Ada Lovelace Day +1: Honoring Ronda Hauben

Yesterday was Ada Lovelace Day, a day to honor women in technology. When I first heard about the event, I knew instantly who I wanted to honor. Though we never met, this woman helped inspire me to participate in the community that is the Internet. I’d lost track of what she was doing over the years, so I had to do some research, which of course led to more research … so, I’m late.

So let me introduce you to an underappreciated Internet visionary, one of the original Netizens: Ronda Hauben. In her youth, Hauben worked in Detroit at the world’s largest car factory, Ford Rouge. As the story goes, Ford was sponsoring continuing education classes in computer programming. Hauben and others were outraged when the company canceled the program in 1987. After an unsuccessful attempt to revive the company-sponsored program, Hauben launched The Amateur Computerist newsletter to foster technology education among the workers. The first issue (PDF link) came out on February 11, 1988, the 51st anniversary of the Flint Sit-Down Strike. It declared:

We want to keep interest alive because computers are the future. We want to disperse information to users about computers. Since the computer is still in the early stage of development, the ideas and experiences of the users need to be shared and built on if this technology is to advance. To this end, this newsletter is dedicated to all people interested in learning about computers.

Sometime later, Hauben found Usenet newsgroups, and figured out early that collaboration and participation among users were the key to the future. In September 1992, the alt.amateur-comp newsgroup was founded to circulate the electronic version of the newsletter, which was:

dedicated to support for grassroots efforts and movements like the “computers for the people movement” that gave birth to the personal computer in the 1970s and 1980s. Hard efforts of many people over hundreds of years led to the production of a working computer in the 1940s and then a personal computer that people could afford in the 1970s. This history has been serialized in several issues of the newsletter.

A year later, Hauben delivered a speech on the history and promise of Usenet, which may have been my first acquaintance with her work.

Among the early stories The Amateur Computerist published included one of the first histories of Usenet in its Fall 1992 Supplement, “The Linux Movement” and the Free Software Foundation in Spring 1994, and more than a few basic (and BASIC) programs for its readers to try out, much like Dr. Dobb’s Journal.

In 1994, Ronda and her son Michael released Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet for free on the web. It was later published by IEEE Computer Society Press. It offers a terrific glimpse at the early history of the Internet, and an important discussion of its promise that remains largely relevant today; especially with the increasing corporatization of the Net.

Today, Ronda is a citizen journalist living in New York City. She is an award-winning United Nations correspondent for OhMyNewsInternational, and still contributes articles on the democratic promise of the Internet.

So go out and take a look at the complete Amateur Computerist archives, and think about how you can contribute to your online communities—including this one. Comments always appreciated.

Deal in Writers Strike: Woohoo!

The Writers Guild has achieved a settlement with TV and movie producers! Details (including a link to a PDF summary of the agreement) here:

United Hollywood: Letter From The Presidents With Deal Summary

Be sure to read the comments too. It will give you a sense of the WGA membership’s mood. The strike does not end unless the rank-and-file writers say it’s over.

It’s been a long, hard fight for justice for these folks. If the members of the WGA feel this is the best contract they can get (as their leaders believe), I’ll cheer their return to work. If they choose to continue battling for a still better deal, I’ll mourn the passing of the TV season, but continue to stand behind them. As they say, it’s about “Solidarity Forever.”

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1000 pieces of paper a month?

Gartner report from August (“How to Manage the Environmental Impact of
Printing”) says the “typical” office worker prints about 1000 pages per
month. If printing on one side only, they say it works out to 40 pounds
of paper per month!

At four 5-day weeks per month (give or take a couple days), this
would be 50 pages every working day. Really? Tragically, there are no
footnotes in this paper, so you can’t tell if this page count is a
misprint, or if you can trust the 40 pounds of paper number.

Does this seem out of whack to you? Well, maybe not. A Google search
today found quite a few sites that offer that statistic. The closest
thing I found to a reference is a 1997 report from the Lawrence
Berkeley Lab
where they said that the typical office worker used 5 sheets per hour
of work. No footnote here, either.

I don’t know if I’m as skeptical of the original number, but a
decade can be a long time. I’d guess that I print (and copy) less than
I did 10 years ago. Some of the clients I work with run duplex printing
operations now.

Does anyone know if this factoid is still true (or ever was, for
that matter)? It would be nice to think we’ve made progress
(recognizing that our government is the brick wall to progress on
greenhouse gases

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Got FeedBuddy?

In my continuing quest to make things easier on my readers (yeah, you!), I’ve been trying to add FeedBuddy to the page. This service lets you subscribe to the “Notes from the Metaverse” feed using just about any reader (web-based or disk-based) you can think of. Or at least those were the notes I took from wherever it was I read about it.

Problem is: For the last two weeks, I haven’t been able to connect to the Feedbuddy website to sign up. I’ve tried different browsers, different times of day, different OSs, but the site continually times out. I even re-Googled it to make sure I didn’t have the wrong URL. No luck.

Does anyone know if Feedbuddy has become too popular for its own good, or just died prematurely? Anybody know of a similar service? Or do y’all like a series of buttons down the right side of the page with the blogroll? All thoughts entertained.

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Getting a Little More Social

Taking up some housekeeping details around here. Finally adding some blogroll material to the sidebar over there. Feel free to visit some other folks I read and learn from. This is likely to expand in the coming days and weeks, but I won’t subject you to everything.

The About page hiding in the cityscape above will have some actual content quite shortly now. In the meantime, just know that I’m a writer by trade, and openSUSE Linux Unleashed will be out in October.

For some inexplicable reason, I’ve also signed up at two different social networks this week.

  • is a hangout mostly for public radio types.
  • The Celtic Lounge was set up by Black 47 lead singer Larry Kirwan and music writer Mike Farragher as a hangout for Irish/Celtic musicians and their fans. Black 47 is one of my favorite bands for a lot of reasons, and I’ve got the Celtic moniker to count as an Irish writer, so it may be fun over there.

You’ll find me in both places as “workingwriter.” Stop by if you have the inclination.

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