This week, you can buy a copy of Wired Magazine’s January edition and see the EFF ad in it. It’s a full page letter to the tech community, urging them to safeguard user data now in light of incoming President Donald Trump’s positions on surveillance and censorship.
This ad was a big lift for me and others at EFF—from figuring out where we would place it, negotiating with Conde Nast’s marketing team, and then working internally with EFF’s legal and graphics team to finalize the ad. I’m really proud of the final version.
To the Technology Community: Your threat model just changed.
Incoming President Donald Trump made campaign promises that, if carried out, threaten the free web and the rights of millions of people. He has praised attempts to undermine digital security, supported mass surveillance, and threatened net neutrality. He promised to identify and deport millions of your friends and neighbors, track people based on their religious beliefs, and suppress freedom of the press.
And he wants to use your servers to do it.
Today, we are calling on the technology community to unite with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in securing our networks against this threat.
Encrypt: Use HTTPS and end-to-end encryption for every user transaction, communication, and activity by default.
Delete: Scrub your logs. You cannot be made to surrender data you do not have.
Reveal: If you get a government request to monitor users or censor speech, tell the world.
Resist: Fight for user rights in court, on Capitol Hill, and beyond.
When you stand with users, we’ll stand with you. EFF has fought for the rights of technology creators and users for 26 years, through four different presidential administrations. As a nonpartisan nonprofit, we combine litigation, activism, and software development to defend civil liberties in the digital world.
The future of our democracy depends on an Internet that is free from censorship and government surveillance. Together we can ensure that technology created to connect and uplift people worldwide is not conscripted into a tool of oppression. Join us in defending users.
I moved into my tiny, perfect house in Oakland in August of 2015, and my partner and I have been slowly turning it into a real home. From replacing broken thermostats to installing an embedded cabinet over the bathroom sink, I personally think we’re doing a marvelous job at making our house nice without spending much money.
One of the biggest problems is that our kitchen is tiny. And there isn’t much room for storage. We’ve been slowly adding shelves where we can, and wall-mounting things to save cabinet space.
Today I’m showing off what I consider to be a tiny masterpiece: a kitchen cart and wall-mounted lid organizer. Both fit into the small area between my backdoor and my countertop—space which we’d been wasting before.
The kitchen cart was originally $60 from Ikea, but I found it cheaper on Craigslist. It’s actually easy to find cheap Ikea furniture on Craigslist—just figure out what you like at Ikea, then set up an alert whenever something with that name gets posted. With a name like “Bekvam,” it was easy to find this cart.
Then we grabbed some dark cherry wood stain, finishing oil, a tarp, some gloves, and a few cheap rags from the hardware store.
To stain furniture, you apply a very small amount of stain and then wipe it away. I used a small sponge. It can’t pool or drip, or it will look terrible. (I know, I ruined a dining room table once.)
I originally intended to go darker, but I fell in love with the dark golden pattern in the wood, so I stopped a few shades lighter than I originally intended.
I only spent a few hours on staining, and then let it dry overnight. Then a little touch-up in the morning, some more drying, and then we ran a protective oil over the entire thing. Two days later, we had a beautiful new kitchen cart.
Thankfully my partner has a multifunction power drill (I think that’s what it’s called?) which has an adapter for sanding, and we were able to use that to sand the majority of the lid organizer. But it was very difficult to reach down to the creases between the dowels. Deciding the perfect was the enemy of the good, we just sanded it as best we could, stained it, and called it a day.
We tried to mimic the shade of the kitchen cart, and I think we got pretty close.
The end result? No more clattering pot lids cascading out of the cabinet whenever I need to grab a frying pan.
And there are even a few hanging hooks below for small pots and pans or mugs.
The dowels didn’t come out perfectly, and one of the back screws didn’t want to go far in the wall. Nonetheless, I’m still ridiculously happy with it.
There’s something particularly nice about having done this ourselves. I don’t have a lot of downtime at home, and so carving out the hours to see this through from start to finish was in itself a challenge. From bargain hunting on Craigslist to careful wood staining to wall-mounting, this project was a lot more about time and energy than about money. And while I know there are imperfections in the final piece, I somehow don’t mind. Maybe I even like it more because of those little imperfections, each a little testament to our journey down the slow, stumbling path toward self-sufficiency.
