I hear it be the fashion among young, hip open source professionals to post status updates on their blogs, every month. So I thought I’d try it for myself.
The main thrust of my a11y work this month has been to get my rather obscure custom reader program vsss into a state where other people who are not me can use it. You can download the patched version from both Github and SourceHut now. The documentation still needs work and i’ll be getting there shortly. So Watch out for that in coming weeks.
I created a new mailing list called disabled-linuxing for peer support of users with unconventional assistive tech needs. Go subscribe I hate talking to myself in public.
I’ve also been testing the latest distro releases well Debian, and Fedora at any rate for compatibility with the good olde MATE+Compiz accessibility setup that I’ve used since 2009, and results have been. Let’s call it mixed. Look for that document in the coming days.
Lastly I’m working on a document on how to upgrade from Fedora 33 to a release using pipewire. In the case you are still dependent on a Software Speech Synthesizer named after a bird.
Mental Health Outreach
I completed my first foray into this by posting about my experience with depression or bipolar depression in a technical setting. I am unsure how to follow it up without trauma dumping on my audience. Any Ideas hit me up in the usual places,
I started another new project this month. I know i should finish MasterText. But it’s just not gelling for me at the moment so I decided to put it aside and work on something else for a bit. Over in my staging area you’ll find rabbitears an IRC client module for python.
I’ve wanted to find a Linux distro to contribute to again, but things just won’t come together on that front. I’ve looked at Fedora, and Alpine and all the community there is lovely, but i just don’t see what i’d do there anymore. Anyone know of any small upstreams that could use a neurodivergent developer with a little bit of rust on the skillset.
Other than the above mentioned writings. I have a couple of church projects still ongoing, and my semi-annual attempt at fiction.
Thanks to all the people who have been so supportive as I get my feet back under me in the open source/tech world. Couldn’t be doing any of this without the tildeverse and associated communities . Love all you lovely people.
The reason why this seemingly inoffensive screenshot is sobering, requires some context to tease out. First those who are hyper-observant may have noticed I’m running an EOL version of Fedora. Which is not something I would normally allow. And second you may have noticed if you both read and understood the left window, that I haven’t touched a project of mine called MasterText in over a year. And a careful scan of all my public activity logs would reveal that I did almost nothing from August until Three weeks ago.
You may think that a hyperbolic statement. I did manage to get an administrative withdrawal from Graduate School after all. And I haven’t starved. And I have dragged myself to church a few times here and there So in one sense you’d be almost right. But the near halting of all my online life, not going to church. letting maintenance tasks slip. All for a period of three to five months. These my friends are what we call warning signs. You may ask warning signs of what, exactly?
Depression that’s what
I don’t know if I’ve said this in a publicly visible space yet, but around 18 months ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder. Now I know very little of the public perception of the illness. But here’s what I can tell you from my limited experience so far. And beware for I am tired of linear writing
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
This is an ultimately joyful poem about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Indeed the starkness of the scene starts taking it’s climb upward in the very next verse. But in Bipolar’s Depression phase you never get the lift your mind is just sort of stuck, in the bleak midwinter. You are alone with the frosty wind.
Sometimes the wind is so bitter and cruel that you feel it almost immediately. And it sends you scurrying to the safety of your support system, almost immedatly.. Those are the good ones paradoxical as it may seem. What I live in fear of are those times when the mental winter is just below freezing.
In those days one may not appreciate the danger until it is too late. For although the wind starts as a gentle breeze, over time it can seep into every exposed crack in your mental armor, stealing your breath, chilling your mind. Even causing bone deep physical pain. Until it becomes a struggle just to survive. And all you can think about is when the next McDonalds run is going to happen. All the while your relationships crumble, your opportunities wither. And the guilt of things undone, becomes it’s own howl in the wind. Finally your in so **much** gods be damned pain that you either reach out or go into mania which is it’s own special hell, or else destroy yourself.
