First We Take Manhattan...

Berlin gentrifies faster than any other place I've been. Since Berlin in the center of much Internet Freedom activity, I come through there about twice a year. The first time I went, Prenzlaurberg was the hip place to be and Potsdammer Platz was the world's largest construction site (soon to be overtaken by...well...everything in China)--which made a big impression on a Cold War girl raised on angels walking through Berlin in Wings of Desire. East Berlin felt edgy and a little dirty and there were bars wedged into every available corner. People lived in giant warehouses. Alexanderplatz seemed like an enormous communist relic. Everything was an art collective. J and I walked down the street holding hands and said it felt like SOMA.

These days, only American ex-pats and upper middle-class couple with children in strollers live in Prenzlaurberg. N jokingly calls it "Pram-berg." The forces of cool have moved South to Freidrichshain, then further South into Kreuzberg (scene of last week's conference), and finally into Neukölln. I still have (American) friends who live in Prenzlaurberg, near Mitte, and German friends who live in Kreuzberg to be close to the clubs (which you don't go to until at least one in the morning), but people who need cheap rents move to Neukölln or else they tell me they've given up and moved to Hamburg.

Berlin is a little bit like Burning Man. It's always an amazing place the first time you see it, even if everyone you meet is always telling you it's totally over.

My talk did not go quite the way I wanted it to, since it was supposed to be a workshop, but the space I had did not lend itself to anything other than a lecture, so I lectured for approximately half of the allotted time and then I let everyone go. Perhaps this is why I didn't feel as if I really found my groove, even though I was at a conference where I knew a lot of people and we were all well-positioned to conspire and I had purchased a giant latex unicorn head for us to all try on in a series of increasingly-bizarre photographs.

I was properly social, but my favorite moments were the ones in which I ditched my conference and spent time with friends in Berlin who did not care about Internet Freedom much. My pilot friend had just flown into Berlin to attend some fetish ball and we had coffee at Bikini Berlin, which offers an excellent view of the baboon island inside of the Berlin Zoo. S, my painter, wandered around the city with me while I looked for a pair of replacement sunglasses and I bought her art supplies.

S had moved to Berlin with her husband only six weeks ago and was finding the whole process somewhat more difficult and expensive than either of them had anticipated. We soothed ourselves by browsing housewares and imagined the fantastic studio she would soon set up. S nests harder than anyone I have ever met. She is the only other person I have met to whom the thought of living in an apartment with white walls is anathema. You can see us both twitch in sympathy. S is anxious and sensitive and prone to depression. She has translucent skin and always looks as if she is glowing from the inside. She is also talented and pragmatic and utterly fearless. The first half of her third wedding was spent telling stories of the swath she cut through San Francisco's pretty young men after divorcing her second husband.

S stood up in front of all her friends on the night of her third wedding and said, "I have never had thin thighs or good credit, but I have always had a lot of courage." I do not love a lot of people. I love S, and when I feel as if I will never have thin thighs and I am only getting older and more invisible to the world, she is the creature that I try to pretend to be.

"Your hair is beeeeautiful!" she tells me. My hair is pale violet, very on-trend with my dark green dress. We talk about peacock feathers. She is very into the peacock feather color palette right now. "I will get my studio set up and I will paint you." S has painted a dozen and a half portraits of me, two of which are hanging in Bunker 3. I do not photograph well. I am not even remotely photogenic. No one asks to photograph me. I am not a pretty girl. I am "poised." I am "striking." I am "charismatic" and "interesting." But S is the one person to whom I am always beautiful, and the person in her paintings is recognizable as me even when photos are not. And I do her every kindness that I can, including organizing her bachelorette party (can you imagine me doing such I thing? I did!) because I am so profoundly grateful she exists.

If you are a woman in this world, no matter what you look like, every day that you look in the mirror and you don't hate what you see, you've stabbed the patriarchy in the face. I try to remember that even when no one is painting me, even when I am not in Berlin. Let's see if I remember it tomorrow.