I hate my old Gregory pack, so I’ve been looking to upgrade to a lighter, better fitting pack for a while.
But making the decision about which backpack is so hard. After hours of research, I ordered three backpacks online and tried them all out. This article compares the Gossamer Gear Mariposa, the Hyperlight 3400 Windrider, and ZPacks Arc Haul.
I tested these packs three ways (since I couldn’t take them backcountry and still return them):
With the Bearikade. I used my partner’s Bearikade Expedition—the biggest bear canister we have in the house—and threw 10 pounds of dumbbell weight into it. Then I loaded all my backpacking gear and the Bearikade into the backpack, with a brimming 3L Camelbak. I saw how it all fit, tried it on, and walked around my house for a bit.
With a smaller bear canister. I then repeated the exercise with all three backpacks, only replacing the Bearikade with a slightly smaller Garcia.
Without a bear canister. While I do most of my backpacking in the Sierras, I hate the bear canister and occasionally go places where the amazing, lightweight Ursack is allowed. So I tried all three packs again without a bear canister, keeping the 10 pound weights, and all my gear including 3L of water.
Note: 10 lbs is about how much weight I would carry for 6 nights/7 days of food.
Things all these packs had in common:
All three packs could handle the Bearikade bear canister and all my gear.
All of them were well-constructed and seemed durable.
The Mariposa is super cushioned and rests close to the body. The weight balances low, so that there’s no sense of sway from a too-tall pack. The pockets are incredible. First, the hip pockets are a great size for my iPhone, a headlamp, snacks, chapstick, etc. They may even be too huge, as I only use poles on descents and the rest of the time my hands swing by my hips and would likely graze these big awesome pockets. There are a total of 7 external pockets, and they are stretchy and strong and fantastic for organizing.
The Mariposa has a squishy back panel that can be laid on the ground as cushioning for your bum during rests. Alternatively, it’s possible to put a short, folded up sleeping pad here. I’d need to cut my Z Lite sleeping pad to 8 squares, which would be enough for my head, shoulders, back and hips but not my legs. Alternatively, I could find a way to strap my whole sleeping pad to the bottom or outside.
The shoulders of the Mariposa were great for my frame, and the chest strap fell just above my breasts. I felt like this pack had been made with women’s shoulders and chest in mind.
My problem with the Mariposa was actually in how cushy it is. The wide belt felt like it would trap in heat and sweat. When I get too hot on long, midday hikes, I often find myself getting nauseous. The first thing I do in those circumstances is unhitch my hip belt, and sometimes I’ll put a damp bandana against my stomach to cool off my body. I was worried this hip belt, while cozy, might actually trap in too much heat.
Here’s me on the top of Mt. Elbert, hip strap off because of nausea:
I also worry about the back padding. The pack is comfortable and rests softly against my back with a wide panel of cushy padding. This makes for easy carrying, but I again worried about the summertime heat and how this pack would feel against my sweaty back for hours on end.
I was also somewhat concerned about the 35 lb weight limit. It’s very unlikely that I’d go over 35 lbs on most of my trips. In the Sierras, I have to carry more weight with the bear canister, but less water. In the desert, I carry more water but no bear canister. But on long desert treks, carrying 15 lbs of just water, I would easily be getting near and perhaps passing the 35 lb weight limit. Winter camping in the Sierras would also be problematic.
My partner tried on the three backpacks and he strongly favored the Mariposa. He said it was the most comfortable by far, and looked like it fit my frame better than the other two.
I wore the Mariposa in the house weighed down with 34 lbs of gear for about an hour, and it continued to stay comfy.
This pack is tough. The waterproof material seemed incredibly durable, the type of material I’d happily drag through brambles without fear. It seems significantly more substantial than the Mariposa, for all they are similar in weight. I loved the roll-top closure. There was more airflow between my back and the pack, with was nice. The padding was perfect.
Unfortunately, it was really hard to fit all my stuff in when I used the Bearikade. Without a bear canister, the pack excelled. With a bear canister, it was wobbly to walk in and the weight sat too far back on my shoulders. With the Bearikade, these problems were exacerbated. Filled to the brim, it towered slightly over my head and would sway a bit as I walked.
