The Worst Offenders

Imagine a scenario where a group of women are gathered in a meeting planning a spring event to promote and inspire women in technology. They are tossing around the idea of how they are going to get a website online to promote their event. First they are discussing where it will be hosted and so forth. Then it comes down to who is going to build the site for them. “Does anyone know anyone with web development experience?” “Well… I do have some.” But no one in the room listens to the second girl. They just keep talking about who they might know. Their list? All guys. Are there any good computer science guys that might be able to figure it out? Oh, he might not know how but I’m sure he’ll figure it out… On and on like that.

Well, this is a true story. It happened to me this week. A group of women in the process of planning how to help out women in technology and they don’t even think of the women in the room let alone at all first before going through their list of technical guys. Now, I do admit, for others reasons, I didn’t really want to get landed with building a website for these people. Mostly to do with time constraints and other obligations, but… I would have liked the opportunity to turn them down. However, I didn’t push after my initial admission of web knowledge to have everyone know I love building websites.

Fighting for change, especially in the face of adversity, is always going to be an uphill battle. I accept that. I mean, look at Facebook’s new timeline and how much people are resisting that. How can I expect people’s opinion of women in technology to change overnight? I don’t.

Sitting in a room full of technical women who purport to be fighting for change and still having to fight to be accepted as technically savvy is some other kind of beast. We will never have change if the people we are fighting for don’t even believe they deserve the change.

The steps I am taking to fight for the change I want: a) I never make assumptions about someone else’s knowledge or lack of knowledge. I try to clarify what they are comfortable doing and what they want to do and what they would love to get more experience in. b) I am making an effort to educate people. When someone makes an assumption, I am training myself to correct them when they are wrong. c) I am doing my utmost to be the best technical woman I can be- I want to be a role model for other women and I want to feel good about my accomplishments. I don’t want to settle for mediocre or put some effort in. I want to excel at what I choose to do. I am pursuing something I am truly passionate about, I just have to find the confidence to let it shine through.

It Pays to Think Ahead

Have you ever had one of those weeks where it starts out badly and then everything seems to snowball into a giant mess by the end of the week? Well, it was one of those weeks for me. And, therefore, I do not have a carefully crafted blog to post this week.

This semester I am taking some fairly hard classes. I am taking Programming Language Design, Systems Programming, and Human Computer Interaction. I was taking Physics until this past Wednesday, but I’ve decided to hold off on that for another term. This is the first time in almost a year that I have had to do any actually programming for my computer science program. I am so rusty and am having trouble remembering how anything works. It’s a little nuts. But without the worry of physics hanging over me, I can really spend time relearning all the nuances of programming languages.

To top it off, I am dedicating a very large portion of my time to figuring out ways to increase the number of women enrolled in our program. My ACM-W Chapter is finally taking off the ground. There are moments where I am very overwhelmed by the idea of running the chapter, but for the most part I’m just filled with excitement. Events for spring are being planned and I can’t wait to see how they turn out.

However, I know all of this work is going to be worth it in the long run. I will be able to graduate and get a job that pays well, has good benefits, and is something I will enjoy. If anyone asks me what they should be studying in school, I will tell them: technology. Computer science is the best possible way to ensure yourself a better future, even if you don’t consider yourself a nerd or geek. It’s a way to make a decent living AND you will be marketable in many industries, not just the software industry. Technology is the future, so I hope more people, especially women, will realize this soon and start taking care of their own futures by learning all they can about it.

Slaying the Beast

Google Censor

In terms of the internet, this was a pretty exciting week. A lot of publicity went out about SOPA and PIPA in order to get the bills quashed. Anyone with internet access Wednesday probably noticed the blackout. While Google took a more reserved approach and only censored out their name, others went on strike, taking their sites down completely for the day.  It even got covered by the New York Times.

Finite Universe Strike
Even Finite Universe was on strike January 18th.

I thought it was a bold move and I think it got the message across to some people. SOPA has already been put off to the point where it will have to be rewritten before it can be considered again. But I think this is just the beginning for this flavor of anti-piracy tactics. And until the congressmen and senators become a more informed group of people, these types of bills will keep showing up. They either need to educate themselves about what the internet is and what it’s all about, or they need to actually listen to the experts about such matters. It’s that or we as a people need to vote for someone else. The internet is an integral part of this country’s operation now and a part of many people’s daily lives. Citizens (that means YOU) need to stay vigilant for more legislation that will be infringing on their rights.