We Stood Beneath an Amber Moon

Rio is a party town. It's beaches and tourists and don't-look-at-the-favelas. Rio is not a place where anyone works, presumably because all of the work in Brazil is done in the considerably less picturesque city of Sao Paolo. There are 18 million people in Sao Paolo, living in a sort of endless maze of high-rise buildings--downtown without end. Sao Paolo is warm and cheap and smoggy and grey. The traffic is a thing of legend. I was warned to set aside an hour and a half to get to the airport. Sao Paolo is Brazil's Los Angeles.

I am there to talk about threat modeling to a group of mostly young, most Portuguese-speaking proto-geeks, and the occasional privacy policy nerd from Germany in a cultural center with a rooftop garden that reminds me of the High Line in New York. My jokes about the profound inconvenience of privacy veganism go over well in Sao Paolo. It is almost impossible to get a meal here that does not include steak. We spend a lot of time talking about how to disarm the "If I've done nothing wrong, I have nothing to hide" argument. I talk a lot about the history of my Mysterious Workplace. We have animated conversations about how to do impact litigation in Brazil, which is alive and well in the land-protection and environmental movements, but hasn't quite caught on in tech law.

Brazil has a lot of government support for open source projects. They have historically opposed US efforts to shove the worst aspects of American copyright law down other countries' throats. The Dilma administration has also been vocal in its opposition to the NSA's mass surveillance programs, forming a sort of axis with Germany, where Angela Merkel is equally unamused. We are not in complete agreement on all issues. Brazil's constitution has some alarming limits on anonymous speech. Many of the activists speaking at the event are more concerned with getting people to stop using Facebook and Google products than they are with fighting unchecked government surveillance. I politely refrain from having these arguments with my hosts, though I do introduce them to the theory of harm reduction, which I have blatantly stolen from sex and drug education. You can tell people to stop using Facebook. You can even try to build non-centralized, open source alternatives to Facebook. But what the hell are you going to do when people just keep on using Facebook anyway--give up on them?

This being Carmen San Diego.

At night, we go to house parties. We go clubbing. The Paulistas take us to a samba club that doesn't even open until midnight. The DJ plays songs from the North and everyone sings along with their hands in the air. I suspect this is the local equivalent of everyone singing along to Journey. At 4 am the dance floor is still completely packed. I am covered in sweat. In Brazil, people make eye contact with strangers on the dance floor. They will reach out and touch you and smile and dance with you even if you don't speak the same language. The Germans dance like they're about to invade Poland.

On my day off, one of the conference organizers takes me around the city, mostly around Libertad, which is the Asian immigrant neighborhood--originally Japanese but now increasingly Chinese. We walk through Japanese tea gardens and a Sunday market and an indoor market linked by endless escalators, where the stalls sell bootleg anime, tee-shirts with the names of metal bands, and custom-made cosplay costumes. My host informs me that on the weekends, you can find cosplayers all up and down the escalators. We walk through the Italian immigrant neighborhood and see some of the very last old houses that hadn't been torn down and replaced with high rises. We walk down Paulista Ave., Sao Paulo's grandest boulevard, past stalls selling antiques and vendors selling fresh corn and protestors who want better pay for teachers (they've been protesting for a month, at least) and an "art intervention" that consists of women in multi-colored masks, carrying signs and marching in slow motion, like butoh dancers. He tells me about traveling around Brazil, hitching rides on army helicopters and about wanting to see Scotland and about being jailed and having his arm broken in a dozen places for protesting. You see these fingers? I cannot feel anything.

No one has ever thrown me in jail for protesting. Police have never mangled my body for standing up to the government. I'm glad he likes Information Society and sushi and has opinions about Game of Thrones and can sing all of the words to Bohemian Rhapsody, but my life suddenly feels very small. The trouble with Sao Paolo is that it feels like Los Angeles. It feels familiar and comfortable, if a bit vast. But it's only a trick, a pleasant trick for rich tourists. This isn't Los Angeles at all.

