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?

Happy Times at Grace Hopper 2011

This year, November 9th through 11th, I went to my first technical convention. The Grace Hopper Celebrating Women in Computing is not your typical convention, however. It is plugged as primarily for women attendees (men were, of course, welcome but it turns out very few elected to come). It is held in a different city in the United States every fall and I was lucky enough to have it come near me this year, Portland, Oregon. Not only that, but as a student, I was selected through lottery to become a Hopper, which is a student volunteer at the convention. This meant that in exchange for a few hours of my time during the weekend I would receive a refund on my entrance fee. Not an insignificant amount of money. Even though it was in the middle of my school semester, all my professors made allowances for me to go and my computer science professor was particularly enthusiastic that all the women in his class attend.

I knew all this was going to be a huge opportunity for me to grow as a woman in technology and as a person in general. I didn’t fully realize how much of an effect it was going to have on me until I was a part of it.

I arrived at my hotel the evening before the convention opened. I had to be at the convention center before 7 am in order to get debriefed on my Hopper shifts. I wanted to get to my hotel with plenty of time to walk around and time how long it would take me to get to various places, but I ended up packing and repacking so many times that we didn’t get there until 8:30 at night. Now, bear in mind, that my house is a 30 minute drive to the hotel room. I was packing out of sheer nervousness and excitement for the weekend. Had I forgotten something (which I invariably always do) I knew I could just run home and get it, but that didn’t matter. It was the act of getting ready for the trip that made the whole thing seem more real for me. I spent so much time in the weeks preceding thinking and talking about how wonderful and fun the convention was going to be that I had really worked up into this glorious thing, the night before I was worrying my expectations were too high.

Anita Borg Institute Throws Grace Hopper Celebration 2011.

I hadn’t. I got there early the first day to go to my shift debriefing, as I mentioned. The place was very quiet, there were only a few early birds like me. I didn’t have to wait in line to pick up my goodie bag and badge. Having never been to a conference or convention like this before, I had no idea how much free loot I was going to get. The crazy amount of swag was impressive. My only comment to the companies out there would be: 4 different compact mirrors? Really? That’s what webcams are for. Someone is CLEARLY not in touch with today’s technical woman. I would have been much happier with cute flash drives.

Lots of Goodies From the Conference!

On the plus side, Google and Microsoft both had very nice t-shirts (women’s cut ++) that I actually feel sexy in. There is something about Microsoft’s red “Geek Girl” shirt that makes me feel really good. Also, Microsoft wins again by giving out air plants at their booth instead of more plastic crap, thereby showing they have a vested interest in reducing their carbon footprint. I’d say they get the overall prize for best free stuff ever.

One of my first thoughts as I wandered the halls locating the essentials (coffee stands, food carts, escape routes, and bathrooms) was, “The lines for the bathrooms are going to be ENORMOUS. What a pain.” Well, apparently, I wasn’t the only one who had that thought because almost every single men’s room door had this taped on them:

Men's Rooms were all converted to Women's except for one.

Glorious. In his speech about how important diversity is to the future of technology and encouraging women to join the technological field could only be a good thing, President of the ACM, Alain Chesnais said that he finally understood what it was to be in the minority because he had to walk halfway across the convention center just to go to the bathroom.

Overall, there was an energy about the conference and a camaraderie that I have not really felt before. The closest I think I’ve ever come to it is at PAX (when I had the good fortune of going a few years ago.) There were about 2600 women in attendance at Grace Hopper and they were all there to help each other out and give the kind of support that is hard to get in a male dominated classroom or workplace.

I learned a lot from everyone I interacted with and a motivation to excel in my field was rooted in me that I didn’t know existed. I came home from the conference with a desire to pursue my dreams of making my own computer games and starting an ACM-W chapter at my school. I want to share this support and courage that I gained from the women at the convention with all the women in my department that didn’t have the good fortune of attending. I guess you could say I want to pass it on or pay it forward.

Most importantly, I want to keep going because I’m not just doing it for myself but all the women who will come after me, who perhaps just need a little more encouragement to get there.

Grace Hopper Celebrating Women in Computing 2012 is being held in Baltimore, Maryland next year. I’m already brainstorming ways that I am going to get there. This year’s convention was that good.

You mean there are women in the tech industry?

As I sat down to write this blog, I was consumed with an overwhelming sense of anxiety and self-doubt. Chances are that everyone reading this will understand the feeling of not feeling good enough. However, I was very excited to begin the process of writing and writing about a subject I am very passionate about and then I froze.

I didn’t just freeze in the sense that I had a bad case of writer’s block and couldn’t get my blog written. My whole life froze. I spent an entire three day weekend doing absolutely nothing but watching streaming on Netflix and playing the Sims 3 Pets expansion, with a little WoW thrown in just to show you how completely I managed to waste my time. Something must be written if I ever expect my blog to become something more than a mere idea. Where to start?

I am an undergraduate computer science student. I am in my “third” year of the program and plan to graduate in 2013. What I will do after that is still a bit of a mystery to me, but I’m hoping it will become evident in the near future. I just started taking my computer classes at my university this summer after having transferred from another institution. Several weeks into the fall term I had a woman in my calculus class (we are actually in almost every class together) come up to me, curious as to who I was and where I had come from. She asked me what my major was (this being a small campus, the only students in calculus class are engineers and computer scientists). When I told her computer science, she was delighted. “That brings are numbers up to…” she paused to count in her head. “Ten women!”

Yes, in the computer science department on my campus there are only 10 women declared as either undergraduates or graduates (we have one woman in the graduate program.) I did say that we are a small school, but the computer science department still has about 100 students in it. That’s only 10% women, for those not inclined to do the math. The sad truth is, however, that this isn’t a particularly low ratio for a university computer science program. The current average is about 14%. This is the only profession in which the ratio of women to men is getting smaller instead of larger. To me this is a wholly depressing.

There are people out there that have dedicated their careers to figuring out why this ratio of women to men has become so skewed. Books have been written about it. For me, though, it is a very personal and a real everyday experience. When I started my studies in computer science, I had no idea that women were so underrepresented. Yet, I came into the program with the same stereotypes and misconceptions that I am sure dissuade many of the women that had the slightest inclination to study computer science. It has taken a long time (years) for me to convince myself that I am just as good as the men in my classes and that I’m not inherently “bad” with computers simply because I am a woman. Even at home, when I’m working on my own computer system, I still catch myself deferring to my brother or my husband for their knowledge when I have it all inside my own head. I spent more classes that I care to admit aiming to “just pass” thinking I would never have the ability to be a top student.

The bottom line is confidence. Just like in writing beginning this blog, I have found something I am passionate about. I love computers and being a nerd. I would like to share my thoughts and experiences as one of the few, the proud women in computer science. I want to share my stories from the front and have some fun while I’m doing it.

Just remember: don’t panic.