pressure was 90 times greater than above ground, was unsettling. They couldn’t help but feel like they were poking at a giant Coke can ready to explode.

Sea lions up and down the coast have been dying from it for decades, and still are. We eat a lot of seafood from these waters.

How can this possibly be cleaned up, and who on earth is going to pay for it? Certainly not the Montrose Chemical Corp. of California, they’ve been gone for years.

It’s just so exhausting. It feels like so many people’s jobs right this moment are simply running around slapping Bandaids left right and center, scrambling to fix what have become systemic problems caused by the poor decision making of people in the past. Lack of foresight, deliberately turning a blind eye, “we’ll deal with it later”, “it can’t possibly be that bad”. The environment, tech, policing, advertising.

So much firefighting.

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To read: “Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country” by Cristina Rivera Garza

A friend+co-conspirator from FemOS recommended Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country by Cristina Rivera Garza recently, looks incredible. In her words:

It discusses histories of trauma and violence in Mexico, but I think also speaks to people encountering trauma in their work or daily lives, and how to process or experience that through collective grieving. She posits Mexico as a “visceraless state,” where the government has assumed a solely administrative function, and thus has left the citizens are disembodied. Apt language to describe how states around the world are grappling with the pandemic…

Feminist Press (publisher) | Biblio.com (secondhand) | Bookshop.org