The guy outside of Anna’s is smoking pot. You can smell it halfway down the street. It’s high quality. I can’t help but smile as I walk past him.

“Girl knows what’s up,” he says and holds out a hand to me.

“Don’t ever change man,” I say, hi-five him, and explode it out.

“I love you and I don’t even know you.”

“That makes two of us,” I call behind me.


Emacs is a text editor used for everything from editing text to writing code to organizing one’s entire life. It’s an older piece of software–originally written in 1976. It’s strength comes from extensibility–you can make emacs do whatever you want if you have the patience, time, and skills. Another way to word this is that it’s super crunchy and hard to use. It’s hard to save files, it’s hard to copy and paste, and it’s hard to become involved. One emacs hacker/user I know said:

…for social and technical reasons contributing to the project is hard and some people view this as a good thing and that’s really shitty.

My criticisms of FLOSS projects have a lot to do with difficulties in install processes, usability, and accessibility (a11y). Inaccessible software is bad. Software that is hard to use is bad. Software that is hard to install is bad.

(I will note that, from this perspective, all text editors are bad.)

Thinking about free software development and usability from a business perspective begs up the question: What does the customer want? The customer for a community is a contributor–the customer for an application, operating system, package is the person installing it. Looking at emacs as a case study, I recently found myself asking if it needs to be accessible and easy. I am not the natural user for emacs. I don’t use it now. Why is it important for it to cater to my needs?

Being able to code is important. So is being able to change a flat tire, swim, sharpen a kitchen knife, unclog a toilet, and understand the basics of how your hot water heater works so that if the pilot light ever goes out, you know what to do or at least how to figure out why your shower is cold.

Initiatives like Hour of Code are important because computers need to be normalized. Not everyone needs to be a developer, but everyone does need to know the basics of how computers work. It is not–and should not–be acceptable to say (with pride even) that you don’t know how computers work, what code is like.

It is not the job of emacs and the community to make sure I can use it to code–or use it at all. However, it should be the imperative of the community to make sure I know and understand the fundamentals of technology–this includes the basics of how computers actually do things. From a perspective of self-preservation, keeping technology in a black box is useful to the technical. As long as computers are not only difficult, but also scary, I need them. But, the fact is, I am going to need them anyway because I do not want to become an expert. I’d rather be an expert at growing delicious peppers, making an asplenium flourish, and identifying trees by their smell.

Technologists and hackers have made their way to where they are, in some cases, through trials by fire. They have fought against communities, proven themselves, and hacked their way through impenetrable code and processes in order to become a member of the club. They should have the tools they want. They should be able to have fun and be kind of elitist in their in-group the same way I should be allowed to have fun and be kind of elitist about building a bike, knowing Hume, and having a favorite designer in any given season of Project Runway. But, none of those things should be scary. The mentality that a project being hard is a good thing is not just mean, but detrimental and dangerous.


I found it a little hard to write about rent in Camberville (mostly Somerville) due to the age of the data I found readily available. Additionally, it’s a heated issue. I–and my friends–choose to live here. We pick convenience over cost. Housing is the subject on which we use our energies reserved for being upset, angry, and frustrated over things we feel we can’t do anything about.

That being said, rent here really sucks.

Boston rent is the third most expensive in the US, according to CBS. It is beaten by New York and San Francisco. The majority of residents are renters. We don’t have rent control. The average rent for an average household is over $2,000.

Renters and Owners

The majority of Cambervillans are renters. Renter occupied homes have fewer people, on average, than owner occupied homes. I joke that this is because people are misreporting how many residents a given location has, considering how many people over the age of twenty-one I know who have actual roommates.

Somerville Households (2010 Census Data from American FactFinder)

Owner Occupied Renter Occupied Totals
Housing Units 10,395 21,710 32,105
Population 24,780 48,705 73,485
Average Household Size 2.38 2.24

Cambridge Households (2010 Census Data from American FactFinder)

Owner Occupied Renter Occupied Totals
Housing Units 15,235 28,797 44,032
Population 31,880 56,180 88,060
Average Household Size 2.09 1.95


These numbers come from Wikipedia, where there is a lot of ambiguity on the data. I should probably update it, assuming census.gov’s information is more correct. I have both. Unlabeled data is from Wikipedia. All income is gross, except when noted otherwise.

Somerville Cambridge
Household $46,315 $47,979
Household (2010, census.gov) $64,603 $72,225
Estimated MA Take-Home (2010, census.gov) $45,114 $49,881
Family $51,243 $59,423
Men $36,333 $43,825
Women $31,418 38,489
Per Capita $23,628 21,156
Per Capita (2010, census.gov) $33,352 $48,509

I have been told that rent “should be 30% of your [take home] income.” This seems positively insane to me. That is ridiculously high. But, whatever, someone thinks it’s a good idea. Probably someone who owns land that they rent.