I think this would be an excellent pack for someone who rarely needed a bear canister. But for someone who uses a bear canister more often than not, this pack didn’t quite have the volume I wanted.
Note: There is actually a larger version of this pack, the Windrider 4400, which holds 70L and up to 65lbs. That version would likely fit a Bearikade and all my gear much better, but it’s honestly got a little more volume than I need and it weighs over 2 lbs.
As soon as I put this pack on, I realized I’d ordered a size too big. I had ordered the Medium, since my torso is 19 inches long and the website highly encourages buying the Medium when in doubt. But this was a mistake: the pack was too big for me, and my head kept banging into a metal rod right behind my skull.
That said, the construction was really interesting. Of the three packs I ordered, this one handled the bear canister best. It felt tougher than the Mariposa, even though it was significantly lighter. It didn’t feel quite as durable as the Windrider.
The ZPack frame design is unique. You press down on the top corner of the pack until the external metal frame starts to bow, then you tighten straps to hold it in place. ZPacks recommends about a 2.5 inch arc. This arc transfers weight to the hips and keeps the pack away from your back, creating air flow. It also removes the need for much or any cushioning on the back, since the pack actually isn’t touching your back.
I loved the belt on the Arc Haul. It adjusts from the top and bottom separately, so it’s possible to create the perfect angle to cradle your hips. It’s also significantly more slender than the Mariposa belt. My partner said it dug into his waist and that they had reduced weight at the cost of necessary padding. But I actually really liked the lightweight feel of the belt.
I had a few big concerns about the Arc Haul:
The chest strap lands right in the middle of my breasts. My first thought was These packs are not designed for women. But then I realized I’d bought a size too large, and that I could get a shorter version. Hopefully the chest strap on the short version would sit more comfortably.
All but one of the reviewers on the Arc Haul website are men. I became a little concerned about the pack when the chest strap fit so awkwardly, and so I went to the ZPack website to see if other women had similar difficulties. I noticed that there were tons of reviews at the bottom of the page, but all of them were from men except one woman. And when I read her full review, I realized she’d had some big issues with the hip belt and had to create her own lumbar support. That made me concerned, but I also found more women who favorably reviewed the Arc Blast and Arc Zip (which are very similar to the Arc Haul).
The backpack relies on tight vertical straps holding the rest of the backpack bowed and away from the back, but the vertical straps themselves rest close to or against the body, which I’m worried could rub or become uncomfortable.
With an external metal frame, I found I could tip my head back into the metal rod at the top of the pack. However, again, I think these things could be addressed by getting a smaller size.
Of the three, I thought this pack handled 34 lbs of gear the best. It felt lightest on my back, transferring weight efficiently to my hips for a light feeling.
My partner tried it on and immediately disliked it, feeling like there was no padding at all. He could feel the edge of the bear canister against his back. He said he wouldn’t want to do a long distance thru hike with this pack.
But I was intrigued. I felt like the clever design transferred weight well and kept me cool, and that it could handle a big bear canister or 7 liters of water or snow camping in the Sierras better than the other two. It’s also configurable, with external pockets available for the hip belt.
In case it wasn’t clear, these are all fantastic backpacks. Light, tough, and well-built, I think that I’d be happy with any of them.
My specific use case (carrying a lot of bear canisters in the Sierras, lots of shoulder season backpacking) and body type (5’3″ and curvy, with a 19 inch torso) impact the kind of pack that will work well for me. I truthfully think all of these are packs that I could be happy with, and that would work well for lots of other people.
But, based on everything above, I’m planning on returning the Windrider and Arc Haul Medium, then ordering an Arc Haul Short. If the short size can address some of the issues I was having (with the chest strap hitting me in the middle of the breasts and the metal bar right behind my head), then I think there’s a high likelihood I’ll keep it. If not, the Mariposa is a very comfortable, well-made backpack.
I’ll update this once I’ve tried the Arc Haul Short.
Have thoughts to share about backpacks? Leave a comment below please.