GWOB Censor

Wiki Strike

Nerdy is the New Cool

Spring semester has begun. The readings have been assigned and the first homework assignments have been passed out. I am now counting down the days until my first (*squee*) ACM-W planning meeting on campus. It’s five days, in case you’re wondering. I thought I would find the task of being our campus’s first ACM-W Chapter President daunting, but instead I am so excited I might pee my pants. Well, I hope I don’t pee my pants, that would make for a very awkward first meeting. And really, this is just the preliminary brainstorming session to see how we are going to make this chapter work for the campus and for the girls of the Engineering and Computer Science Department.

A little bit of back story: The ACM is the Association of Computing Machinery. It’s the big organization that does all things computer science related. It releases all sorts of journals with research from the various disciplines and holds conferences and so forth. ACM-W is the branch of the ACM devoted specifically to women. Yes, we get our own branch- mostly because there is such an under-abundance of us in the field. I decided back in October that I really want to start a chapter of the ACM-W at our campus to help promote more women entering the computer science program. Even more than that, I wanted to have a group to help the women that were already in the computer science not only stay in the program, but get out of the degree everything they want (i.e. learning about the various disciplines, being able to talk about the kind of careers available, getting internships, etc.). After attending the Grace Hopper Celebrating Women in Computing 2011, my friend and I decided we were going to make this group a reality.

Just in the wake of me sending out the Facebook group invites and the emails confirming our first meeting time, this article in The Guardian came out. There is a growing crisis in the ratio of men to women in the tech industry. According to their article, only 148 girls took the computing A-levels out of 2,271 students. That’s 6.5% girls taking the examination to be able to study computing at the college level. That’s not a good number. Instead of improving, these numbers seem to be getting worse. Even in the United States, the numbers are pretty dismal. From personal experience I can say that I am the only woman in a class of 22 students taking Systems Programming, which is the prerequisite class for all the senior year courses. That means if I have any hope of working with other girls in my senior level classes next year, they will be transfer students. And what are the odds of someone transferring in for just their senior year courses?

The Guardian article links to another interesting article from the BBC Magazine from 2010 about Computer Engineer Barbie. There is no way that this Barbie doll has anything to do with the reality of being a computer engineer. I don’t know if the doll does more harm than good by portraying such a bizarrely feminine tech freak. Beyond all the obvious flaws with the doll, I take issue with the fact that for a girl to be a computer scientist that it is all about appearance. I believe a woman can dress however she feels comfortable (and if you’re at your desk coding all day, you’re going to want to be comfortable). The important part to being a woman in computer science is you have to have passion. You have to enjoy technology, learning new things, figuring out puzzles, creating the stuff that other people will want to play for hours on end, making the world a better place for everyone. It’s all about pushing boundaries and seeing how far you can get a program to take you. With that passion, you will be an excellent computer scientist, no matter your gender. Do we get that message from a doll like Computer Engineer Barbie? No, not especially. Is there a good way to have a doll transmit that message? Maybe.  I’ll admit, we’ve come a long way from 1992’s “Math is tough” Barbie.

I think it’s high time for society to send a new message to the young girls. It’s okay to be passionate AND have fun doing math and science. Nerdy is the new cool. Unfortunately, I’m not a great singer, so I’ll have to figure out another way to get that message out there beside to my readers on this blog.  As soon as I do, I’ll be doing it. I want the daughters of tomorrow to grow up thinking that the best job in the world would be to have the job their moms have- computer scientist.

Mutually Assured Destruction

Rumors have been flying around the various social media sites this week as lawmakers gear up to vote on SOPA and PIPA. The biggest rumor being that the big internet companies that have sent a letter recommending the acts not be passed are threatening to shut themselves down if lawmakers fail to listen.

So my first question was, what exactly is SOPA? The “Stop Online Piracy Act” is a 78 page bill that attempts to eliminate online piracy. It does this through a variety of ambiguous methods including saying that anyone who posts copyrighted material will be prosecuted and can spend three years in jail. The website, if it fails to take down the offending copyrighted material within five days, will be shut down. So, every time a 16 year old girl sings a cover of her favorite new pop song, she could be thrown in jail and YouTube could be shut down. But it gets better. Any offending off-shore websites can be censored. Much akin to how China and Iran censor their countries’ internet.

The companies supporting the bill are those in the music and video industries. Disney and ESA (who represents game companies including Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Nintendo of America, and more…) are just to name a couple supporters. Basically anyone who is feeling the pain of piracy in the checkbook department.

