Aleen Mean

Twitter Remains Broken

Today Twitter, the microblogging service dedicated to making sure that people can easily be harassed without repercussion, announced some changes they’re planning on rolling out over the next few months. True to their mission, these new features are sure to promote not only harassment, but spamming from both malicious accounts and #brands trying to #engage their audience.

Snark and admitted hostility aside, I love Twitter. I’ve used it every day for almost exactly eight years. I got my last job after hearing about the opening on Twitter. Most of my current, closest friendships exist because of Twitter. I quite literally cannot imagine what my life would be like today if it weren’t for this service.

But it’s broken, especially (but certainly not exclusively) for women who dare to publicly express their opinions. I’m pretty lucky: I’ve never been threatened or otherwise harassed there. In the back of my mind, however, I always wonder when it will happen—when will they threaten to rape me or harm my family members? When will they post my address or call my local police department to lie and dispatch a SWAT team to my home? I never wonder if it will happen. It’s always when.

Twitter is constantly saying that they take abuse seriously, but there seems to be very little movement on actually making things better for users. Right now, it’s up to us to see an abusive tweet, then block and report the offending account.1 After that, it’s up to Twitter to actually do something about it. This takes time, and often reports are simply dismissed. In the event that an account is banned, there’s nothing to prevent a harasser from creating a new account and starting over again. Furthermore, many users report that they see tweets from offensive accounts even after they’ve been blocked, which means that abusive comments can sneak through.

When today’s announced changes go into effect, the characters included in mentions will no longer count toward a tweet’s 140-characters. This is good for up to 50 names. I can think of no reason a Twitter conversation needs 50 people tagged in it. It’s great for the kinds of engagement companies seem to want, less great for the rest of us. It will be easier than ever to gang up on an individual, now that a critic can mention 49 of their closest friends and their target in a single tweet. There’s no mention of any way to untag oneself from these exchanges; this will be disastrous for many people.

Time and time again, we’ve been told that the company is working on making things better for targets of harassment. What we see, however, are half-baked enhancements designed to make the service more appealing to advertisers and attempts at enticing new users. Many people have suggested changes they could implement to curb abuse. For example, Randi Lee Harper’s list of suggestions from earlier this year is still on-point.

I know that Twitter is a huge company and that the people who are spending their time and energy on these new features aren’t necessarily the ones who would work on anti-abuse tools, but it’s clear that the company’s leadership is unwilling to actually act. Until they do, they’ll continue to lose influential users and many of us will refuse to recommend that anyone create a Twitter account.

If you’re curious, other features Twitter announced today include:

  • Photos, quoted tweets, videos, and other attached media will no longer count against your 140-character limit.
  • New tweets that begin with someone’s username will show up to all of your followers instead of just the people who follow you both. This is how things used to work and I was pretty angry when they moved away from this behavior. At the time, I followed around 50 people; now my timeline is going to get cluttered pretty quickly.
  • Replies to existing tweets that begin with someone’s username will only show up in the timelines of people who follow you both.
  • You’ll be able to retweet and quote yourself, which is something I’ve been doing using Tweetbot since forever.
  1. There are no Twitter-provided tools to curb harassment unless you’re a verified user. It seems to be reserved for some members of the media and celebrities. Beyond that, nobody really knows what’s required to become verified, though it seems to require use of the black arts.

Coming Soon: App Camp for Girls, Phoenix Chapter

Today was my last day at AgileBits, just 15 days shy of my second anniversary there.

Leaving my position as wordsmith for the 1Password for iOS team and media outreach person is one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. However, I’ve found myself juggling and dropping too many balls lately, and I had to pull back and evaluate my goals. When I stopped to think about what I really wanted to accomplish this year, the answer was immediately clear: App Camp for Girls, Phoenix edition has to be as great as I can make it.

I’m lucky to have an absolutely phenomenal, enthusiastic team of women co-organizing this venture with me, and I’m so excited for July! In the meantime, there are volunteers to obtain, workshops to organize, and potential sponsors to approach. I also need to dive into Swift so I can write my scholarship app for this year’s WWDC and be available to answer questions during the week of camp.

So I’m taking some time to focus on that.1 And when that’s done? Well, you never know what’ll happen down the road. :)

P.S. If you know a girl (or non-binary/transgender kiddo of any gender) entering the 8th or 9th grade next year, let them know that App Camp registration is now open! This year’s camps will take place in:

  • Phoenix, Arizona, USA
  • Orange County, California, USA
  • Portland, Oregon, USA
  • Seattle, Washington, USA
  • Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  1. My thanks to past Justin and Aleen, our tax attorney, and the IRS for allowing this to happen.


