July 2003 Archives

emotion vs rationality


In discussions of gender differences, it's not unusual to hear people ascribing emotional responses to women, and rational responses to men. But what Margolis and Fisher found about men's and women's reasons for studying CS were very different. They discuss this at length in chapter 3.

We have found that women decide to major in computer science based on a broad set of criteria. The simple enjoyment of computing is a leading factor for women, but other factors also weigh heavily in their decisions. They value the versatility of computing, its relation to their interests in math and science, its career path to safe and secure employment, the exciting and changing nature of the field, and the encouragement they received from parents and teachers. For many male students, in contrast, the decision to major in computer science barely reaches the level of conscious consideration; it is a natural extension of their lifelong passion for computing.

Of course, the dot-com downturn has had an impact on the "safe and secure employment," and at least one person I've spoken with has told me that they think that's a major reason for women not entering computing fields now. But when you look at the numbers from the CMU study, that factor ranks fourth.

In the CMU study, forty-four percent of the women--but only nine percent of the men--linked their interest in computing to other arenas. Margolis and Fisher call this "computing with a purpose," and again, that's what we've tried to do in IT as opposed to CS. Are we failing in conveying that to the students we'd like to attract? Or is our implementation not in line with our stated goals?

Margolis and Fisher end the chapter by suggesting that computing can--and should--be taught in interdisciplinary contexts.

[This] establishes multiple standards of excellence, which together can yield a stronger community of computing professionals than any one by itself. The perspective that computer science can make itself stronger by incorporating the values typical of women in the field changes the question from "How can women change to fit into computer science?" to "How can computer science change to attract more women?"

(This is one in a series of entries from <a href="<$MTBlogURL$>">mamamusings related to the book Unlocking the Clubhouse, by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher. For the whole series, go to the "unlocking the clubhouse" category page.)

why should we care?


When I've written in the past about women and technology, or spoken with people about the small number of women in computing programs and professions, the response is often "so what?" So what if women aren't in the programs--if they're not interested, they're not interested. As one person wrote sarcastically in my comments, "Clearly [...] we must start forcing more women to become engineers! (Beware the use of a single statistic as an indicator of a complex system. Be-more-ware the tendency to take action based on such a statistic.)"

Margolis and Fisher must have faced similar questions, because they devote a large section of the introduction to this topic. They go beyond the obvious potential benefits to the women of the wider range of job options available to someone conversant with a range of information technologies. Here's the passage I found compelling:

In the long run, the greatest impact may be on the health of computing as a discipline and its impact on society. The near absence of women's voices at the drawing board has pervasive effects. Workplace systems are build around male cultural models, and entertainment software fulfills primarily male desires.

They provide several examples to illustrate this problem--voice recognition systems that were calibrated to men's voices so that women literally went unheard. Automotive airbags designed for male bodies, which resulted in avoidable deaths of women and children. Artificial heart valves sized to the male heart. They continue:

Along with technology's power come responsibilities to determine what computing is used for and how it is used. These concerns may not be on the mind of adolescent boys who get turned on to computing at an early age and go on to become the world's computer wizards. But these concerns must be part of a computer scientist's line of work. The conversation among computer scientists shold not be isolated to all-boy clubhouses; women's voices and perspectives should be part of this conversation. For this to happen, women must know more than how to use technology; they must know how to design and create it.

Theoretically, IT is more focused on these aspects of computing than traditional CS, which is one reason we'd expected that our program would be more attractive women. Thus far, it seems we were wrong. What remains to be seen is whether it's a function of the program itself, or a problem with the pipeline leading to it. I suspect both, but that's the point of our research. (New and far more detailed web site underway for that...stay tuned.)

(This is one in a series of entries from <a href="<$MTBlogURL$>">mamamusings related to the book Unlocking the Clubhouse, by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher. For the whole series, go to the "unlocking the clubhouse" category page.)

book blogging


Loren Webster blogged his reading of Catch-22 this month, providing excerpts and commentary as he worked his way through the book. I really enjoyed that--being able to see a book through someone else's eyes, read his thoughts and analysis along with Heller's original text.

So today, as I started re-reading Unlocking the Clubhouse, I decided to try to blog the book as I work my way through it.

I'm doing this for several reasons. First, because it will help me read the book more actively, and integrate it with my own thoughts through the process of writing about it. Second, because I'll have easy, searchable access to my notes once I'm done. And third, because I think it's worth sharing parts of this book with those who haven't read it. It's not unlike real-time conference blogging, really. Except that anyone who wants a copy of the book can get one.