The daily journals are far more detailed than most people would need or even want to read, so it’s designed primarily for other thru hikers—especially first time thru hikers. The journals include a lot of the nitty-gritty details—yes, including the gross daily realities of backpacking for that long—but it’s the level of information I found valuable before my hike. It’s also a way for me to look back, whenever I want, to remember the trip.
There was a lot about the Colorado Trail that was hard. Many days were deeply physically challenging: nausea, blisters, pain, and often brutal cold. It was also mentally difficult—some moments of fear and self-doubt, and the stress it placed on my relationship.
It was also beautiful. Stark, epic, awe-inspiring, a bit transformative. I was more than a little heart-broken to leave, but I also remember what my partner told me on one of the last days we were hiking: that the trail will always be there, and we have our whole lives to walk it.
If your opening sucks, it doesn’t matter what else you say.
That was the theme for a writing workshop I hosted this week at EFF, with some help from the ever-amazing Danny O’Brien.
If your opening sucks, it doesn’t matter what else you say.
That was the theme for a writing workshop I hosted this week at EFF, with some help from the ever-amazing Danny O’Brien.
We gathered a group of about 10 folks to discuss ledes on Friday afternoon. For the first 20-30 minutes, we talked about the philosophy of ledes and walked through several articles that demonstrated different approaches. I also created a handy worksheet (copied below in case anybody wants to steal it).
After walking through the basics, I passed out a few paragraphs from a complicated, very technical article and asked people to write the headline and first few sentences. Everybody had to write at least two ledes, then pair up and share them with a partner. Afterwards, we got back together as a group and shared a few.
This is the second time I’ve led a writing workshop specifically focused on ledes, and I personally thought it was a blast. I loved the fact that people actually brought pens, wrote something down, and shared it with the group. So often, writing workshops are about thinking, analyzing, and providing feedback, and that accesses the analytic parts of the brain without engaging the creative side. But there’s something a bit magical and even silly about taking pen to paper and creating something on the spot. And then getting to hear what people wrote—unpolished, a bit messy—is also really exciting for me. I am amazed at the ideas people come up with, and I also love the practice of working creatively and then sharing fearlessly in a welcoming environment.
While we didn’t have enough time for it Friday, I think creativity inspires creativity. One or two people who are willing to think outside the box and then share their writing can inspire others to want to do the same. So ideally, I’d like to do this workshop with enough time to do two rounds of free writing.
The main result of the workshop, I hope, is simply mindfulness. The next time someone from the group sits down to write a blog post, they’ll hopefully remember how vital those first few lines are and then give themselves permission to take a few risks.
My workshop handout:
Ledes are Awesome!
What is it?
First couple lines (see examples)
Imagine that you are a director. Your lede is the opening shot in the movie.
What’s the purpose?
Convince people to click on the article
A topic you care about a lot
Convince people to keep reading after the first sentence
(Sometimes) Convey all the important stuff in an article, so people get the main gist even if they stop reading
Sets the tone for the rest of the article
Why should I care?
In some ways, the lede matters more than any other section in your article. If you don’t get it right, it doesn’t matter what you say later because people won’t click on your article or will abandon it before they get far along.
Also, some people will only EVER see the lede (e.g. skimming Google News results)
Strategies for the process of writing ledes:
Write several different ledes (both title and intro text); don’t just go with your first idea.
Don’t phone it in.
Get creative in a few drafts (you don’t have to use a creative idea, but it helps to get you thinking outside the box to write a few!). Remember: nobody sees your shitty first drafts.
Remember: there is no one single “right” way to write a lede!
Some ideas to try:
Assertions that may seem unlikely.
A summary of the article—but only if it is a truly amazing summary!
A particularly intriguing fact or figure
A relatable human
Some things you might want to try to avoid in your lede:
A bunch of acronyms
Specific names of cases, bills and laws
Trying to cram all the details into the first sentence
“Last week” and other dated time references
Too many facts and figures can be bad (though one really scary fact or figure can be great)
Groundwork is the next big step in something I’ve been doing on the side for years: meeting with friends and acquaintances in the nonprofit world, talking through challenges, and supporting them in creating positive changes.
Hello. I’m proud to unveil my newest project today: Groundwork.