People make jokes when we’re introduced for the first time. I’ll often hear, “So you’re name’s like ‘a lean, mean fighting machine’?” or the humming of Come on Eileen’s chorus.1

At some point I decided to make a joke of one of the jokes and create a website called Aleen Mean. It was going to be my digital home on the Internet, with subdomains for each of my interests and a custom header for each subdomain. I decided that I wanted to have a bit of fun and incorporate a cute monster into each header. Maybe the photography section would have a cyclops squinting through a digital camera, the writing section a furry creature carrying a fountain pen and notebook, and so on.

The trouble with that idea was twofold: first, I am not The Pioneer Woman. I don’t make money off of my website and I have a J-O-B job (as Casey Liss says) that demands a lot of my time and energy. There’s no payoff for me to spend a lot of time juggling subdomains and headers and trying to organize this place like it’s an empire. Second, I don’t have a lot of artistic ability, so drawing things myself is off the table.

Around this time last year, Justin and I made our way to Columbus, Georgia for Creative South. Among the veritable drove of people we met was Kyle Adams, an icon designer who was handing out my favorite sticker of all time. We chatted for a bit and I knew that I’d found the guy to make some iteration of my monsters come to life.

To be honest, I probably wasn’t Kyle’s ideal client. The only direction I had for him was that I wanted to associate an icon with each tag I’d been using on my blog, and that I wanted the appropriate icon to appear by my posts. Oh, and “Cute monsters, please.” I didn’t have a color palette in mind and I’d been using an out-of-the-box Jekyll theme, so there was no existing branding for him to use as a guide.

Working with Kyle was every bit as wonderful as I anticipated it would be. If, at any point, he was frustrated by my lack of direction or “it’s totally up to you” attitude, he never let on. He was communicative, positive, and I think the final results speak for themselves.

Six New Icons for Six Aleen Mean Tags

He even wrote a case study about the icon creation process with some neat sketches that didn’t make the cut. Needless to say, I’m in love with what he came up with. I’m kind of hoping that I start writing about new things in the future so I can ask him to add to the collection.

It’s been a while since Kyle completed the project, but we2 finally incorporated the icons into a custom theme for the site. You might notice that Rachael’s site was a strong influence, but there are definitely some unique tricks thrown into the mix.3

It’s been about a week since the changes went live, and I’m still absolutely delighted. I hope you visit the site from time to time and smile as much as I have been!

  1. It’s been nearly 15 years since I graduated from high school, when I was taunted with this song, and those four notes still irritate me.

  2. Originally, this was going to be a project through which I would start to relearn more complex HTML and CSS in addition to Ruby. In the end, Justin was kind enough to take on the project for me, and it’s much better for him doing so.

  3. I’d encourage you to visit the site on a computer and resize your web browser, for one!

Less Than Or Equal on Relay

You may have heard that my little podcast, Less Than Or Equal, has joined the geeky podcasting network Relay. The move has been in the works for months and I’m so thrilled to finally let everyone know!

Less Than Or Equal’s move has brought some new listeners into the fold. We’ve been at this for over a year and have produced nearly 70 episodes; that can be a daunting back catalog to make it through! You’re welcome to meander your way through the archive, but if you’d like a curated list of shows to listen to, here’s what my Twitter followers recommend:1

  • Episode 39 with Ashley on Transgender Etiquette. If you listen to only one episode in the archive, make this the one.
  • Episode 16 with Quinn Dunki. We talked about retrocomputing, the intricacies of owning and modifying pinball machines, the future of mobile gaming, and making it in the tech industry.
  • Episode 21 with Serenity Caldwell. We talked about how Serenity got into roller derby and found a supportive community as well as radio theater!
  • Episode 32 with Jeremy Yoder. We talked about the intersection of geekdom and Christianity, misconceptions about Mennonites and their cousins the Amish, and Jeremy’s journey to becoming (and being) a pastor.
  • Episode 55 and episode 64 with Nicole Tompkins-Hughes. We talked about connecting with people online, parenting, raising kids who are unabashedly themselves, and bullying in school.
  • Episode 12 and Episode 47 with Steve Lubitz. We talked about how his podcast, Isometric, got started, gaming, parenting geeky girls, how friends can support parents of autistic children, being diagnosed with ADD as an adult, and dad jokes.
  • Episode 52 with Mikah Sargent. We talked about his experiences being biracial, bisexual, and Christian.
  • Episode 38 with Kahlief Adams. We talked about increasing the diversity of our guests, coming to terms with our privilege, being advocates, and gave some tips for newbie podcasters.
  • Episode 24 with Anna Tarkov and Jessica Dennis. We talked about parenting, nominated Steve Lubitz for president, and even managed some serious conversation about economics.
  • Episode 53 with Robert Carter. We talked about his history as an Apple aficionado and how technology with accessibility for blind people has made his life better.

