Please read: urgent.

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(Written by Laura Tisoncik, not me — also on the front page of autistics.org)

My Declaration of Independence

Ours is a community filled with computer geeks. I don’t, properly, happen to be one. I’m a computer-literate political organizer. Yet somehow I’ve found myself having to decipher Bind9 (I can’t), disentangle one mailsystem from another (something else I can’t do), be the lead person on computer security (another subject way over my head) and lord knows what else.

That I can’t do what I’m not trained to do and have little talent to do seems irrelevant to the rest of the community. The only problem they see is that I don’t do what they want me to do — that the scripts aren’t running right, that they don’t have feature X and feature Y, that they’ve been deprived of access to feature Z for a few hours while I go sleepless for days trying to figure out what is going wrong with Z, etc.

Well today I am declaring my independence from enslavement to this website. Either members of the community step up and do the necessary work so this website can go on without me killing myself trying to maintain it and so that I have a shred of energy left to do something I’m actually good at, or I will kill this server, this website, and everything else it hosts at the end of the July billing cycle (circa August 5th) and be done with autistics.org.

–Laura Tisoncik

(And back to something by Amanda, not Laura: Sorry to put you on the spot, but I know both of my brothers do some amount of computer stuff, one of them professionally, and I know you both read this blog, so do either of you have the kind and level of knowledge required for this?)

(Another added note: Be aware that our server includes the main part of autistics.org, this blog, the autistics.org forums, the Autism Demonized blog, Autism Network International, Asperger Association of New England, and Getting the Truth Out, among other things.)

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Physically and cognitively disabled. Anything you hear in the media or gossip is likely to be oversimplified at best and wildly inaccurate at worst, the only way to get to know me is to actually know me. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died a couple years ago and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

32 responses »

  1. Maintaining a community website takes a lot of time (A LOT), and a lot of patience and then, some more time. IT skills are a spectrum disorder (sorry, early morning attempt at humour here…) and I am leaning towards the software development side. From what I can gather from the post, I think what is needed for autistics.org is a) someone with a solid understanding of WordPress, especially with regards to security and b) some server administration skills. Those are outside my realm, but I have colleagues that can assist with a). I would also recommend that the core autistics.org website is then migrated to a WordPress blog format also, to simplify maintenance. With regards to b), please can we get more information on what the server is running and where it is physically located (I see it was moved recently) – that would assist in finding out which skills would be most appropriate. There may be a c) if there is stuff other than WordPress blogs running on the server. This should be listed so that one knows what the needs for skills and maintenance are. I am inspired by the knowledge and voice that this community webserver is providing and if I can assist, even if it is just facilitating problems to the right people that are providing their IT skills from all over the world, I am happy to help out.

  2. Laura:

    I’m probably even less computer literate than you are so I can’t help with the direct problem. And I know you even less than I know Amanda (who I “know” primarily by reading her blog, which isn’t quite the same) So I hope this will not seem too out of bounds.

    But I just wanted to say, I know you must have really struggled with the choice to make this ultimatum. I know you really care about autistics.org and the work you’re doing, even if it has evidentally meant that you have needed to step outside of your real areas of expertise to ensure that the online stuff is done properly.

    Sometimes one of the hardest things in volunteer orgs is to simply say “no”, especially when you’re not yet sure who else is there to step up to the plate and take over. But sometimes it’s necessary. I’m not a expert on volunteerism and have done very little of it myself (at least in regard to formally recognized volunteer organizations). But I know there can sometimes be a kind of complacency that takes over where Person X has always done Task Y (even if they weren’t quite qualified or didn’t really want to), so others start to just expect and depend on Person X to do Y, even if Person X starts dropping hints they’d prefer for someone else to do it. So a final ultimatum like this can become necessary to shake people up and realize that a volunteer organization needs to be a shared responsibility or it won’t be fully effective.

    I hope that ultimately this step strengthens your organization and the work you’re doing.

  3. Bind 9 and mailsystem aren’t a problem for me, computer security, I can have a look at (i’m familiar with SELinux and a bit less so for RSBAC). I’m slightly in a bind today because my day is full and tomorrow, i have a wedding but sunday, I’ll be able to look.

