Archive for the “Personal” Category

A call for the release of Bassel Khartabil

December 16th, 2015

Bassel Khartabil is a Creative Commons and open source contributor in Damascus, Syria. He  has been imprisoned for three years due to these activities. The MIT Media Lab has invited Bassel to join the Lab as a research scientist in the Center for Civic Media. There Bassel could continue his work building 3D models of the ancient city of Palmyra, the remains of which have been destroyed by ISIS.

Instead, word has recently come that Bassel has been secretly sentenced to death.

On December 10 Joi Ito, the Director of the MIT Media Lab, described how he and Creative Commons came to work with Bassel. Joi’s story is also the story of how I came to know and work with Bassel on open source projects.  I’ve put some additional details of my experiences with Bassel below.

The Guardian has also written a detailed story of Bassels’ involvement with open culture and open source activities. Bassel was also explicitly mentioned by US Secretary of State John Kerry in the statement issued this December 10 to mark International Human Rights Day.

I initially met Bassel through joint activities with Creative Commons. Joichi Ito, then CEO of Creative Commons, invited me to join CC in their launch events in the Middle East. I accompanied Joi on the trip he describes in detail in his post linked above.  My role was to add additional open source contacts and expertise to the group.

As Joi mentioned, the CC crew and I drove from Amman, Jordan to the Syrian border, and then from the border to Damascus. All except me, that is, who had visa issues when we arrived at the border. This was not really surprising to me since the idea that an American citizen could drive up to the Syrian border and get a visa on the spot seemed unimaginable to me. One of the organizers had been sure this would not be a problem however, so I joined the group. It didn’t take long at the border to realize it would would be a problem. Joichi asked one of the local CC contacts and one of the drivers to stay with me, giving me two Arabic speakers to help and a degree of comfort. The other car, driver and the rest of the CC team continued on to Damascus for the events Joi describes. In a moment of odd humor to defuse the tension, Joi named me the “hot potato” to be juggled.

I spent seven hours at the Syrian border while Bassel worked with authorities to get my visa situation sorted out. I was extremely lucky that the driver was an elegant and cultured gentleman, who told me stories and acted as my guide around the border buildings.

Meanwhile, Bassel was working like crazy to resolve my visa issues. This of course involved constant contact with the government authorities. I was fully prepared to learn it was not possible to continue  –emotionally, anyway. I wasn’t really sure how I would get back to Amman, or if I had enough local currency to pay for the trip but I figured that the Creative Commons folks would help me get settled somehow.

At the end of the phone call Bassel kept saying that it would work out, it just needed time for him to talk with all the various people who needed to sign for my visa. To my surprise he was right.

Eventually all the necessary paperwork was obtained and the border authorities allowed me to continue to Damascus. After arriving in Damascus I attended the events Joi described, feeling very lucky to see Creative Commons and open source welcomed by a previously unknown community. It was clear that Bassel was focusing huge amounts of his life’s energy on serving these communities.

A year or two later I returned to Damascus on my own. Once again Bassel was my host. He arranged for me to meet with government officials. He did the same with a range of students, including the local organization of women programming students. He arranged for me to give talks at the university and at the local HackerSpace which he had founded. We talked about Open Source, learning to code and Creative Commons. Bassel worked to promote the open Internet and open culture.  He pushed hard for inclusion of Arabic speakers in online life.

Bassel was arrested in March of 2012 when he returned to Syria after a Creative Commons conference. The Guardian article describes what has happened to Bassel after that arrest. And recently the warning that Bassel has been secretly sentenced to death has come.

Today I echo Joi’s call to the Internet community on behalf of Bassel Khartabil: “We ask for your help in calling attention to Bassel’s arbitrary detention and seeking his whereabouts and immediate release.”

Some Mozilla History, dmose, Hockey

August 31st, 2010

I’ve known Dan Mosedale a long time. He was already at Netscape working in the browser realm when I arrived in the fall of 1994. In fact, of all the people working on Mozilla and browsers in the world today, I think Dan was probably the first. Not the person with the longest continual history (Dan has taken some breaks), but the first chronologically.

I got to know Dan well when we both joined Mozilla full time in 1999. We had both been working on Mozilla part-time since before its founding, Dan on the IT/infrastructure side and me on the MPL and organizational aspects. We both joined Brendan at Mozilla full time at the same time in early 1999, as did Mike Shaver. In that era the very small group of us managing the project were known as “ staff.”