I’ll edit and add more episodes if they come in, but this should keep everyone busy for a little while!


  • Episode 49 with Joe Rosensteel. We talked about the Supreme Court’s ruling on same gender marriage, the impact of rainbow profile pictures, and equality in Hollywood.
  • Episode 9 with Anna Megill. We talked about writing for video games and diversity in the gaming industry.
  • Episode 11 with Brianna Wu and Anna Megill. We talked about the threats Brianna received immediately after being targeted by GamerGate and how women in gaming are treated.
  • Episode 15 with Anna Megill and Kabe Wilson. The last of the Anna series (for now), we talked about creative constraints and how they impact the way games are written.
  • Episode 57 with Jessi Chartier. We talked about Mobile Makers Academy, empathy, teamwork, and Doctor Who.

Before I wrap it up: this show would be nothing if it weren’t for the support of its listeners. Thanks to everyone who’s been taking this journey with Justin and me. You’ve all been phenomenal and I’m excited to see where the road leads us all.

  1. I can’t come up with a list like this myself because I very firmly believe that every guest has been great. You could no sooner ask me to pick a favorite cat than a favorite episode.


I didn’t read comics when I was growing up, both because I lacked access to them and because they didn’t really seem like they were for me. To put it plainly, I thought comic books were for boys who were far geekier than even I was (and I watched Star Trek).

Getting into these universes as an adult has been daunting because of their long and storied histories. Do you like the idea of Spider-Man? Cool. Which Spider-Man: Peter Parker, Miles Morales, Migual O’Hara, May Parker? Should you start with the current story arc or go back to the very beginning? What references to past events are going to go over your head? Who do you go to for advice, especially if you’re a woman who’s ogled and dismissed in many comic book shops?

I just wasn’t interested in dealing with any of it. I’ve read some comics over the years (like Batwoman: Elegy, Atomic Robo, and The Walking Dead), but never dived any deeper than that.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has done wonders for piquing my interest in these worlds, but it’s oftentimes dark and inappropriate for children. That’s part of why I was so excited to see the Supergirl trailer. Even a glance told me that it was going to be different. The sets were lighter and cleaner. The music was uplifting. There was even a joke or two. A potentially kid-appropriate superhero show featuring a woman? It sounded amazing to me.

The pilot was okay. It didn’t feel groundbreaking or great, but I was happy to hang in there and see where things ended up going. By the end of the second episode, however, I was rolling my eyes and sighing heavily.

BEWARE: Spoilers ahead!

The entire episode featured our hero, Kara Zor-El, being told that she couldn’t, that she wasn’t ready, that she shouldn’t. Instead of being empowered, Kara was questioned and continually held back. “You’re not ready for that” and “we don’t know if you’re strong enough” were common sentiments throughout the episode.

In one scene, Kara’s adopted sister could have easily said, “Hey. I know you’re really strong, but why don’t I show you how to fight well just in case you lose your super strength.” Instead, Alex took Kara into a kryptonite-laced room, without warning, so that Kara was weakened. She was literally disempowered.

Interestingly, every women I’ve talked to about the show thus far have been disappointed, some going so far as to say they won’t continue to watch.1 I think this because women are intimately familiar with the sentiment of the show thus far. Do we really want to watch another woman struggle to be seen, or would we rather immerse ourselves in a world where Supergirl is encouraged and assumed capable from the onset? Do we want our girls watching another show where a potential role model has to fight for acceptance?

I’m afraid that, if this continues, Supergirl won’t be a successful show and entertainment executives will point to it as evidence that female superheroes don’t sell. This is the last thing I want to happen. I need more Wonder Woman in my life!

  1. Men have mostly pointed out that male superheroes have had their share of struggles, too.