Memory, Inherent Vice, and Other Old Dress Problems

Vintage clothing does not travel well, which is why my wardrobe has slowly morphed into an easily-squishable pile of stretch cotton jersey dresses and 20-hole boots that can survive the treacherous cobblestones of Europe. When I am in ess eff, I take out my much-loved early sixties cotton shirtwaists and t-strap heels and wear the ones that don't clash too terribly with my violet hair. I wear what I have, but I don't buy new ones, so I don't spend a lot of time trawling ebay and etsy, vintage shops and second-hand stores--well, not like I used to.

I do not buy old dresses anymore, but stories about old dresses and costumes rediscovered still make me happy. For example, the wig worn by Alla Nazimova in the 1920's film version of Salome, inspired by the Aubrey Beardsley illustrations, was recently found in a trunk in Georgia. And the New Yorker has just written an article about 21 Callot Soeurs recently found in a Florentine villa. The Callot sisters made haute couture dresses in Paris from 1895 until the 1950's, but I mostly know them from offhand mentions in Proust, and photos of their beautiful late Edwardian, early 1920's gowns.

The Callot sisters beaded the holy hell out of everything. It turns out that beading is hard to preserve. "The sequins on two dresses are plagued by 'inherent vice'—a degradation of cellulose nitrate," according to the New Yorker. "These gowns appear to be melting." Dresses also suffer from "memory," the technical term for "wrinkles left in garments by repeated wear." Gowns never really get over the imprint of the body that wore them--their sweat, their shape, the places where the fabric stretched. Our brains never really get over the imprint of our habits--our terrible childhoods and misshapen relationships and too much time spent on planes and in empty hotel rooms. We too suffer from memory. And from inherent vice. And perhaps we look like we're melting.

That was a bit of a sudden turn, wasn't it? I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to break old habits, how to do things differently--maybe how to do this all without melting. This is not something I would tell a stranger at a cocktail party. Dear stranger, I have about a million acquaintances, but only a tiny circle of very close friends, and the person that I talk to when I need to tell someone the things I would never tell a stranger at a cocktail party is someone who does not live in ess eff, someone I do not see or talk to for months at a time. When we are in the same place at the same time, our expectations are so high that failing to meet them sends both us into a spiral of passive-aggressive distancing and silence. Oh, you haven't talked to me in six months? I didn't even notice, I was so busy poppin' bottles at the club because my life is so full and fabulous without you. I am possibly still angry about that time you moved out of the country without telling me, but I am not very good at finding or identifying my feelings while I'm having them, so I will never bring it up.

Someone once told me that every fight that E and I have is really about who loves each other more. Maybe it's true, at least in the sense that I am sensitive to the sighs and tiny silences of my tiny circle of close friends, but it's not an observation that does much to show us a way out of this. Every fight that E and I have is really about our mutual inability to say "You've hurt my feelings" and "I'm sorry." And so, like professional engineers, like goddamn adults, like people who are trying to be better than we are, we have agreed to the following:

If the other person has done something that upset you, let them know at soon as you realize this. Do not make accusations. Don't yell. Don't make assumptions about how they must feel about you in order to do such a cruel and terrible thing. Don't stop talking to them for months at a time because if they really loved you they would reach out and ask what they've done to upset you. Just tell them when you can.

When you've been told that you upset your friend, apologize. Say that you are sorry. Don't get into a Jesuitical argument over the interpretation of your words or actions or whether or not they have a right to be upset. You are sorry and you will do your best not to do it again. Full stop.

At this point, you might hug. Hugging is optional.

We suffer from memory and inherent vice, but I think that maybe it is possible that we don't have to melt and rot and fall apart. At the very least, I'm going to find out.