In the next few years staff (which also came to include Myk, Asa and Marcia) made a number of decisions about the Mozilla project that we know put our jobs at Netscape/ AOL at risk. Each time we would all look at each other and make sure we understood what we were doing. We would plan how to keep up and running. In this we had support from many other long time Mozilla contributors who are with Mozilla today, including Chris Hofmann who ultimately became the liaison between staff and Netscape/ AOL after our decisions did cause me to be fired (technically “laid off”).

A couple years ago I mentioned to Dan that I had decided to learn to ice skate, since there’s a skating rink near my house. Dan suggested I try hockey, that despite its appearance it can be much less risky and worrisome than figure skating. I recall vividly his comment that once he has all his gear on, falling became mostly irrelevant. I’ve remembered this each time I’ve fallen without pads — the ice can be hard. Not every fall hurts, but the idea of falling is inhibiting.

Saturday night was Give Hockey a Try Day, with a session at the local rink. The Northern California Women’s Hockey League, a volunteer organization focused on getting women to play and enjoy hockey, takes this seriously. Members donate their gear for the session. They invite women of all skill levels and all ages. (One current coach had no idea how to skate when she started.) Members come with their gear, members come to help neophytes get dressed, member coaches come and get everyone out on the ice. In two hours you go from never having worn hockey skates or held a hockey stick to passing and scrimmaging. Poor quality scrimmaging for sure, but also sometimes hysterically funny as a result. The great thing is that once you’re thinking about the puck, you stop worry about the skating.

In Dan’s honor I rammed myself into the wall to make myself fall. He was right — it was barely noticeable, and not remotely inhibiting.

The NCWHL folks were universally positive and supportive. They end the event with a gear sale so that newcomers can get somewhat worn-out gear for very little money and get started in league play without a lot of expense. I travel too much and have far too little time to add anything structured to my life but still love the sense of racing around the ice not worried about knees and elbows and jaws.

The evening also reminded me of how astonishing people can be when they love what they are doing. As Esther Dyson keeps reminding me, a vibrant civil society is an awesome thing.

7 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Me

January 21st, 2009

The rules:

  1. Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post.
  2. Share seven facts about yourself in the post.
  3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  4. Let them know they’ve been tagged.

I was tagged by Tristan Nitot and Robert Kaiser.

1. My last year of High School was at the Oakland Public Zoo, along with 30 other students and 1 teacher, housed in a single room near the admission gate. The school had nothing particular to do with animals or zoos. It was a short-lived (one year, actually) experiment in educational alternatives amidst the general decline of Oakland public schools. Some 20 or so of my closer friends found a way to avoid the last year of regular high school (student body of 2500) and still graduate; the Oakland Zoo School was my escape route.

2. I headed off to study at Peking University based on a single telegram I never saw (this was before the World Wide Web) from the chancellor of Peking University to the Chancellor of U.C. Berkeley which — I was told — said “W.M. Baker welcome to study at Peking University for one year starting February.” I was in Taiwan at the time, a copy of the telegram was mailed by U.C. Berkeley to my parents’ address and my mom read it to me over the phone during a hurried collect call.

3. My first computer was actually a set of keys to a friend’s office where his 8 inch disk CP/M machine lay unused.

4. I graduated from U.C. Berkeley (undergraduate population 20,000) in an undergraduate degree program that was so small it had no graduation ceremony. That degree is in Asian Studies, which encompassed China, Japan and “South Asia.” The Oriental Languages Department took pity on us and asked the handful of us graduating to join their ceremony. That was an experience for my parents since all of the speeches were in either Chinese or Japanese.

5. I started my first law firm job a week late so I could finish anti-rabies treatment in Katmandu, after being bitten by a dog in Samye, Tibet. I started by last law firm job 5 weeks late so I could recover from what had been hard-to-diagnose malaria picked up on some small islands off of Lambok, Indonesia.

6. My first few weeks as a Netscape employee (fall of 1994) were so tumultuous that I thought I was likely to be thrown out. Fortunately Jim Barksdale’s arrival as CEO calmed the setting.

7. I joined Mozilla knowing full well that it was a very bad career choice, giving up a likely VP level role in a then-very-successful organization for a funky role in a unknown and precarious project.

