We Could Learn A Lot From the Porn Stars

Thu 25 September 2014

Ela Darling is the smartest porn star I know.

Well, actually, she's the only porn star I know personally, but that doesn't mean she isn't really damn smart. I met Ela in college, where we both worked as Resident Advisors. After earning her Masters in Library Science and working as the associate director of a city library for a while, Ela's modeling career opened up opportunites to feature in some pornography, and she's pursued that as her full time career, quite successfully, since then.

It's fun to follow Ela on twitter (Warning: boobs), not only because she's an incredibly kind and clever person, but also because she writes frankly and insightfully about the adult film industry as a profession. She's the Secretary of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, and has appeared in the mainstream press advocating safety and sanity in how pornographic films and produced and regulated. She talks about mundane scheduling mishaps, marketing strategies, and even web design snafus. Follow for her a while and you'll learn that like most careers that seem exotic or romantic or glamorous, porn is, to those who do it, a job.

It's through following Ela on twitter that I got to witness two different communities handle recent pieces of monumentally bad news:

On August 28, 2014 a pornographic actor in Los Angeles tested positive for HIV.

On September 24, 2014, the "Shellshock" vulnerability was discovered in the bash shell that meant many thousands of linux servers were vulnerable to remote code execution over the internet.

Obviously the porn community and the linux community are very different from one another - aside from the nature of the work, there are a lot fewer pronographic actors than there are sysadmins, and porn production is centered in a few major cities instead of being spread out over the globe - but both of these events represent an "Oh Shit" moment for their respective communities, inspiring the same feelings of nervousness, frustration, and dread. It's useful to see how a community very different from ours processes some of the same emotions and handles something that threatens the lives/livelihoods of its members.

The HIV test turned out to be a false positive, but in the days before that was confirmed, every pornographic actor in LA had to reckon with the chance that they had been directly exposed to HIV. They also had to confront what could have been a weeks-long moratorium on porn production, meaning lost wages and all the attendant life stress. I was heartened, however, to see the APAC release a lovely statement of solidarity to urge calm and caring amongst performers.

Seriously, go read that statement. Notice the compelling language urging performers to band together and take care of one another. Notice the clear call to action "asking all performers to refrain from exchanging body fluids during this moratorium". Notice how the last few paragraphs show that the porn industry, often treated as the scuzzy back-alley of society, can be a source of "reason and stability about sexual health". It's great in terms of PR and it's even better in terms of human decency.

Now compare and contrast that with one of the central sources of information about Shellshock, the Debian Security Page. Everything you need to know about this vulnerability is on there, somewhere, but the two incredibly important bash disclosures are presented in a long list of links on the same level as much more mundane security vulnerabilities. The instructions presented work well enough for those running the latest version of Debian, but people running older versions need to apply patches themselves or google around for how to enable special repositories. Nowhere is it presented in clear language how severe this issue potentially is and how important it is that it be patched as soon as possible.

The Debian page and all the other official sources of information are also missing the humanity that is present in the APAC moratorium message. Nobody is going to contract a deadly disease from Shellshock, but identities will be stolen, jobs will be endangered, and thousands of dollars in business value will disappear into thin air. Engineers will spend many stressful hours on nights and weekends assessing whether or not their systems were compromised and mitigating the damage if they were. The technical details are obviously very important for fixing this situation, but I think we could also use some clearly-worded instructions on what to do and a little empathy for each other. I've seen plenty of engineers trying to help each other, but also far more political points scoring and ur doin it wrong than I'd like. It's times like these that we need to watch out for each other and show the best in ourselves.

Devs and Sysadmins, if you're up late over the next few days fixing this thing, then I feel for you. Good luck.

A Roller Derby Koan

Mon 15 September 2014

With apologies to the Buddhists and the Hackers

The Fresh Meat asks the Veteran, "Should we skip practice to watch the WFTDA tournament today? The local women's team is playing for a slot at Championships"

The Veteran twhaps the Fresh Meat's head and responds: "Of course not! Supporting our friends and watching high-level WFTDA bouts are great, but not nearly as important as improving our endurance and working together as a team. It is practice night - we are going to practice!"

Just then, the Veteran and the Fresh Meat both feel their smartphones buzz.

"Practice is canceled. Everyone meet at the bar to watch the women's bout."

Both the Fresh Meat and the Veteran are enlightened.

I Want to Help You Learn to Code

Sat 13 September 2014

I'm really happy to see that I have a bunch of friends and acquaintances who are learning programming in one way or another. I've helped out informally or privately to a few of my friends who are learning to code, and I've enjoyed it a bunch. One thing I worry when I say something like "Yeah, let me know if I can help out" is that people assume I'm just being nice or think that their programming questions are too boring or basic to actually trouble me with. To show that I'm really serious, I'd like to make the following offer publicly and officially.

The Offer

If you're interested in learning to code, I'd love to help you in any way I can.