In response to this bill, several large internet companies have banded together in opposition. Among these companies are: Facebook, Amazon, Google, Twitter, Mozilla, Zynga, and LinkedIn. If on January 24th, the bill is passed, these companies could do the unthinkable and disrupt their own services. I like to think of it as mutually assured destruction. Our country’s economy relies on the internet more than anyone would care to admit. If all the major players decided to fight back, life could get uncomfortable for a lot of people. Or maybe not having Facebook for a day will prove to people they really don’t need it after all. Who knows?

I personally think that this whole SOPA thing is a really bad idea. People should be writing to their congressmen and telling them to get their heads out of the sand! The internet is here to stay and censorship is not the answer! Perhaps it’s time for the video, game, and music companies to come into this century and let THEM change their ways of distribution. The American people are telling these companies how they would like to be able to access their entertainment through their behavior. It’s time to listen and give them what they want instead of inventing new ways to throw them in jail!

A Simple New Year’s Resolution

Yes, I almost forgot to finish my blog this week because I was so busy playing Skyrim. Being on school break right now, I was finally able to purchase it with some Christmas money. But, I’m not going to talk about Skyrim this week- I haven’t enough to say- YET.  At first blush, it is absolutely amazing.

This week’s blog is a simple plea to all my internet friends, acquaintances, and people I may never actually interact with. If you are one of those people who feels that it is okay to be mean to your fellow human beings simply because you are an anonymous entity on the internet (you know who you are), make it your New Year’s Resolution to be kinder to everyone and remember that people you interact with online are, in fact, real people.

I get extremely discouraged by how people treat one another. And this behavior may have been born in the age of the internet, but it is by no means confined to interactions on the internet. I can’t get good customer service anywhere. It’s almost a surprise when someone in a restaurant or grocery store is kind to me. And I’m paying them for a service.

This all has been dredged up by recent events on the Penny Arcade website. If you don’t follow them, you should just check out this post. It is a string of emails between a customer and the PR representative of a company that makes game controllers.  The entire interaction is really shocking to read.  What transpired was that the customer was belittled, mistreated, and scammed.  Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade was sent these correspondence and got on the case. He intervened and the PR rep proceeded to bash on Mike Krahulik for a while. Things then got seriously bad for the PR guy because Mike Krahulik decided to release the contact information to Penny Arcade readers along with the entirety of the emails. Within 24 hours, the PR rep lost his job, his business, and had to wade through thousands of emails from angry people demanding justice. His response was never to truly apologize. He was just sorry he had gotten caught in the act.  The Kotaku did a follow up story.  I had to read the whole thing through twice to fully comprehend what had transpired. It is absolutely amazing that anyone who claims to be in PR could 1) be so completely rude, 2) not know how to form complete grammatically correct sentences, 3) not know how to spell , and 4) not treat the paying customer like they are his first and foremost concern.

For this one guy that went down in flames, there seem to be many more people willing to behave in the same way. It’s sad. I don’t understand why people can’t just be nice to one another and treat other human beings with common decency and respect.

This year I am going to be making an effort to be kinder than I am. Perhaps you can pledge to do the same and pass the message forward. Just because you may never see a person face to face doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a little kindness. In the words of Wil Wheaton, “Don’t be a dick.”

Enter The Hobbit

I will admit I was the girl in high school who went and saw the Fellowship of the Ring in theaters fourteen times. I swooned over Legolas and had ever single elven line memorized. The beautiful scenery and magical landscapes transported me. I knew every secret grin and all the bloopers (like the car in the background that they edited out for the dvd version). I was in love with the way the movie was so elegantly adapted from the book. And then the second movie was released. I went twice. I only went to the third one once. I will admit it. I was extremely disappointed with the liberties taken with certain characters and the plot, particularly with Faramir. I think I only ever watch the complete set again once or twice since they were all released on dvd. I will maintain the only adaptation that stays the course was the BBC audio version. This was something I listened to over and over as a child and it definitely stays truer to the original books.

Now this might seem like old news. But as you may have heard The Hobbit trailer was released earlier this week. I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch it, but it had been reshared so many times on Facebook that I was eventually sucked in. I was nervous that more liberties would be taken and yet another beloved tale by Tolkien would be ruined. I still have these fears, to be quite honest. But what I saw from the trailer made me just a little bit excited again.

It’s that excitement I used to get when the theater went dark and the opening credits began to roll in Fellowship of the Ring. First, I was glad to see that they seem to have gotten enough of the actors from Lord of the Rings back in order to keep continuity. And the opening of Hobbiton has the same feel as from LOTR as well. While I know the book is definitely more light-hearted than LOTR, it still takes it’s environs seriously and all the mythology behind the world is the same, obviously. I was a little worried about the dwarves in this trailer because their makeup isn’t entirely convincing to me. Gimli from LOTR LOOKS like a dwarf. I can’t tell he’s just a man with a mask on. However, some of the dwarves that flashed on the screen in this trailer definitely look like they have makeup on. I’m hoping that it’s just the close-ups they chose and not somethings that’s going to stick out throughout the films. Thorin does look good though, and seeing as he’s the big hauncho dwarf I can see why he got the most attention in his details.