I'm of two minds on comments. I'm doing this primarily for myself, and to share some information--I'm not particularly interested in getting into arguments on every point. On the other hand, hearing alternative perspectives could be interesting. So I'm going to start with comments open on these posts...but I may change my mind and close them if they turn into flamewars. I'll aggregate the posts under an "Unlocking the Clubhouse" category, linked at the bottom of each post.)

Written by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher, the book chronicles Carnegie-Mellon University's efforts to (a) understand and (b) address the issue of underrpresentation of women in their CS department. When they began their study, women made up 7% of their entering freshman class. (Sounds depressingly familiar.) Five years later, the percentage had risen to 42%. During that same five year period, it should be noted, the overall national percentage of women in CS programs had dropped steadily.

Here's a key passage from the introduction:

The study of computer science can be seen as a microcosm of how a realm of power can be claimed by one group of people, relegating others to outsiders. While not ruling out the possibilities of gender differences in cognitive preferences, we challenge the assumption that computer science is "just boring for girls and women" by showing the weighty influences that steal women's interest in computer science away from them. Our book tells the story of women students who were once enthusiastic about studying computer science and what happens to them in school.s. We describe what teacher sand parents need to do to engage and protect girls' interests and change computer science into a field that is engaging and interesting for a much larger and more diverse group of students. The goal is not to fit women into computer science as it is currently taught and conceived. Rather, a cultural and curricular revolution is required to change computer science so that the valuable contributions and perspectives of women are respected within the discipline.

collaborative learning and institutional culture


There have been a few interesting posts lately about collaborative learning. Many of them spout the relentlessly cheerful "we tried it and it was amazing and I wish more teachers would shift their paradigms because the students love it so much" line. (Hmmm. Perhaps my frustrations are already leaking through, eh?)

Happily, Seb Paquet pointed me to Martin Blanche's post on "Obstacles to collaborative learning." (Permalinks are broken, alas, so go to his main page for now.) I'll take the liberty of quoting them here:
* Students and lecturers are more familiar with a knowledge-transmission model of education and don't always understand what is expected of us in a more constructionist environment. * We have too little information about lecturers' and students' backgrounds, networks and skills - so often we don't realise that there is somebody in the group who could teach the rest of us a lot about some aspect of what we're studying.
* No or very limited mechanisms for students to talk back to the lecturer and (especially) to talk to one another.
* Inadequate 'course memory'. Lecturers often are the only bridge for this year's students to the knowledge created by last year's group - students don't get to see what last year's group did. There is no mechanism for students who want to stay in the group after the course is officially over (and who could be a useful resource for next year's students) to do so.
One of his readers, Antje, added a few more:
* Knowledge level of participants (if they come from different educational backgrounds and models they may have different experiences with education, different subject knowledge and different attitudes towards learning)
* Motivation (collaborative learning needs a great deal of personal motivation, a quality not very much present in a goal-oriented (degree hunting), immediate-satisfaction-seeking (fast-food ...) society which we are more and more becoming. Motivation pre-supposes the need or urge to WANT to know and to WANT to make an effort ... found, unfortunately, in a small percentage of humans)
* Personal characteristics (inrovert / extrovert / confidence levels). many students may want to contribute but are afraid of making mistakes or afraid of being patronised. others are unsure how exactly to contribute (collaborative learning does not instruct on how to use collaborative learning skills and can easily end up being an unstructured, anxiety-provoking lassez faire situation)
* Integration (integration of new and traditional learning approaches should be the aim rather than collaborative learning 'in place of' traditional teaching style models (and I guess Martin sees it that like I do). A combination will allow the student to weigh both aspects and become over time more accustomed to the s(often more frightening) approach of collaborative learning at his / her own speed."

As I read through these, nodding my head in recognition, it occurred to me that there are probably significant variations in student (and faculty) receptiveness to these new paradigms across both academic disciplines, and academic institutions. At RIT, I've encountered a great deal of resistance--from students, not colleagues or administrators--when trying to move to more participatory, collaborative learning. I suspect that this is a function of both the technical nature of the field, and the institutional culture (which is fed by the $21K/yr tuition rate). Students are often resentful and critical when they feel they "aren't getting their money's worth" out of a class. Many of them feel entitled to lectures, whether or not they facilitate learning outcomes.