How I Can Help

Maybe you are entering college and want advice choosing between Computer Science (CS) or Management Information Systems (MIS) as your major. Maybe you already know some HTML and CSS and want recommendations on a good book to get started in JavaScript. Maybe you work in a programmer-adjacent field like support or IT and want advice on how to make the jump to development. Maybe you are trying to get this goddamned image to center vertically on the page and want me to take a quick look at your stylesheet before you throw your laptop out the window.

Those are the kind of things that I can probably help you with, or at least point you in the right direction.

Why You Might Want to Learn to Code

People want to learn to program for a bunch of different reasons; some good ones include:

  • They heard that writing code is a fun way to stretch your brain
  • They want to learn ways to automate the boring parts of their job so they can focus on something more creative
  • They work with professional programmers at their job and they want to better understand what the programmers are talking about
  • They're interested in programming for a living because they heard it's interesting work that pays well (it is)
  • They've got an idea for an app, game, or website that they'd like to try to bring into existence on their own

Why I want to help

Selfishly, I think my friends are cool and I like helping them acheive their goals and living vicariously through them when they do. The process of explaining something to someone usually makes me stretch my own brain in interesting ways, so I often get as much out of it as the nominal "student" does. Plus, in my experience, this kinda thing usually comes back around eventually.

On a more big-picture level, it's my firm belief that the world is massively, immediately under-supplied in people who know how to write and understand software, and I'd like to do a small part to correct that. This is especially true for people who are members of marginalized groups in our society - women, people of color, gender and sexual minorities, etc. If that describes you, consider my offer to help that much more emphatic.

How to Ask

If a bunch of people end up taking this offer, I might need to come up with some kind of a schedule, but for now, go ahead and email me at an address I set up for my site: wally@firewally.net. Go ahead and send me your code problems.

How To Handle A Phone Full Of Derby Skaters

Sat 30 August 2014

After spending a few years in the roller derby universe, my phone contacts were a goddamned mess. Of course, "meeting too many awesome roller people" is a good problem to have, but it's still a problem. Did I put AWow in my phone as AWow? Or as John? Or maybe I spelled out Apocalypse Wow? Oh wait, I have a "Freight Train" and a "Hunter" with two different phone numbers - what the hell?

Fortunately, there's a hidden but well-supported field in the contacts screen of all major smartphones called "Nickname". It's a little bit of extra work when you first add someone to add both their government name and their derby name, but it makes your life so much easier when you do.

iOS Contact screen showing a search for Egon Strangler

On iOS, you navigate to the contact, tap "Edit", scroll all the way to the bottom, then tap "add field" and select "Nickname". I don't have an Android phone in front of me, but the process is similar there.

If you enter derby people under their government names, but add their derby name as a nickname, you get a couple of handy benefits:

  • You can search for someone by their government name or their derby name and either way the right person pops up.
  • Siri and Google Now will both pick up on the Nickname, so you can say "Call Egon Strangler" and your phone will do the right thing.
  • iOS will by default show derby names in the Messages app (though you can change that), some Android phones will as well but it depends on the phone manufacturer and version.

Changes to Fire Wally Dot Net

Sun 18 May 2014

The nice thing about having your own website on your own server is that you can make it whatever you want.

The tough part about having your own website on your own server is that you can make it whatever you want.

One thing that I've noticed about my own writing is that a small feeling of discomfort quickly grows until it takes all the creative energy that I should be focusing on writing. For example, sometimes instead of writing about roller derby I feel like writing about programming (my day job) or tech or something else entirely. Since the nominal focus of my site is roller derby, that puts me in a bit of a pickle. I definitely don't write about programming enough to start a whole separate blog about it, but an article about, say, django webserver deployment would look pretty out of place on "my roller derby site". So I don't write about programming, but then I don't write about roller derby either because I'm busy worrying about how I would rather write about programming. The result is a lot of half-started drafts and self-imposed irritation.

To try and combat this, I've made a few changes to Fire Wally Dot Net.


I suppose I've never really said anything about the topic of this site before, but from now on the topic of this site is Whatever I Feel Like Writing About.

Category Pages

Under the site's header, you'll notice new links for "Derby", "Code", and "Other Stuff", which will get you a listing of articles specific to that topic. So if you are only here for the derby stuff or the code stuff, it should be pretty easy to find what you're looking for.

Similary, you'll notice that the new Subscribe Page lists RSS feeds specific to each category, so if you want to subscribe to just one category you can do that as well.

This is a Test

Sun 18 May 2014

This article is mostly a test of the category function of pelican, the static site generator used to create the blog portion of this site.

Ideally this article should appear in the "code" category, but not the "derby" or "other" categories.

I had to make one modification to the blog template to make it happen, which had some interesting consequences.

  • Needed to prepend {SITEURL} to the stylesheet link in base.html so that it didn't get destroyed by different levels of heirarchy.

  • That meant I needed an real SITEURL for local development, so I created a site at local.firewally.net

  • That meant that I needed something to serve files on local.firewally.net, so I needed to install nginx on my laptop. I usually try to get by with learning as little webserver config as possible, but at this point I think it's pretty reasonable that I focus on nginx and actually learn how to use it rather than paste together mini-howtos to limp along.