Such is life
I don’t know who I am anymore Not once in life have I been real But I never felt this close before I’ve been looking in your window I’ve been dressing in your clothes I’ve been walking dead, watching you Long enough to know I can’t go on
Flyleaf This Close
Always Winter and Never Christmas. This is my experience of depression. Or as close as I can realistically come in 300 or so words. The twist with bipolar is that the very medications that can save you from this hell, are capable of rocketing you into a manic psychosis. And at least in my case depression can strike at any time. For any reason or no reason at all. Therapy has helped somewhat. As has getting the right mix of meds, but that took nearly a year of trial and error.
But the absolute worst thing about bipolar is that when the springtime of the mind does finally happen. You can’t trust it because you always have to be on guard against that rocket into mania.
So how does one deal with this seemingly endless cycle of depression. How does one even begin to recover and build a meaningful Well again I can only speak for myself. And the advice I have isn’t easy in fact this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Hell even writing about it has preoccupied me for most of two days.
There’s a song that’s inside my soul It’s the one that I’ve tried to write over and over again I’m awake in the infinite cold But you sing to me over and over again
Switchfoot/Mandy Moore Only Hope
This may seem a simple or even childish answer to a soul crushing phenomenon of depression, but i assure you hope in the face of the winter of the mind and heart is anything but simple. Our society says that hope is some sort of emotion, like happiness. Something you’re only supposed to feel when there is a rational basis to believe things will get better. This is not the hope I’m talking about such hope is a cheap and somewhat frivolous thing. And when you’re in the midst of depression there is little if any of that sort of thing around.
What I’m trying to get at here is the sort of hope that is a positive act of the will. Hope is something you do, not something you feel. Am I saying you can beat back mental illness on willpower. Hell No I myself need a custom four drug cocktail, and an hour of talk therapy every week to keep my head above water.
What I am saying is that in order for treatment to work, and recovery to happen. You have to want it, and invest in it. You have to have a reason to persist. Through the roiling stomachs, the revolving door of therapists, the medications and combinations that backfire. It sucks, so you’ve got to have a reason to do it.
Even more important than the hope that guides you through the winter. Is what gets you back on the horse, and replanting your garden when winter finally ends.
I’m not saying lie to yourself about your situation either. I am saying find a reason to live. Even if that reason is just the next McDonald’s run, you can find a better reason when your McChickens’ are consumed.
You may now be asking what my hope is centered in. Well the first part of that is easy. My religion gives me hope. I’m Roman Catholic of the Latin Rite. My religion tells me that each and every human being is made in the image, and likeness of God. And thus we are all of infinite worth and value just for existing. No if’s, and’s or special exemptions for queer people about it. Religion is not everyone’s cup of tea so that’s all I’ll say on that for now.
The second part is harder to explain but is also values based. You see I am an unabashed techno-optimist, at times bordering on a techno-utopian. Which means that I believe that Science and Technology, when guided by a proper concern for Justice, can and will lead to a brighter future for everyone.
One has to be careful about this framing though. For it can easily lead to guilt when in winter. It can easily become “I’m so pathetic and weak I’m letting down God and my people.” This is where that Therapy comes in handy
So What does Recovery Look Like
Well if we take the image i posted at the beginning, and reframe our thinking about it slightly. A couple of new facts emerge.
That git repository originates from sr.ht and not github. I’ve been meaning to move for over a year now and finally did it.
The EOL Fedora thing is because I tried it on another computer and it didn’t work. See this sites post of the 17th
A careful reading of my public logs for the past three weeks will reveal I’ve done all sorts of things.
Private logs look even better
I’m enjoying music again
I can watch Anime again
I can enter a church without feeling overwhelmed by guilt
This is what recovery looks for me at least. That is to say my executive functioning and creative drive return. As well as my enjoyment of things that bring me joy. It’ll be different for everyone. And I would caution you dear reader not to measure your own recovery by how much you are able to be productive. That road leads straight back to depression and winter. For me at least winter has ended time to replant.