Groundwork is a consulting service I’m offering that’s focused on one of the greatest needs I see in the nonprofit world today: leadership and management training. To address this, I’m offering individual coaching for nonprofit leaders of all sorts, from executive directors to first time managers to individual contributors looking to manage projects better.
Groundwork is the next big step in something I’ve been doing on the side for years: meeting with friends and acquaintances in the nonprofit world, talking through challenges, and supporting them in creating positive changes. In building this consulting service, I’ve developed a series of specific exercises and tools to help nonprofit leaders. My services are a blend of guided exercises and coaching sessions, and they’re designed to empower individuals to be better leaders. I offer sliding scale fees to ensure those who need it most can afford coaching.
Launching Groundwork is motivated by an interest in doing my part to fix a bigger problem. I’ve seen too many examples of nonprofit leaders thrust into extremely challenging management situations with few resources, often juggling too many responsibilities and without anyone they can turn to for useful support. Others have strong organizations, but they’re struggling to grow and improve their impact. While there are plenty of books on organizational management and some great executive coaches out there, almost everything is designed for the for-profit world. Often, these tools don’t translate well to nonprofit challenges, where resources are far thinner, the mandate for impact outweighs the mandate for expansion, and organizational culture is often steeped in a shared value system and ideology.
I’ve seen nonprofits stumble and even fail as a direct result of senior leadership feeling burned-out, spread thin, conflicted, and exhausted. I’ve seen other nonprofits struggle during leadership transitions, with experienced staff members quitting in a mass exodus and the board of directors turning against the ED. I’ve listened to countless managers and directors at nonprofits tell me that they hate their jobs, even though they love the work. I’ve seen employee problems derail organizational effectiveness, and I’ve seen unresolved distrust in the workplace blossom into a toxic environment that then drives off key employees. I’ve seen new managers struggling to earn the trust of a team, address major productivity issues, and establish a new team culture—often with the best of intentions but stumbling execution.`
It doesn’t have to be this way.
It’s possible—and sometimes it’s even fun—to establish a functional, collaborative, solution-focused organizational culture, and it starts at the top. I’m interested in helping nonprofits become more efficient, impactful, and creative by supporting those who have to make tough decisions, set policies, and steer the ship. I help nonprofits leaders enjoy their jobs and become more effective without sacrificing happiness, health, relationships, and personal productivity in the process.
Great management can save a nonprofit so much time, money, and energy. Retaining the best employees, attracting star performers, identifying and addressing breakdowns in the organization swiftly, fostering a culture of good communication and collaboration—all of these things result from thoughtful leadership practices.
But most nonprofits don’t invest in leadership or management training of any sort. I’ve asked about this, and often heard some version of “It’s too expensive, we don’t budget for that” or “Honestly, I don’t think anything can help us.” Or perhaps saddest of all: “We’d like to, but we couldn’t find any help that really understood our culture and mission. We don’t want some outside consultant coming in and telling us how to do things.”
I understand those concerns. Traditional coaching can be expensive, entrenched problems can seem insurmountable, and for-profit executive coaching services often aren’t in sync with the needs of many nonprofits.
I’m dying to see these problems addressed so that the NGOs I love and support can thrive. That’s why I launched Groundwork: to show that there are ways to foster highly productive, satisfied, value-driven organizations that are nimble enough to face unexpected challenges and have the tools they need to survive leadership changes well.
I think nonprofits can have all of that without having to allocate a huge budget toward leadership development.
If you want to learn more, please contact me. Please also drop me a note if you know somebody who might be a good fit for these services, and please help spread the word by telling friends and acquaintances about Groundwork.
Note: This work is a passion of mine. But it’s not my only passion. To ensure I have time for my other commitments and for a personal life, I’m strictly limiting how many coaching clients I see at a time.
Tomorrow morning, I’m going to be participating in a discussion about a “less cash” society on WBUR Boston’s NRP News Station. It should air at 8 AM Pacific time, noon Eastern. You can call in and ask questions if you’d like! http://www.wbur.org/
The other guest is a Harvard economist who wrote a book proposing society phase out all large bills (over $10) and eventually replace small bills with heavier instruments, like coins. He believes that this will cut down on crime, like international gun and drug trafficking.