Spain is Beautiful

Being Carmen San Diego is complicated. It means that I can and I cannot talk about my job. Sometimes it means that I have to be so vague it's not worth talking about at all--I don't think that I ended up writing much about Moscow, for example. There's just this big blank space in my calendar and a lot of worrying about my opsec. I didn't travel much at the end of last year and the beginning of this one, while I tried to get a solid grip on my shaky mental state. I let work send me to Valencia for a week-long conference that was really three conferences stapled together because I have a fondness for Spain and I thought it would be relaxing. I'd eat paella (paella was invented in Valencia) and drink sangria and spend time with Iranians from Toronto. I would see my best friend and cry on her shoulder for a while. I'd sneak off to the City of Arts and Sciences, which is one of those Spanish modernist architectural boondoggles that makes you wonder if aliens have landed in the middle of the city. I'd sit on a beach. Valencia has a beach. And isn't the ocean soothing?

Valencia oranges taste like lemons. The streets are lined with picturesque orange trees with fruit that's been bred to taste vile in order to discourage anyone from picking them. You think this is going to be my overarching metaphor, don't you? You think I'm going to tell you that I thought I'd have a pleasant work vacation and instead I locked myself in my hotel room and hyperventilated for a week, right? It's not like that, my purely hypothetical remaining reader. Valencia was not a terrible time wrapped in a pretty package.

Conferences are treacherous. I suspect this is true in every field of work. I'm just sensitive to the currents of Internet Freedom Land. There is money floating around: mostly Google and American government money, with a sprinkling of Swedish and dwindling Dutch funds. The thing I've been doing for the last couple of years is suddenly popular and sexy, which I take to be a sign that I should stop doing it immediately and find another problem to solve. You are in a maze of twisty grudges all alike. You may be eaten by a funder. If anyone asks you to engage in espionage, tell them to go fuck themselves. If the Spanish government plants a tracking device on a conference-attendee's car, do not touch it.

I spent my time with my co-worker's MENA friends--Palestinians and Lebanese, mostly, who drink beer and smoke endless hand-rolled cigarettes. At night we'd find a metal bar in Barrio Carmen or a place by the beach with the Palestinian security trainer whose family put me and my friends up in their lovely house in Biet Sahour and the Lebanese girl wearing a wrist brace because she'd hurt herself during an MMA sparring match and the bubbly Tunisian girl finishing up her law degree in the US. I fought with my best friend. I wandered around the glittering City of Arts and Sciences at one in the morning. I danced to Joan Jett in a nightclub. I rolled out of bed to run and lift weights in the hotel's tiny gym. I walked down the street holding hands with a Romanian refugee while we traded stories about China. I made up with my best friend instead of falling into a frozen pattern where we'd simply not talk to each other for six months at a time. I was that person who talked about export controls at a party instead of smoking hash. I left the Iranians' party at 4 am to get on a plane back to San Francisco that took off at 6:30.

I came home exhausted and jet lagged and immediately came down with my first Death Cough in over a year. Valencia is beautiful. The oranges are not for eating. Given the opportunity, I would do it again.

Terry Pratchett is Dead

Terry Pratchett is dead. This doesn't come as a surprise, since he's been very public about his declining health, but I feel it is worth noting. I am a Serious Person who reads Serious Literature and does Serious Things. I am a brain in a jar. But if you look at my (fancy Restoration Hardware) bookshelf, you will see a great big row of Terry Pratchett novels--first the mauled paperbacks I read as a teenager and then the first-edition hardcovers I would buy as they came out.

There is an arc of Terry Pratchett novels and goes something like this: early books in which there are many lengthy footnotes and incomprehensible endings (seriously, something weird just happens and then the book is finished, like Equal Rites and Hogfather), middle books in which he starts to really grasp some themes and learns how a book hangs together (Good Omens, for instance), then a great golden age of books that I loved (Small Gods, Lords and Ladies, Night Watch, Maskerade, all of the Tiffany Aching books), and then a steady decline full of themes that simply didn't resonate for me (Monstrous Regiment, Unseen Academicals, and such). When I was recovering from the Great Eyeball Explosion of 2012, and I had to lie face-down without moving my head for a week, my mother brought me A Hat Full of Sky on a little mp3 player, and I listened to chapter after chapter while drifting in and out of consciousness. I wished that I was a brain in a jar, because brains in jars don't have eyes that spontaneously explode, requiring many surgeries.