Perhaps I need to find more innovative ways to convince them of the value of a paradigm shift, but with 3 courses per quarter, 3 quarters per year, and an average of 30 students in each class, I've been hard pressed to innovate at that level. This year may be better. We'll see.



If you're reading this with a browser, you've probably noticed that I've reskinned the site. Many thanks to those who took the time to comment here and on the test blog as I tweaked the design.

If you run into a problem with the new design, please let me know!

redesign in progress


I'm working on a redesign for mamamusings. This first attempt is based on my work page, which Elouise helped me create. Don't know yet if it works for the blog. Still playing.

Comments/feedback/suggestions welcome.

Update, 9:06pm
I've switched the redesign font to Lucida Grande. Is that a common font on Windows machines?

worth a thousand (or more) words

happy birthday, doc!

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you
Happy birthday dear Doc, happy birthday to you!


highs and lows


A day of contrasts.

I had a nice workout with my girlfriends, followed by a wonderful lunch with my grandmother at Fox's Deli (matzo ball soup and latkes and pastrami sandwiches...yum!). She recently moved here to Rochester, where she's in a wonderful assisted living facility called Wolk Manor. I feel so lucky to stil have her in my life, and even luckier that my kids are now getting the chance to get to know her. Very few people are able to talk with and learn from their great-grandparents. It's truly a gift for her to get to know them, and even more of a gift for them to get to know her.

I left lunch and went to the elementary school to pick up my kids (they're in a town-sponsored day camp held at their school). Walking in, I noticed one of Alex's friends standing by himself near the door, looking distraught. I asked him if he was okay, and while his words said "yes," his quivering lip and glistening eyes said "no." I happen to know his parents are going through an unpleasant divorce, so I asked him who was picking him up from camp, and he told me his grandma and grandpa were coming. Concerned, I talked to the head counselor, and when I left I saw him sitting with her on the grass with the other kids who hadn't been picked up.

Two hours later, my maternal spidey-sense was proven right. I got a call from the head counselor, asking if I had working phone numbers for either of the parents. (I didn't...the mom's number is disconnected, and the father's number is blocked on our caller ID.) Apparently nobody had shown up for him, and they'd taken him to the after-camp care program at the town park (he's not enrolled in it), and were trying to track a parent down. I offered to come wait with him (taking him home with me would have made it impossible for them to find him if/when they showed up), bring him dinner, etc. They promised to call me if the mom didn't show up. Since they didn't call back, I assume she did. But I'm haunted by the sight of his face, full of doubt and fear and loneliness. What does it do to a 7-year-old to not know if anyone's there for him? To wonder if he's been forgotten by the adults who are supposed to be his support? Yes, I know, there are far worse tragedies in the world. But that doesn't mean this one didn't touch me, and make me hug my children a little closer tonight.

I ended the day on a cheerier note. My mother needed network connectivity for her G3 Powerbook in her brand-new attic study, and my stepfather's been fighting with the wiring process. I took matters into my own hands, and stopped by CompUSA, where they had a great deal on a NetGear wireless router--$29.99 (after $30 in rebates). I grabbed the old WaveLAN card I'd used before I got my TiBook, and headed over to her house. Twenty minutes after I arrived, the router was up and running, and I was online with my TiBook. An hour after that, I finally solved the OS9/airport/wavelan/tcp/ip configuration problems, and she was online as well. The minor hassles and expense were more than offset by the look on her face when I carried her untethered computer out to the front porch and told her to check her email.

Came home, put the kids to bed, and found that all the URL-changing surrounding the blog had managed to land me on Blogdex and Popdex. So welcome to all of you who landed here because you were surfing "the popular sites." Guess this is my 10 minutes of fame.

free local wifi!

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Had breakfast with a friend on Friday at the Bagel Bin, a bagel and coffee shop around the corner from his house (and just down the street from my mom and sister). He had his Powerbook open when I got here, so I asked if they had wifi access there. He nodded. So I asked what they were charging. "Nothing," he replied. Woohoo!

The wifi is being provided by Forza Networks, which looks like it will be expanding into a variety of other locations in Rochester soon (including local government buildings and hotels). I did have to register with basic information about myself (no credit card, though). After that, it's a simple sign-in.