I tag:

  • My husband Casey Dunn, one of Mozilla’s great anonymous contributors, who I know still has some secrets hidden away 🙂
  • Bob Sutton, whose thinking is both broad and extremely relevant to Mozilla
  • Karim Lakani, because his tweets don’t yet capture quite the same power as his blog
  • Joi Ito, whose life is so online he’ll have to dig deep for new factoids
  • Danese Cooper, who knows more about various open source projects than almost anyone
  • Jonathan Zittrain (who may tag less than 7 people), who is a font of creative thinking about our online lives
  • a whole set of mozilla people who have already been tagged

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the Parks

January 20th, 2009

Monday was a busy day in the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. It’s a good thing we chose a service event that didn’t require registration, since many of the projects that did were full by early morning and registration closed. Our site also had far more volunteers than had been expected, but more was better. The organizers made extra trips for tools and water (non-potable water for the plants we were planting, not for us to drink).

It turns out Mori Point is a spectacular site that needs a lot of restoration. Replanting a hillside doesn’t sound like a big job, but planting 20,000 plants with only handtools turns out to be significant. We planted 1200 or 1300 yesterday, adding another batch of flags (each flag noting where a plant has been planted) to the hillside:

We even received a certificate of service, aimed mostly for kids I think.

Certificate of Public Service

Martin Luther King US National Holiday

January 15th, 2009

Monday is Martin Luther King Day, a national holiday in the United States. Mozilla offices in the U.S. will be closed. This year President-Elect Obama has advocated that more of us celebrate the holiday through volunteer public service activities. I’m planning to participate through habitat restoration in one of the national parks along the California coastline. These parks are a spectacular public resource that need a surprising amount of maintenance (habitat restoration, trash collection, trail maintenance) to retain the fullness of their beauty. I often think I’d like to do this and the coming holiday seems the perfect time.

Voting By Mail

November 3rd, 2008

Last Monday I voted by mail, for the first time ever. I thought I would be traveling on election day so I voted by Absentee Ballot. I’ve voted this way before, but always before I’ve physically delivered the Absentee Ballot to a voting official by dropping it off at the voting office. This is the first time I’ve actually put my ballot in the mail. It was creepy. I didn’t like it. The idea that my vote now depends not only on the election mechanism but on the postal service as well is disconcerting. I probably put double the amount of postage necessary. I kept looking out my window to watch for the mail truck stopping at the mailbox. I at least wanted to see my vote get out of the mailbox; but somehow I missed it.

Next time I’m going to skip the mail.

A demographic moment

October 14th, 2005

Every once in a while I realize that I am unquestionably part of a particular demographic group. This happens periodically as I look at our late 1990’s vintage Subaru Outback Wagon and realize how many gazillions of people in our area drive this car. I had another, odder moment a while back. In this case I’d call the demographic group “Silicon Valley Family.” My husband, son and I were returning from Calgary. At the Calgary airport, one goes through US Customs before getting on the airplane rather than when one lands. This particular day the airport was quite empty, there were no lines and we walked right up to the Customs Officer. My son is under 10 and so I was explaining that in some places crossing a national boundary is a very big deal, and talking to the customs officer can be very tense. Who knows, maybe he’ll be in a tense border crossing some day and understanding the value of behaving appropriately will be important.

The three of us arrive at the customs officer. He fiddles with our passports for a bit, then asks “Are you related?” What an odd question. After a moment I answer “Yes, we’re married and this is our son.” He looks at us for a moment and then asks our son “How old are you?” A moment of hesitation occurs, part shyness and part testing out a new idea since this is the first person to ask my son his age since his birthday a day or two before. A rather long series of questions follow, which my son manages to answer. It’s not threatening, but it’s odd. And it’s long.

Then the customs officer turns to my husband and asks “What do you do?” It’s a formal tone of voice, an Official question, not chatty at all. My husband answers ” I write software for Stanford University.” The customs officer turns to me and asks the same question. I start to answer “I run a . . .” I hesitate, as I used to say “I run a non-profit organization that makes software” and that response is not accurate enough for me now. So I end up saying “I run a . . . software company.” Now I feel strange.

The officer turns to my son and says “And what do you do?” He adds, in an iroinic tone of voice, “And are you working already?” My son thinks hard. He’s been following the conversation carefully and knows some answer is expected. After a moment he gets it, thinking I suppose to the educational games he’s been playing during vacation. His face brightens, his voice grows confident, and he announces “I USE the software!”

The Customs Officer has met his match. He almost even laughs, then ends the interview and waves us on. And there we have it. The Silicon Valley family — software everywhere.

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