I will not make capitalized jokes about what DEATH might say when he comes for Terry Pratchett. I won't drag out any quotes to demonstrate that he could be insightful about politics or human nature or the arc of history when he wasn't making elaborate puns. But I will say that he was funny without being sentimental or cloying. He didn't shy away from making worlds that were unpleasant or unfair. And I always had a soft spot for the Grimeses and Granny Weatherwaxes, all the characters that remind us (to steal from Sondheim) that nice is different than good.

I am sad to see a little piece of my childhood go. And I am sad that the stories have run out.

Marty McConnell Knows What's Up

I hardly ever post poetry anymore, but here it is. Train your heart like a dog, people.

Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell
by Marty McConnell

leaving is not enough; you must
stay gone. train your heart
like a dog. change the locks
even on the house he’s never
visited. you lucky, lucky girl.
you have an apartment
just your size. a bathtub
full of tea. a heart the size
of Arizona, but not nearly
so arid. don’t wish away
your cracked past, your
crooked toes, your problems
are papier mache puppets
you made or bought because the vendor
at the market was so compelling you just
had to have them. you had to have him.
and you did. and now you pull down
the bridge between your houses,
you make him call before
he visits, you take a lover
for granted, you take
a lover who looks at you
like maybe you are magic. make
the first bottle you consume
in this place a relic. place it
on whatever altar you fashion
with a knife and five cranberries.
don’t lose too much weight.
stupid girls are always trying
to disappear as revenge. and you
are not stupid. you loved a man
with more hands than a parade
of beggars, and here you stand. heart
like a four-poster bed. heart like a canvas.
heart leaking something so strong
they can smell it in the street.

Oh And...

In other news, Hawaii is an unbelievably beautiful place. All the cliches have become cliches because they're true. If anyone gives you the opportunity to take an hour-long helicopter tour of Oahu (especially in a helicopter with no doors) put on a warm jacket and say yes.

I had three weeks during which I only did a couple of days'-worth of work and for a moment there, I felt as relaxed as I have been at any time since becoming Carmen San Diego. Unfortunately, I think that my sudden and unexpected test of my disaster recovery plan means that I do not feel very relaxed right now and I may not feel relaxed again for some time.

Surprise Test of the Disaster Recovery Plan

Let me begin by taking all of the blame. A few months ago, I misplaced my combination lock and I did not bother to replace it. So when I went to the gym, I simply put all of my things inside a locker and hoped for the best. This is usually not a problem. I go to nice gyms. Most people are not interested in stealing my work clothes, not even my really nice shoes.

On Tuesdays, I go to the gym with D. We start by running 5k. After running for half an hour, I am sweaty and gross, so I run back into the locker room to wash my face. This is when I notice that the door to my locker is open. And someone has rifled through my gym tote. And removed the iPad Air I'd left at the bottom of it. And someone has taken my purse ("purse" is perhaps not the right word for a 15 lb bag that contains my laptop, wallet, keys, passport, and about everything else I would need if I suddenly had to flee the country).

I report this theft to the gym and we spend some time looking through the security camera footage, looking for a woman exiting the gym with my rather distinctive-looking bag. This comes to naught, because my bag has been stuffed into the garbage can in the disabled stall of the women's bathroom. I cancel my credit cards. My bank informs me that there have already been some fraudulent charges: about fifteen minutes after I discovered the theft, our thief walked to the street to Target and set off all of their fraud alarms by trying to purchase some $500-ish dollar items with all of my bank cards. Three minutes later, she's paying $1.50 with my card get her car out of the parking garage across the street.

At the gym, we go through the footage from the security camera that has a good view of women leaving the locker room. We identify sixteen women leaving the locker room with bags between the time that I left to go running and the time I checked my locker. I call the bank for my corporate card. In addition to running through my cards at Target, this woman has attempted to make a $500-ish purchase online at JC Penney. A few minutes later, she filled her gas tank at a Shell station around the corner from my office--which gives me a brief flash panic as I imagine her walking into the Mysterious Workplace with my keys and helping herself to every laptop in the building.