Seems that Forza is successfully convincing local businesses that providing this kind of service for free is a wise marketing decision. I'm an excellent case in point for them--I've been taking my kids to the Starbucks across the street almost every weekend for several years. But based on the free wifi, I'll be switching locations. Everybody wins. (Except Starbucks, with its overpriced TMobile access...)

aim bots


For a few weeks I've been playing with an AIM bot called Smarterchild, which I found via a student's blog (thanks, David!). You add it to your buddy list, and can then send it queries for evrything from movie show times to weather forecasts to dictionary definitions. It's got an "Eliza"-like natural language interface that fascinates my kids--they can't quite wrap their heads around the fact that this is a software program rather than a person, and have spent long periods of time "talking" with it. After a month of free trial use, I've decided to pony up the $9.99 for a one year subscription--it's worth it just for the quick and easy weather and movie info on my Sidekick. And I'll buy subscriptions for the kids, too, since they clearly enjoy it. (It's keyed to your screen name, so we can't share a subscription.)

Today I found a link to another intriguing AIM 'bot via David's site. This one is blogchangebot, and it notifies you via IM when a blog you're interested in is updated.

I find this intertwining of social software tools--chat, blog, wiki, email, etc--fascinating. And I suspect that services that leverage the increasingly ubiquitous IM environment are positioned in a good place right now.

new foaf file


Ooops. Forgot about the FOAF file until Sam Ruby pointed it out to me.

I've created a new FOAF file at http://mamamusings.net/foaf.rdf, and linked to it in the header of this blog. Will update my technorati profile, as well.

Is it possible to use .htaccess to redirect from the old foaf file to the new one, as well? Seems like it ought to be. Will try it.

What about the RSS feeds? Can those be redirected as well?

<sigh> Will be glad when this is all done.

academic chicanery

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This entry was somehow deleted and replaced by the vig-rx comment spammer.

welcome to my new home


Okay, it's official. The blog has moved. If you're reading this, you're at the new home of mamamusings: http://mamamusings.net/

(Alternate URLs that will work include www.mamamusings.net, www.mamamusings.com, and mamamusings.com.)

While I've set up automatic redirection from the main page and the individual archives, I'd appreciate it if you'd update your blogrolls--and your RSS readers/aggregators--to reflect my new home. (I'm about to add a final entry on the old site so that those of you reading only via RSS will be able to find me here.)

I had planned to reskin along with moving, but moving turned out to be a serious hassle, so the redesign will have to wait 'til I've gotten some sleep.

redirection solution

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Took my relocation/redirection problem over to #joiito, where I tossed around some possible solutions (meta refresh tags, .htaccess files, sql queries, etc). Then I saw server guru Mark Pilgrim lurking in the channel, and asked his advice.

Ever the gentleman, Mark not only advised me to take the .htaccess route, he even whipped up a quick MT template for me to generate the .htaccess file with redirects.

The one he created would be run on the new server, and so assumes that the post IDs are the same (they are, since I did a mySQL export/import rather than using MT). Then the file would be placed on the old server. The archive template looks like this:
<MTEntries lastn=”999999”>

Redirect permanent /archives/<$MTEntryID$>.html <$MTEntryLink$>

If I hadn’t preserved the post IDs through mySQL, however, I think an alternative would be to create the .htaccess on the old server, using this template:
<MTEntries lastn=”999999”>

Redirect permanent /archives/<$MTEntryID$>.html http://www.mamamusings.net/archives/<$MTArchiveDate format=�%Y/%m/%d�$>/<$MTEntryTitle dirify=�1�$>.php”

Either way, I’d end up with a lengthy .htaccess file that I could then place in the archives directory of the old server (after creating all the files on the new server, natch).

I think that ends up being the most elegant solution. Thanks, Mark! (Thanks also for publishing your blog templates; those were also extremely helpful.)

step away from the podium

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I started writing a lengthy discussion of today's NY Times article on network-enabled backchannels in classrooms and conferences, then decided to move it over to Many-to-Many, where I've been a bit of a slacker lately. So go there, mmkay?

rainy day and blog relocation blues

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Seems like it's been raining forever, though it's probably been less than a week. Forecast shows no sign of it letting up. Sitting at home today, sipping tea, wishing I could snap my fingers and have elves or djinn clean my house.

I should be reading research, writing the grant questionnaire, organizing materials for courses in the fall, building any of a number of websites that I foolishly said I'd work on this summer, finishing the cropping and enhancing of my sister's wedding pictures.