By these recommendations, a Somerville household should be paying $19,381/year, or $1,615.08/month. A Cambridge household ought to be paying $21,667.5/year, or $1,805.63/month. For argument’s sake, a Somerville household is 2.25 people, and a Cambridge one 2. This works out to a Somervillian paying $718/month and a Cantabridgian paying $903/month.


I apologize for my rent numbers. They are from Zillow’s positively magnificent rent data. I apologize because they are calculated from September 2014, as opposed to whenever the census was actually taken in 2010. Here are some new assumptions:

  1. Inflation since 2010 has been 9.2%
  2. Estimated Somerville household income is now: $70,521
  3. Estimated Somerville take-home income is now: $49,246
  4. Estimated Cambridge household income is now: $78,841
  5. Estimated Cambridge take-home income is now: $54,450
  6. A typical household is 2 people.
  7. Studio apartments are occupied by a single person earning as much as a household, but ought to cost less than a one-bedroom.
  8. One-bedroom apartments are occupied by 1.5 people earning as much as a single household.
  9. Three-bedroom apartments shall be calculated as 1.5 households, and four-bedroom apartments as 2 households. (Note, many people share their homes with either roommates, housemates, partners, or children. In the case of partners (or children), this could be at a greater cost.)

Median Rental Costs as of September 2014 (Zillow.com)

Somerville (estimated) Somerville (actual) Cambridge (estimated) Cambridge (actual)
All homes - $2,300 - $2,550
Studio <$1,231 $1,500 <$1,361 $2,140
One-bedroom $1,231 $1,760 $1,361 $2,200
Two-bedroom $1,231 $2,200 $1,361 $2,700
Three-bedroom $1,846 $2,600 $2,041 $3,300
Four-bedroom $2,462 $3,200 $2,722 $4,200

There are some problems with my estimates. I mean, lots of problems. One obvious issue is that rent is usually less per room the more rooms there are in the house.


Tufts has 5,232 undergrads (~37% off campus) and 5,651 graduate students. MIT has 4,528 undergrads (~25% live off campus) and 6,773 graduate students. Harvard [College] has 6,722 undergrads (~3% off campus) and 3,871 graduate students.


I don’t know a lot about the actual makeup of Camberville in a “by the numbers” way. Rents in some areas are cheaper than others–by a lot. Both cities have significant populations of poor people (in each city, >10% of the population lives below the poverty line). A number of my friends are hackers, engineers, developers, etc. Glassdoor tells me that the Boston Metro average developer earns $85k/year. I know some freshman engineers who had offers for $90k+benefits. I have friends who earn $500/week teaching children. Graduate student/post-doc stipends in the area range from $8k-35k/year. Massachusetts minimum wage is $8/hour.

Possibly Interesting Things, Some of Which Inspired Me

Something Wrong With Literally Everything In Apartment.” The Onion. March 19, 2011.

Parker, Brock. “Report Warns of Rent Hikes Along Green Line Route in Somerville.” Boston.com. February 12, 2014.

Conti, Katheleen. “In Suburbs, Rents Soar As Vacancy Rates Plummet.” Boston Globe. April 24, 2014.

Kooker, Naomi. “Skyrocketing Rent Has Tenants Searching Outside the City.” Boston Globe. August 17, 2014.


Thanks to Patrick Engelman for pointing out it’s 30% of take home pay, not gross. This also led to me realizing a mistake I made in calculating expected rents. I apologize.

A note added about roommates/sharing homes with partners.

I’d like to acknowledge all my awesome statistician and economist friends who read this and gave useful feedback–leading to the edits.


The sky is dark and the digital clock in Harvard Square tells me there’s still a quarter to go until six. The roads are empty and a few people, those last, barely, and first awake walk down the sidewalk. Pairs huddle together. Two older women hold hands.

My long underwear scratches my legs for the first time since winter gave way to spring in April. The first cold morning has settled on Camberville, bringing with it frost clinging to fallen leaves and clear sunrises.


“When I was biking down, I went past the katsura and was like ‘yeah, fall’s coming.'”

“They’re changing color?”

“No, they smells like fall.”

Katsura tees smell like fall, a dark smell of honey, cinnamon, and dust. As their leaves prepare to die, they produce an excess of maltose in one last push. It catches on the air and carries down wind, following me down the path.


It’s 12:30am.

“You fucked my cousin, you bitch. You fucked my cousin. I’m going to fuck you in the ass because you fucked my cousin, you bitch.”

Twenty, thirty feet above them, I’m awake.

She says something, I can’t hear her.

“The wedding’s off because you fucked my cousin. I am going to call my mom. I’m going to call your mom. I’m going to call anyone who will listen and tell them the wedding’s off because you fucked my cousin.”

She says something again. I still can’t hear her, but I hear a whimper.

I find my phone and dial 911. I don’t hit send. I don’t know what I’m waiting for. Maybe he’ll calm down. Maybe she’ll leave. Maybe they’ll both go away. Maybe too much time has passed and if I call the cops, they’ll show up too late. Maybe I’m waiting just a few more seconds to make sure I need to call 911 before I do so.

I’m waiting to see if he hits her.