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A picture of Milena Popova

Milena Popova

Activist, PhD researcher (consent in fan fiction)

in activist, linux, researcher, sex

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Milena Popova (pronouns: they/them), and I'm incapable of saying no to a shiny project, so I have many fingers in many pies. The current day job (which I love!) is PhD researcher. Depending on who I'm talking to, I'm either a porn researcher, or I research sexual consent in erotic fan fiction. I'm also a blogger and activist (on a whole bunch of issues), I'm running a couple of academic side projects, I sit on the board of the Open Rights Group, and I do some volunteering for the Organisation for Transformative Works. I think those are all the things that I do? PhD research is quite a solitary activity, but a lot of my other work involves collaborating with people, most of whom are probably not even in the same timezone as me.

What hardware do you use?

My desktop is a fairly generic Acer machine, about four years old now. I've also got a 13" Asus laptop (one of those shiny, thin, MacBook wannabe ones). I do a fair amount of work on the go, so my Samsung Galaxy tablet, and especially my phone (currently Samsung Galaxy S8) are super-important to me.

I use a couple of assistive tech pieces. I have a daylight lamp to get me through the interminable UK winter nights without losing the will to breathe and a HandShoe mouse to help me deal with occasional bouts of RSI.

I also really like pen and paper, particularly for thinking tasks and for getting organised. I have a bullet journal which is actually probably the one tool that keeps me on track and enables me to get stuff done. (For the fellow bullet journal geeks out there, I use the Leuchtturm1917 A5 dotted notebook, with Muji rollerball pens, Preppy fountain pens, and plenty of washi tape to help me find things.) I also carry around an A6 notebook with me where I draw mind maps and make notes of my word count and just stick random transactional notes in that help me think in-the-moment.

And what software?

Both my PCs run Linux Mint - I've been a big fan of Free Software since the late 90s. I was a poor student then so free-as-in-beer was a bonus, but the free-as-in-speech aspect has always been important to me. A lot of my work is writing, which to be honest happens mostly in Google Docs, though a fair chunk also happens in xed (the default Linux Mint text editor). I occasionally have to resort to LibreOffice when working with editors who like Word files and comments or tracked changes. I wouldn't recommend using any of these for actually producing a finished 80,000-word thesis though, so as I put the final touches on mine I'm about to embark on the journey of re-learning LaTeX, which is a typesetting mark-up language that produces gorgeous documents.

Reference management is another key part of academic work, and I use Mendeley for that. It's a really cool tool that can output bibliographies in lots of different formats as well as store and file your PDFs of academic papers for you. Importantly, it has a desktop app for Linux and a mobile app for Android, so I can read and manage papers on the go. The only downside of it is that it's owned by Elsevier, who are basically the supervillian of academic publishers, so one of these days I'll bite the bullet and migrate to something else. Speaking of academic publishing, while my university library is amazing, I won't have access to it for much longer. Sci-Hub is a great way of getting access to academic research without the exorbitant pricetag, so I use that a lot.

When it comes to my more collaborative projects, Slack is probably one of my main tools for working with people across continents and timezones. As long as whoever you're collaborating with also makes it part of their systems and routines, it's a really great way to meet, chat, share documents, etc. (even if I'm old enough to know that it's basically glorified IRC for hipster start-ups ;) ). Again, that it comes with a desktop app for Linux and (more importantly) a mobile app is super-important for me: if I can use it on my phone I can integrate it into my life much more easily.

One really cool and unique piece of software I use is to do with my work for the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW). The OTW is a non-profit run by fans (in the widest sense of the word), and one of its biggest projects is the Archive of Our Own: an online archive which currently hosts over 3 million fan works. To organise that volume of stuff, you need metadata, but the OTW is really big on letting users create their own metadata in ways that make sense to them. This way, the OTW is not acting as gatekeepers or roadblocks to the evolution of fannish culture and language. That leaves us with a challenge though, which is that if one fan calls a thing an "Alternative Universe - Coffee Shop" and another calls it a "Coffee Shop AU" it's difficult to find all the fan works containing that concept. Which is where I and a few hundred other volunteers come in: we tag wrangle. While we let users put whatever tags they want on their works, we do some behind-the-scenes work to tell the Archive that "Alternative Universe - Coffee Shop" and "Coffee Shop AU" mean the same thing, so someone searching for fan works containing that concept can find all of them. And for that we use this internal tool called... The Wrangulator! :D

In my fannish capacity I am also a podficcer: I record audio performances of other people's fan fiction works. I use the Linux Mint sound recorder for the recording, and Audacity for audio editing.

I'm also a big fan of something my friends and I term "care robots" - various apps that make our lives easier and help us look after ourselves. I have Twilight on my Android devices and f.lux on my PCs to filter blue light after sunset. I use Sleep as Android to track my sleep patterns (and make me go to bed on time) and Relax Melodies to help me clear my head and fall asleep. I also use Zombies, Run! to keep me from getting bored while running (nothing quite as motivating as being told there's twenty fast zombies coming your way!), and I'd probably also class Pokemon GO as a care robot as it gets me out of the house, at least as far as the nearest Pokestop, even on those PhD days when I just want to sit around in my pyjamas and bury myself in some reading.

What would be your dream setup?

One of the things I'd like to get into at some point is video, for which I'd probably need a better camera, a better lighting set-up, and more RAM. Also, video editing on Linux is dicey, so that's something to (reluctantly) think about. In an ideal world I'd probably also have a better mic, a screen, and maybe even a sound-proof recording space.