Instead, I'm working on strategies for migrating this blog to www.mamamusings.net. After reading through a relevant entry on Jonathon Delacour's (now inactive) blog, I think the way to handle permalinks will be to use a meta refresh tag in the old files here, redirecting to new archive locations on the new site. The meta tag makes more sense than .htaccess, because I can use MT tags to create highly customized redirects. Each individual entry can be redirected to a new URL with the new site base, as well as the date path and post title. If I'm understanding this properly, I can add the following tag to my individual archive entries on the old server:

<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="2; url=http://www.mamamusings.net/archives/<$MTArchiveDate format="%Y/%m/%d"$>/<$MTEntryTitle dirify="1"$>.php">

As a result, pages with addresses like this:

can be automatically redirected to pages with addresses like this:

The more technically inclined amongst you are cordially invited--nay, beseeched--to point out errors in my approach before I do anything stupid.

I have read through the comments in the above-cited post regarding pros and cons of title-based archive file names vs entry number file names. While the title-based names are a problem if you change a title, the entry-number-based names are a problem if you change a server. Since I've not yet changed a post title (that I can think of), and could always handle that with a simple redirect if necessary, the server-switching problem strikes me as a bigger deal.

Weez asked me yesterday why the server switching causes problems, which probably isn't obvious to anyone who hasn't worked with databases enough to understand primary keys et al. So, for those of you wondering why moving servers would cause problems with entry numbers, here's the short version.

When you add a post in Movable Type, it turns the post into a record in a database table, and the database software automatically assigns that record a unique (auto-numbered) ID. That happens whether it's a draft or a published post. If you later delete a post--draft or published--that ID number does not get "freed up"--the database software will autonumber from where it left off, without filling in the holes.

Similarly, if you're maintaining more than one MT blog on your server--for example, I have mamamusings, some class blogs, and some special-purpose blogs--all blog entries go into the same database table. So if I post an entry here that's numbered 225, and a student then posts to a class blog, the student's post will be numbered 226.

As a result, many (if not most) MT blogs have entries that are not all consecutively numbered. (Look at your own MT blog if you have one. Are the entries all consecutively numbered? Probably not.)

If you want to move your blog to another server, MT provides an export function that dumps out all your entries. But that export doesn't include record numbers. When you then import the entries at their new home, they'll be assigned unique ID numbers by the database software again--and those numbers will probably be different. So simple automatic redirects -- from oldserver.com/000100.html to newserver.com/000100.html -- won't work. You'd have to figure out exactly what the new number was for each entry, then hand-code the redirection. Blah.

Shelley offered me a good solution for preserving the numbers--which I tested today, and it worked. She suggested that instead of using MT's export and import functionality, I export and then import directly using the mySQL database that stores my posts. Doing that does preserve the record numbers. However, it also presumes a fairly sophisticated level of understanding of databases. While I could do it, I wouldn't recommend it for most folks.

Because I was able to preserve my entry numbers, I could conceivably do a simple redirect from oldserver/entry.html to newserver/entry.html. But I like the idea of switching now to name-based entries so that any future moves (say, to a new hosting provider) are less stressful.

If I stick with numbered entry archives, and decide to switch mamamusings.net to a new provider, I've got to go through the more laborious procedure of moving the database in toto from the old server to the new. If I go with named entry archives, I can use the MT export/import without risk of broken links.

And now, I think, it's nap time.

fear of flying

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They're right, of course. Shelley, AKMA, John. All of them. I should be running this blog on a domain that I control. And it's not that I don't have any--I've got lawley.net and evilwoman.org. I've registered mamamusings.com and mamamusings.net. I've got my business domain, itcs.com (registered in the dark ages of the 'net, before there was even a charge for it...though Network Solutions seems to have messed up the history on the account and doesn't reflect that).

I've dragged my heels on this because of the exact issues that Shelley raises regarding weblog portability. As a neophyte blogger, I naively chose the default individual archive templates in MT, which use an entry number that's not hard-coded to the content. If I export the entries here and import them elsewhere, those ID numbers will change, making redirection extremely difficult. When I switch servers, I'll switch to name-based individual archive pages (like what Joi uses). But before I can get to that point, I have a couple of things to figure out.

Bottom line, I'm afraid that if I move, nobody will find me. Sure, I can leave lots of forwarding address markers here. But will that be enough? What will happen to my Technorati Cosmos, for example? To incoming blogrolling.com links? (Hmmm...now that Dave's providing a way for people to claim their blogs on Technorati, ∑ la Blogshares, that may be centrally correctable. Jason, would there be any way to do something similar at blogrolling.com?)