    Alain

  4. Adi: autistics.org is not a blog, so that doesn’t really make sense. There are definitely things running on it that would not be able to be run in a blog format. In fact, most of the site is not blogs. There are only two or three blogs on the entire server that I know of. (And autistics.org is only one thing running on the server. There are also Getting the Truth Out, autistics.org in general, and the websites of Autism Network International and the Asperger Association of New England, among other things.)

  5. IT skills are not really a spectrum disorder, but a very heterogeneous disorder. (I know, making it worse). I have a MS in CS and over 10 years of experience in client and server development, mostly Java and .NET related. I have founded several open source projects, some fairly popular, some not so much. Yet, I don’t know the first thing about this Bind9 you speak of.

    Would moving the website elsewhere make it easier to maintain? You’ve likely explored that option already, which I bet is rather expensive.

  6. How can Laura be contacted?

    I know absolutely nothing about any of the computer stuff mentioned myself, but can probably put a call out for help on some disability activist lists and websites (in the UK, but i’m guessing people might be able to help via email? and some US-based people read them)…

  7. Contact her through me. You can either leave replies here, or send them to my email address, which is you take the URL of this blog, remove the http:// and the end /, and change the first dot into an @ and you get my email address. (Trying to avoid spammers here, please don’t post my email address anywhere it could be spam-harvested.)

  8. I’m totally computer-hopeless, but an old roomate of mine makes and runs websites for a living. I’ll ask him about it. Maybe he would offer his services for some kind of reduced fee, if you can’t find anyone who can do it on a volunteer basis.

  9. I’ve got a friend who may have the requisite skills, though not necessarily the requisite time. Almost certianly the skills. A message has been sent…

  10. Well, I don’t have any money (I’m living on a pension); and I don’t have huge amounts of computer skills. However, I’m an Aspie engineering major (second year), and I can figure out computers very easily. I’m very good with spreadsheets, databases, word processors… I can learn just about any program out there. I can’t program yet, and I know only very basic HTML; but if I can help, I will. The more places we Spectrum-dwellers have to call our own, the better; and this is one of those places. It ought to be preserved.

    Regarding money, have you considered Cafepress? As I said, I’m poor and couldn’t buy anything; but in two or three years, when I can work as an engineer (which I know I can do with only minimal accomodations), I’ll be able to. Most likely there are people who, two or three years ago, were like me; and who, today, can help out.

    I’m good enough at image-editing to design a logo; but I’d need creative people to help me out with ideas, because I’m way better at copying and refining things than creating original work.

    Anyway, somebody e-mail me if you think you can use my skills.

  11. http://www.cafepress.com/autieliberation

    They’ve got cool stuff, though I’m guessing the markup’s not much and it’s more beneficial to the site to just donate $$ outright. Stuff is cool, though.

    And I’m also guessing that regardless of donations, it’s not in the budget to pay somebody to maintain the forum. It’s an ongoing thing. I’m sorry, folks, that I have no web-type skills whatsoever. :(

  12. …unfortunately, we don’t fit the autistic programmer stereotype well and none of us are all that competent with computers. I’m too spatial a thinker to get my head around most kinds of programs and programming language, because I haven’t been able to come up with any way to represent it three-dimensionally in my head. I’m slightly more okay with the hardware side of things, but we’d never be as competent as we are now without the presence of more computer-savvy friends to show us how to use a lot of things.

    …on the other hand, this might change in the future if we *can* figure out some new and different way to think about it. It’s happened with other things, just hasn’t happened with this yet. I wish you luck in finding someone who is competent, though, whatever that counts for.

  13. I wish there was something I could do to help. Is there an address we can send donations to? I don’t understand at all the technical issues involved. I could figure it out if it was microsoft word or excel, those are pretty much the only areas I have any computer skills that are really of any use in. I really want autistics.org to stay available. I would be happy to work on learning to help out with whatever these other new programs are also.
    Also, if someone complains because a certain feature isn’t available, please don’t let that be discouraging as there are so many GOOD features.
    Hope that helps although I wish I knew alot about computers and then I’d gladly assist you in this task that I don’t even understand what you are describing.