I think his proposal is extremely dangerous, especially since digital currencies like Bitcoin don’t yet have anonymity baked in (still looking hopefully at ZCash…). So here are some of the points I’m planning on bringing up:
Debit cards and credit cards create a detailed history of our lives, and have far more privacy consequences than cash. The banks generate and hang onto a record of every time you use a payment card, and the cozy relationships between banks and the government mean this data is a honeypot for government agents.
It’s not just your purchases that can be exposed by a record of financial transactions. These transactions are time and date stamped, and connected to specific locations. In short, our purchase records create a map of where we are and where we’ve been. It can create a pattern of our typical daily habits, and also demonstrate whenever we deviate from those habits. If you wouldn’t be comfortable with everyone wearing a GPS-enabled bracelet that logged location a few times a day, you shouldn’t be comfortable with everyone being forced to use credit cards.
When the banks collect this information on everyone, they can not only piece together a map of your life, they can figure out who was near you, and when.
Cash is a fundamental necessity for the unbanked, which include many individuals who are unable to provide the documents that banks require to set up an account such as a government issued ID. Remember, banks claim that under the Patriot Act they cannot provide an account to someone without a physical address. For those who are either sensitive about their address (such as the victim of stalking) or do not have a physical address (such as someone who does not have a home) this means no bank account.
Slowly eliminating cash won’t just mean that consumers overwhelmingly use payment cards; merchants will eventually stop accepting cash at all, thinking of it as a small and unnecessary portion of their business. And that’s bad not only because merchants and consumers have to foot the bill for payment card fees but because the small amounts of cash remaining (those hefty <$10 coins) will become obsolete if merchants won’t accept them.
Cash is a vital safeguard during emergencies, such as power outages caused by earthquakes or hurricanes.
Cash can be a lifeline for domestic violence victims preparing to exit from a dangerous situation. When an abuser has access to one’s digital accounts, available cash can be a lifeline to someone trying to get away and start a new life.
We have ample examples of banks abusing the trust of consumers for their own gain. The most recent example is Wells Fargo, where more than 5,000 employees opened over 1,000,000 fake accounts in the names of unwitting consumers. But there are countless examples of banks imposing predatory or unnecessary fees which surprise consumers. For someone living paycheck to paycheck, a $50 fee can be a disaster that means trading off on basic necessities like food or medicine.
It’s not just the government that may be interested in bank accounts. Bank accounts can be sought during divorce hearings, child custody battle, and other civil suits — not just to establish how much money someone has but to track where they have been at different moments in time.
There are a range of political and social causes that individuals may choose to support, but which they would not want connected to them via a paper trail. The obvious example is the gay rights campaign. When I was in high school in Virginia, I interned at a gay rights organization. This was back in the 90s, when you could lose your job as a teacher in Virginia for being gay. And at the time, many people preferred to make donations in cash. There will always be unpopular social and political causes whose supporters may want the anonymity of cash.
Financial institutions have been known to shut down and freeze accounts of individuals who have not been accused of any crime. The obvious example is WikiLeaks, which suffered a huge financial blockade without ever being charged in the United States. But since then, I’ve heard a number of stories of law-abiding websites and individuals who suffered from account freezes and shut downs, including online booksellers, literary archives, and even the Chelsea Manning Support Network (Note: I’m a cofounder of that organization).
In conclusion: those with the fewest resources –especially the unbanked, the poor, the homeless–can suffer dire consequences at the hands of banking institutions, and won’t have a financial cushion to protect themselves. There are many reasons we need financial privacy, for example to protect ourselves from government intrusion and to support unpopular movements. Finally, the banks have a bad track record. From shutting down the accounts of law-abiding citizens to creating fake accounts to countless other questionable practices, there are lots of reasons people may not want to entrust their hard-earned money to the bureaucratic behemoths of JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America.
But I’m sure there are a lot of other points I’m missing. What else? What other issues should I bring up tomorrow? Let me know your thoughts. The show is a full hour so I’ve got lots of time.
UPDATE: I got tons of feedback on Facebook and Twitter that I incorporated into my talking points. Thanks all!