But first things first...which domain to use? I'm not the one who has to remember it, of course, so I'm particularly interested in knowing what my readers would prefer. My top three choices for domains for this blog are lawley.net, mamamusings.net, and mamamusings.com. Then there's the issue of subdomain, which complicates it further.

Some possibilities...

  • liz.lawley.net
  • mamamusings.lawley.net
  • www.mamamusings.net
  • www.mamamusings.com

What do you think? One of those? Something else?

what's wrong with courseware

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Well, that's a grandiose title. Sorry. I am not going to try to provide a complete courseware critique here. I'm just thinking about one thing that bothers me about the courseware we use at RIT (and which is true of most courseware systems)--it's closed. Nobody but the students can see it.

Makes sense for grades, of course. But not for anything else. For years, I've kept syllabi online for my classes--which has helped not just my students, but also professors and students from other classes and schools, and people not affiliated with schools at all. It was "open source" information.

Now, RIT wants me to put all my course information into the proprietary courseware system that they've invested significant funds into. The problem is, it locks it all away. Not only does that not provide any benefits to my students, it has a negative impact on the overall identity of RIT by hiding what we do best--teaching.

MIT has the right idea, I think, with its Open Courseware project. Because it's not the syllabus that's the real value in your educational experience. It's the guidance and support and encouragement and feedback that a good teacher provides. It's the realization that maybe you don't know everything already, and that constructive criticism from your professor might be more valuable than angry criticism from your boss or your client. It's the opportunity to watch how others around you tackle a project, and learn from their successes and failures. It's the social components, not the information components, that provide the most important lessons. (Which loops right back around to Joi Ito's recent post about the primacy of context over content.)

So I'm not going to use the courseware this fall for my freshman multimedia class. I'm going back to my old(er) method of standard web-based distribution. (Yes, I know there are some broken queries in there. I'm working on it.) But I'm adding to that a class blog. And maybe...just maybe...a wiki, as well. We'll see.

league of extraordinary public-domain characters

Larry Lessig points to this Newsweek review of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Why? Because it's not so much a review of the movie as it is a passionate and convincing argument about the importance of the public domain.

I'll probably add this as a copyright-related reading in my intro to multimedia course (which should probably just be called "intro to the internet").

home alone

That was the idea, anyhow. Gerald's in Alabama for two weeks, visiting his family. The boys are in camp during the day. (A town-sponsored program at their elementary school. Six weeks, six hours a day. Total cost for the program? $23/kid. Yes, that's correct. Less than $1 a day. Have I mentioned how much I like living in Rochester?) So I was going to have plenty of uninterrupted work time while Gerald was gone--during the day, and after the kids went to bed.

Ha. Ha ha. Or, as a mailing list friend used to say, bwahahaha. (I am reminded of the old line "Man makes plans, and God laughs.")

The six-year-old has a stomach bug, so I'm home with him rather than at the office getting grant work done. I suppose I could work here, but it's hard to concentrate with the constant refrains of "Mom, can I have some more Gatorade," "Mom, where's the remote," and "Mom, I think I'd like some toast after all."

And the nine-year-old is suffering from insomnia, so he wasn't asleep until nearly midnight last night.

So much for all the quality private time I was about to get. :)

Gerald...I miss you already!

why i don't watch the news

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During tonight's NBC Nightly News we caught this priceless line, uttered by reporter Shellee Smith:

"Experts say when you hear thunder, lightning isn't far behind."

(We replayed it three times to be sure we'd heard her right.)

5 steps to flagrant bandwidth abuse


1) Turn on iSight camera

2) Launch QuickTime Broadcaster

3) Send video stream of self to QuickTime Streaming Server in Tokyo

4) Launch QuickTime to view stream at rtsp://stream.joi.ito.com/lizstream.sdp

5) Show results to family on couch, who note that real-time viewing of mom is far better than the QT player version (which appears to have latency of approximately 8 seconds)

white house communication enhancements

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Could there be a better, more public, more embarrassing example of poor interface design? The real question is whether it was born of ignorance or malice...

words of wisdom

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Via Simon Phipps, these quotes from a conversation Phil Wolff had with an IT guru:
Beware the tyranny of bad tools and bad management.

You spill milk to discover how big the table is.

Nothing brings the experts out of the woodwork like an idiot speaking his mind.

Kill your UI people. If you fire them, they'll go to work somewhere else.