Be kind to yourself
Thanks To Joe, bx, vantablack, Anton, fsan, and anyone i forgot to mention for help and encouragement with this one.
Bless me readers for I have sinned, it has been approximately 2 weeks since my last confession. What brings me in today is concerns over several sins I am committing against software freedom. Not to mention good taste. For you see dear reader amongst other things I am guilty of writing this very blog post on a Windows XP machine. With Microsoft Office 2003. Thank God it is virtualized nowadays and doesn’t have an independent Internet connection.
I am also guilty of virtualizing this machine in a virtualbox. Using Gmail as my e-mail client. Depending on 15 year old binary blobs in a supposedly open source accessibility system and numerous other infractions that would make my erstwhile cohorts in Debian roll their eyes and frown in disapproval. And I can’t imagine the Fedora community would be entirely approving if I were to ask. What is worse dear reader is you can’t offer me absolution because I don’t intend to stop committing these infractions until better solutions present themselves.
Why you may ask? Well let’s take just one example the first one I gave. Why would an ethical open-source professional, use such things? Well it’s about the other piece of non-free software I rely on.
As a disabled user I rely on dictation software in order to write. Not in all situations. I can usually write code, shorter e-mails, commit messages etc. without having to resort to voice to text software. But by the end of the day, my hands are just too tired to do it. And there is no current free software solution to the dictation problem,. Not one which does not involve Google Cloud Platform in some fashion or other.
So what am I to do in this situation? I respect software freedom as the foundational principle on which all modern techno ethics is built. I have made sacrifices of time, talent and treasure meager though they have been. To build a world in which the digital revolution reaches all people. I recognize that not practicing what I preach creates problems. That freedom has its costs. My life would be immeasurably easier if I just gave up and installed Windows, for a while at least.
But again I come to a problem. Am I to sacrifice my freedom to write in order to respect software freedom. Am I to sacrifice my freedom to read. Purely because of Digital Restrictions Management and software freedom again.
We are talking here about basic life of the mind stuff. Three years ago I had to report the Library of Congress to the Software Freedom Conservancy for violating the GPL. Yes you read that right! The people who enforce copyright were potentially violating copyright to produce reading devices for the blind and physically handicapped.
Software freedom Ethics would dictate I should stop using this device. At least until the GPL violations are resolved. If I did that i would loose access to hundreds of books which are only available on that device
Do I give up my intellectual freedom in favor of software freedom? That doesn’t seem like freedom to me, that seems a prison of my own making
We act as if Software Freedom were the be-all and end-all of techno ethics. We make the software and if the users choose not to use it that’s their personal responsibility they should know what they’re giving up.
Does the Fault lie with me
So am I a bad activist for choosing to prioritize my own intellectual freedom over `the cause`? I don’t think so I think the cause has flaws. Unless you are in the privileged position to be able to choose free software you will inevitably defaced with these trade-offs.
Whether that’s the life of the mind or communicating with your COVID stricken relatives The analysis of privilege and all that is not for me to do. Although it is worth noting that I haven’t seen much of it in our community lately except around codes of conduct and suchlike. So I’m wondering if it’s a flaw in me am I reading the wrong sources? Or is it the community failing to consider the techno-ethical discussion in the context of broader social justice principles?
My answer to this question is a tentative, both. If anyone knows of anything shoot me a comment or a Mastodon or something. So what are we who are without the privilege to do. Well the approach I’ve settled on is harm reduction. I use the XP VM because it’s set up in such a way as to not send all my works in progress to the cloud. And I only use it for the first pass. I take the raw output and shape it into the final post here on a self hosted WordPress.
Some may criticize my approach as ultimately self serving. I can’t even live up to my own standards at times. Witness GMail. YouTuber Tom Scott once remarked that Everyone draws the ethical line just under what they are doing. But I wish to strive for better, so should we all.