  14. Also, is there some kind of middle ground? Even if no one is able to come up with the perfect solution, could you simply state that some features will not be available till someone can help with X and not shut the site down? I’d be glad to work towards learning whatever I could to help, but don’t currently know anything about those things so I know what you mean about being in over your head.

  15. I agree with Laura J. I would ditch the most time consuming (and too difficult) parts and keep the rest because there’s a limit on what one person can do and yes, there are maybe people that can help, but when something happens to them, getting a depression or something, you will be even in more trouble. I have deleted my websites now but I always stuck by basic HTML and some CSS and I never thought about it to go further (and thus not writing more complicate scripting and such) because I knew that would take a lot of my energy and necessary sleep.

  16. Is this machine one ran by an ISP? I am a techy, but unfortunately do not have experience with dns/bind or smtp (other than it’s protocol) … not to mention having a pretty full schedule. Anyways, they are low level topics so usually an ISP handles them, which is what you may want to look into. Ones are out there that work with nonprofits and have free options available. An example of one that works with African NPOs is at http://www.kabissa.org/ … although I am sure there are ones out there that work with other countries.

  17. Unfortunately I don’t know much of anything about the “network” side of computer geekdom; I can write basic HTML but I’m lost when it comes to dealing with servers and IP addresses and “protocols” (and at this point I am just listing jargon, so I will stop).

    If the site does end up going down for a while due to difficulties finding someone, hopefully there is at least a way to archive all the material on it.

  18. If Laura can provide all the relevent details of the server, I may be able to help. I’ve set up DNS/bind before, and I can learn pretty quickly anything else. I’m also not short on time, especially since I now have a working laptop.

  19. I agree with what everyone else said on keeping it simple. There are lots of people who can manage a static website, or even static with some Word Press. There are very few who can do everything else, and they’re hard to replace. That’s why my billable rate is $85/hour or more – and I can’t do everything required. It’s not that I’m ripping off my customers, it’s that the skills I have are very rare, as I suspect the skills necessary to work on the autistics.org site are (despite lots of us having computer skills). Add in the social part of having to work as a team and I suspect it’ll be darn near impossible to find someone.

  20. Given the caveats Joel Smith gives here, I wonder if it would help to try to get multiple volunteers to divide up the work according to specific skill set? Of course the idea of multiple volunteers runs directly into the social part of the challenge, but it would at least help address the “complex skill set” part of the challenge.

    Or as Kara suggests above — would it be feasible to try to hunt down a free ISP that caters to nonprofits that could take care of at least some of the more basic techy stuff for you?

  21. The social problems are likely nowhere near as bad as Joel makes them out to be. We’re already looking for people who have the individual skills, and we’ve found several already (not for everything yet, but for parts), so I’m not sure why people are making this out to be impossible.

  22. For reference, I’m not saying it’s impossible, simply that it’s going to be very difficult. I want to see this work too, and I do hope some people will speak up who are able to help.

  23. Thanks for the feedback Amanda on even a little progress on this…I think everyone just really wants to help…and wants to know how things are going…Hopefully when all is done the site will
    be easier to manage and the glitches will be gone and there will be a list too of people who can help with this in the future as problems crop up.
    I tend to worry so feedback that you are getting
    some people who may be able to help is reassuring..

  24. In case I am one of those “people” who are “making this out to be impossible”, let it be known that by “it’s not in the budget to pay somebody”, I meant “Volunteers, please!”. I have no doubt that this community will step up. (And thanks, Baggses, for ssstepping up yourssselvesess. ; P) I’m just bummed that I can’t. Not because I’m too busy or whatever. Just ’cause I can’t do those techie thingies y’all mentioned.

    Laura J, and anybody else who’s willing and has the means: Donations can be made via PayPal directly on the autistics.org site.

  25. “Laura J, and anybody else who’s willing and has the means: Donations can be made via PayPal directly on the autistics.org site.”

    Is there an address where checks or cash can be sent?

  26. I’m not sure. There’s someone who deals with autistics.org money stuff AFAIK but I don’t know if that person wants to give their address out or not. There’s also other options besides paypal on the front page.

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