Asking programmers to make social software can be like asking deaf people to make violins.

Never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to stupidity or lack of serotonin uptake.

depressing demographics


Spent the afternoon at the RIT Board of Trustees meeting. We had a fascinating presentation by demographer Dr. Harold ("Bud") Hodgkinson.

Hodkinson is a wonderful presenter. But even his wit and presentation skills couldn't change the depressing nature of the numbers he shared with us.

Particularly striking--and distressing--were the numbers reflecting child poverty. Twenty-two percent of children in the United States live in poverty. Twenty-two percent. That's the highest rate of any developed nation. And yet, as Hodgkinson pointed out, there's little or no public outcry or outrage over this horrifying number.

He also showed numbers that illustrated just how bad the gaps are between the "haves" and the "have nots" in the US. For example, the US is #1 in the world in per capita spending on health care, but #29 in the world on life expectancy. And the top 20% income bracket in the US makes 49.6% of the total income, while the bottom 20% makes 3.6% of the total income.

Interesting food for thought. More tomorrow.

did you say twelve?

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Got the preliminary numbers for our entering freshman class this fall, in preparation for interviewing the incoming women (and a random sample of men).

Of 210 incoming freshmen, a whopping total of 12 are women. Yes, that's right. Twelve. Less than 6%. (Hmmm...should that be "fewer"? Not sure.)

That's down from last year, when we were at about 10%. Which, in turn, was down from closer to 14% the year before. Everyone here I've shared that figure with has been aghast. "Twelve?? Are you sure???" Yes, I'm sure.

So yeah, there's a problem. And it's getting worse, not better. And yes, I have some theories as to what those problems are. But the reason we're doing this research is to go beyond the personal theories into something grounded in the experiences of the students themselves.

If you're interested in this issue, I highly recommend the book Unlocking the Clubhouse, by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher. It describes the process that CMU went through to understand and then address the problem of underrepresentation in their CS program. The number of women in their entering class went from 7 of 95 in 1995 to 54 of 130 in 2000. Pretty impressive. The things they found are important and interesting...it's well worth a read by anyone who has an interest in women and technology, because (I think) there are generalizable lessons that go beyond educational contexts.

fab five, make over my man!

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Last night, Gerald and I watched Bravo's new show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. What a great show!

If you've missed the pre-show hype, the show's premise is that five gay men are given a mission to makeover the clothes, grooming, behavior, living space, and food of a scraggly straight guy.

I was wondering if they could pull it off, without making the gay men into caricatures, or the straight man into the butt of a nasty joke. They did. It was a perfect balance. The casting was superb, the dialogue was too funny, and the editing was brilliant.

One of the best lines of the first show was when the clothing and grooming guys (Carson and Kyan) returned to the apartment with their charge, Butch. The place has been completely transformed from its original cluttered appearance by Thom, the designer. Carson is delighted, and exclaims "Oh my God, you've put a living room where the crack den used to be!"

Another nice touch is how the last part of the show is handled. Once they've dressed, groomed, and tutored their charge, they do not accompany him to his evening out. Instead, the five of them sit in a living room, watching the activity on a big flat-screen tv, and providing running commentary--sort of MST3K style. The audience gets to enjoy the jokes, but it doesn't intrude on the made-over man's experience.

Towards the end of the evening, I turned to Gerald and said "so, would you kill me if I sent them your name?" He laughed and said "of course not." Alas, it's limited to NYC-area men, so we can't do it.

All in all, the show gets a 5-out-of-5 rating from both me and my husband, which is a rarity. And we're even dumping the episodes to tape because we expect we'll want to lend them out occasionally as well as saving them to watch again.

itwf grant on gendered attrition


The weather in Rochester is gorgeous today...low 80s, puffy clouds in a blue sky, negligible humidity. Spent the morning with my grandmother, my mother, and my son, walking and lunching along the Erie Canal. But duty calls now--I've started getting paychecks for the NSF grant work, so I'm in the office trying not to stare out the window at the still-beautiful day.

First order of business--find a graduate assistant!

This is an incredibly sweet deal for the right person. Over $15K towards tuition for two years (that covers about 3 2 courses per quarter, but I'm working on a change that will push it to 3), along with a $16,000 stiped for working 20/hours a week for 9 months (well, less than 9 months, really, factoring in quarter breaks and holidays).