I write an email to work. I remotely brick my iPad. I briefly regret not having installed Find My iMac on my computer because I am a professional privacy advocate.

I call J, because I no longer have my house key. Or my car key. Or any of the many RFID fobs that I require to get in and out of doors. He picks me up along with D, who has kindly tagged along for this ordeal, and we head down to the parking garage, hoping that we might get a look at the footage on the security camera. As a lifelong supporter of privacy rights, I should be pleased that this footage is not made available on request to curious onlookers, even if they say they are trying to catch a thief. As a person who is hot on the trail of a thief, I curse a lot.

I call the police non-emergency number, where the operator informs me (because of the stolen passport, I think) that I will need to come into the police station and file a report in person. J and I trudge to the police station, while a friend watches the house in case this woman decides to show up and help herself to the rest of our worldly possessions.

"Do you think she'll take the car?" asks J. "She can get into the garage and she has the car keys."

"What do you think are the chances that she drives stick?" There are some advantages to being the last people on Earth to insist on a manual transmission.

I file a police report with a profoundly disinterested blond woman who gives me a case number and informs me that an officer with be contacting me in around five days. I give up on the notion that we might find this woman before she has a chance to sell my electronics and possibly my passport. I give the case number to the fraud department at both of my banks.

J orders new keys and new fobs from our HOA and a new core for the very fancy bi-lock on our front door.

I cancel my trip to Chicago. Googlers will have to eat at fancy restaurants without me and I will not get to try out the local circus school. I will spend the next few days getting my temporary computer up and running with all of the right credentials (ask me how much I hate PGP right now!) and bootstrap my identity from my certificate of naturalization and a copy of my passport.

It is my profound hope that if and when the policeman assigned to my case contacts me, that he will be in a mood to fight some crime. As it happens, I know a lot about tracking people, and this thief does not know a lot about electronic surveillance.

I will leave this as an exercise for the reader: assuming that SFPD is very lazy and/or that the surveillance footage at the parking garage and the gas station is unavailable/inconclusive/or too blurry to get a look at the license plate number on the car, solve this case using only two subpoenas.

2014: The Year In Review

Oh 2014, I am ambivalent about you.

I started the year at a hacker party in Berlin. My friend had just killed himself back in ess eff and I could not get a moment alone in which to be sad. I traveled to Amman and trained bloggers. Then we crossed into Palestine and trained activists in Ramallah. Then I spent a couple of days with my family in Tel Aviv and I did not tell them what I was doing in the Middle East. I experienced my first panic attack. I did not have time to exercise. I slept too little. I worked too much. I gained weight, about twenty pounds in three or four months, until my clothes didn't fit and I felt like I was wallowing around in someone else's meat suit.

I got a therapist in 2014. I went back to the gym and to aerials. I took vitamins and subjected myself to blood tests. My cat got sick and had surgery and slowly, expensively died. J cashed out and quit his job working for his Corporate Overlords. I cut off my dreadlocks. My hair spent months recovering. I dyed my hair many different shades of purple. I put muscle back on my shoulders. I lost weight. I traveled and launched projects and gave talks. I saw Montreal for the first time and Moscow. I returned to Berlin and Stockholm and London. I stood up for myself at the Mysterious Workplace and did not travel for work for four months straight. J and I bought a fancy new car. I picked up my cat's ashes and got the last of my eye surgeries.

2014 is the year I grappled with stress, with working too much and spending all of my time thinking about government surveillance. There is no one I know who does this for a living who has not gone a little bit crazy. And I'm not done. I don't think I've really gotten all of myself back. 2014 is not a story of linear progress or unencumbered triumph. There have been setbacks. Mistakes were made. But overall, I think that I may have lurched and heaved a bit, but I turned myself around in 2014.

And there is so much left to do.