Okay, I am a sucker for good music scenes. I am especially fond of folk music in the sense of traditional music for a culture. The dwarves singing literally sent shivers up my spine. THAT is the magic I am looking for in capturing Tolkien’s work. That is the sort of thing that can’t be completely transmitted in writing and is best displayed on the big screen or over audio. And if I have no other reason to go see this movie next December, it will be to witness the entirety of this scene.

I will also confess another reason I will be going to see this movie next December is the actor they got for Bilbo. I could not put my finger on where I had seen him before, except I knew it was something to do with murder mysteries and the BBC. Martin Freeman, it turns out, plays Watson in one of my favorite adaptations of Sherlock Holmes: Sherlock. Yes, I have seen Sherlock several times over and I still didn’t recognize my favorite character because he is just so convincing as a hobbit.

Speaking of actors it gets even better. Just glancing at the IMBD’s website, it appears the Benedict Cumberbatch will be voicing Smaug, who happens to be Sherlock Holmes in the very same Sherlock I mentioned above.  Both Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch filming for this movie explains WHY it has taken them so long to release another season of Sherlock.  AND another actor… drum roll… Stephen Fry will be making an appearance as the Master of Laketown. I do love the actors the UK has produced- amazing talent.

So, there it is- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will premier next December the 14th. I guess I’ll mark my calendar now because I think I’m going to have to see it. I am giving Peter Jackson a chance to redeem himself and prove to me that his movies are worth watching more than once. If he pulls this off, I’ll be back in theaters next winter break and maybe surpass my fourteen viewings record. Or not. I’m not sure I have the stamina I did in high school.

“Shaka, when the walls fell.”

I was raised on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Picard was my hero and I had a crush on Wesley.  Give me a break on the whole Wesley thing, please.  I was only 5.  We had the episodes recorded off the tv onto VHS and my brother and I would watch favorite episodes over and over again.  My all-time favorite Star Trek episode is definitely “Darmok.”  I do have to admit, I also thought Star Wars was pretty cool too.  I even got together with my friends and dressed up as characters to go to the theater to see movies when they were rereleased in the late 1990’s.  While I am not in love with the latest Star Wars movies nor of the latest Star Trek movie, I think I can still say I am a fan of both.

When George Takei released his video calling out for Star Trek and Star Wars to unite on a common front against Twilight, I was impressed.  Others were too, apparently.  Even The Guardian covered the story.  I know there has been this line drawn between Star Wars and Star Trek.  Is one better than the other?  Well, I agree with Mr. Takei- it really doesn’t matter whether one is better than the other.  They are both classic Sci-Fi and should be honored as such.  Shatner’s and Fisher’s egos aside, I think it’s best both camps of fans live and let live in Sci-Fi harmony.

And Mr. Takei is right.  Twilight is a threat to everything I hold dear as a nerd.  It’s a terrible story.  The vampires sparkle.  I mean… sparkle… really?  But aside from that, the books are poorly written.  There is no level where they are close to what could be called good literature. I always thought that the Harry Potter series was not well written, but as literature, it shines compared to the drivel that is Twilight.  I would let my children (they don’t actually exist yet) read Harry Potter, but never Twilight.

The Star Trek episode “Darmok” is called to mind in all of this.  If you don’t know the episode, you should go watch it.  It’s about two completely different cultures, trying to understand each other and broker peace.  Captain Picard discovers that though they are speaking different languages, that they really both have very similar values.  This is what I feel about Star Trek and Star Wars.  They both are imparting moral lessons and encompass those things that Sci-Fi fans truly love:  the future, technology, drama, heroism, and most importantly, it changes your perspective on how you are living your life in present day.  I believe that Star Wars and Star Trek both accomplish these things.  Twilight does not.  Star Wars and Star Trek might be speaking two different languages, but deep down they are reaching for the same goals.

If you are looking for something good to read, I highly recommend: Ursula K. Le Guin, Asimov, Ray Bradbury, the Dune Series, or Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

So, with that said, I think I’m going to go have a Star Trek: The Next Generation marathon or maybe a Star Wars one.  I’m not really sure yet.

“Temba, his arms wide!”

Three Big Distractions

Today’s post is going to be short and sweet. I could say it is because it is the weekend before final exams. The university has a random final exam time algorithm that assures no one will have to take two final exams at the exact same time. Well, for this semester, this algorithm has decreed that I will be taking my engineering physics final at 8:00 am Monday morning. But wait! It gets better! I then have to take my multivariate calculus final at 10:30 am Monday morning. Back to back the two worst exams I can imagine I’ll ever have to take. This weekend should be full of cramming for physics and calculus at the same time (while these two classes DO have a lot in common, it turns out the exam material is NOT going to overlap as much as one would hope). I’m aiming to graduate with some sort of “cum laude” attached to my degree, so I’m not taking these classes just to pass. I need to do well in them.

I could also say this post is short because something almost more important than acing those finals has come up. I’m set to have a phone interview with Microsoft for their summer internship Tuesday afternoon. The prospect of interviewing with Microsoft is both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I mean, come on, it’s Microsoft. How awesome would working there for a summer be?? I will be asked to code. Over the phone. In real time. I know I will be asked about data structures and algorithms. I was informed that I should also be prepared to answer behavioral questions. All in all, I feel like I should be doing a lot of cramming for that this weekend.

However, all of these things don’t seem nearly as important as the fact that my new HTC Thunderbolt came in the mail Thursday. After waiting impatiently for the battery to charge, I turned it on just after midnight and started setting it up. Having come from Blackberry, there is a huge learning curve. I am learning how to use the touch screen for the first time. The virtual keyboard is not nearly as efficient as my old Blackberry’s physical QWERTY. I still haven’t figured out all the features and I still only have one email set up (who needs school email on their phone, anyway?). I love it all though. I immediately downloaded: Pocket Frogs- had never heard of this one, but it’s like Tamagotchi frogs, oooh so cute!-, Words with Friends- this is mostly so I can continue to lose games to my mom, now from ANYwhere!-, and Angry Birds- being a Blackberry user, this game was never free before so I have to give it a try. Once I spend a little more time with it, I’ll probably have a lot more intelligent things to say, good and bad. As far as smart-phones go, I’m definitely glad I’ve made the switch to Android. Maybe someday I’ll even find time to start programming some apps for it!

Next week, I’ll let you know how the Microsoft interview and finals went, but more importantly, how I’m coming along learning my new phone.

What every (nerd)girl wants for the holidays.

Ok, so not EVERY girl wants these things, but hey, I thought I would have a bit of fun this week and just give you a list of items I would love to see under my tree this holiday season.

HTC Rezound. For the past two years I have been a Blackberry girl. My contract is up this month and it’s time for a new phone. This Android seems to be exactly what I’m looking for. With 4G capabilities, I’ll be able to do all my tech things on the go. I will be able to edit documents, send emails, and play Words with Friends from just about anywhere. It’s going to make my Blackberry look sad and small.

GOgroove Laptop Speaker that happens to look like a Panda. Don’t ask me why, but my computer gadgets tend to have two themes: red or pandas. I like pandas, okay? These little portable speakers plug right into a laptop or music player. Cute and loud, who could ask for more?

Zumba Fitness. When I’m not sitting in front of my PC, I love to Zumba. And here’s a game they’ve made that bring Zumba into your living room. I hear exercise is good for you, so this is what gets me moving. And not having to go to a gym or fitness center is a big plus.

Samsung Galaxy Tab. I was one number away from winning this in the raffle at the Grace Hopper Celebrating Women in Computing Convention. I think this means, by all rights I should have one. While this is definitely not a “must have” item, it still would be nice if Santa found he had a little extra spending money this year. A tablet would be one of those gadgets that would be nice for in-between tasks. Not quite big enough to play all my computer games on, but bigger than a phone so easier to read the latest e-mag.

Skyrim. I am a die-hard Morrowind fan. Oblivion was a letdown for me, but this latest work by Bethesda may just rekindle my love. There has been a lot of enthusiasm, including on this very website. The promise of an organic world with non-linear gameplay is definitely my cup of tea. I want to get my hands on this game and try it for myself.

Raspberry Pi. This bitty computer looks awesome. I want one. Seriously, at the price they are offering, I want several. It’s a board that is basically a sandbox for those interested in doing some serious programming or not so serious, if you’re so inclined. It comes with great stuff like USB 2.0, SD Card, Micro USB, RCA and Audio jacks, and HDMI. If you spring for the pricier version, it comes with Ethernet hook-up as well.  Awesome.  If Santa doesn’t get this for me, I’m definitely buying one anyway.

What tech gadgets and games are you hoping or wishing for this holiday season?