Yes, I understand that the downside is that you'd have to live in Rochester. But believe it or not, I'm not here under duress. It's a genuinely nice place to live. Low cost of living, wonderful art and music, good technology infrastructure, great health care, lovely spring, summer, and fall weather. Yes, the winters are challenging. But not nearly as bad as urban legend makes them out to be.

If you're interested, take a look at the project web site, which has a detailed description of the project, and then get in touch with me directly.

Given the nature of the project, we'd obviously prefer a woman for the position...we feel as though the project funds would be best spent helping to bring another woman into the research. But that's not a mandatory characteristic, just a preferred one. We definitely need someone with strong written and verbal communication skills, and would prefer someone with some social science background--undergrad, grad, or professional.

We're reviewing existing applications to the IT program, but don't want to limit it to that pool. Because of the tight time frame, however, it will be important to let me know sooner rather than later if you're interested in the position.

Update, 5:57pm
Forgot to mention a bit about the academc program. In addition to lots of basic IT areas, from multimedia development to networking & systems administration to HCI. We've got a burgeoning game development program, and I'm hoping to start a concentration focused on social software development.

do people look like their blogs?

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Blogging has been slow this week because I've been at Supernova, trying to process the experience of suddenly meeting--in person--scores of people I knew only through "social software." It was a lot to take in. I was talking to my friend Elouise about it this morning, and she said it reminded her of "meeting someone at a church social whom you'd sketched in the nude." Oddly enough, that is in fact an excellent analogy. I think many people do feel as though they're exposing themselves in their blogs, and it's disconcerting for them to then to meet their audience in a real-world social context.

Shelley, for example, talks about the disjoint for her between her online persona (as shown through her weblog) and her real-world self. She speculates that

...those people who write weblogs read by spouses, kids, and employers tend to write differently then people like me who are, for all intents and purposes, obscured from view because we've kept the two worlds far apart.

I think she's probably right. For me, however, the real and virtual worlds have been "intertwingled" for so long that I'm not able to see them as separate worlds. And I suspect that for many of us, that will be increasingly the case.

There's a discussion about this same topic happening on the Emergent Democracy mailing list right now. Greg Elin had this to say:

As more technology becomes more familiar and more commonplace, the dividing line between "real" and "virtual" blurs and becomes increasingly besides the point to discuss outside of specific contexts.

And in response, Kevin Marks cited Shelley's post from above, and added this:

And the way we were blurring the line at SuperNova, with blogging and IRC ongoing throughout, and showing IRC on stage at the end (which I was watching via iChat AV...) was very intersting.

I was the person who put IRC on the screen while they talked. I did that because I wanted people at the conference to see the vibrant channel of communication that was co-existing with the real-world conference in the room. And perhaps most interesting to me about the room/channel mix was the way they impacted each other.

As I told the Supernova audience (in the less than 60 seconds that were left to me after the previous panel ran late) was that as I watched and participated in the IRC conversations during the conference, three modes of activity became apparent to me. When a dynamic, interesting speaker was talking (like, say, David Weinberger), the channel was very quiet. We were taking notes, paying attention, looking at the stage rather than the screen. When a panel presentation with some interesting topics was going on, the channel tended towards discussion of the speakers' comments, which were then augmented by comments from those not even in the room. And when a speaker failed to catch the interest of the room, rather than physically walking out, people escaped into the virtual lobby to talk about everything from socks to the plural form of the word penis. [Damn, now I've gone and tripped the filtering software again.]

Yes, the lines are blurring. Some people already find that frightening. There's a safety, a distance, that computer-mediated communication provides. For all the talk of exposing ourselves electronically, of taking risks in our blogs, the text and the screen provide a buffer, a layer of protection. But I think that for these technologies to reach their greatest potential, they have to become integrated into our real lives, not kept scrupulously separate.

So, even though it was scary and overwhelming to meet so many well-known bloggers at once--Joi Ito, Halley Suitt, Allan Karl, Simon Phipps, Ross Mayfield, Anil Dash, Mena Trott, David Weinberger, Adina Levin, Cory Doctorow, Dan Gillmor, Jason DeFillippo, Sarah Lai Stirland, Arnold Kling, and so many more--it was a very good thing for me, too. It helped make this world of social software more real for me, more integrated into my life, more tangible and human.

So thanks, Kevin, for making it possible for me to be there.

Update, 5:13pm
Ross points out, in the comments, the original motivation for this post's title--which I left out in my rush to post before I left the office. Yes, several people seemed quite surprised by my appearance. It seems the coffeeshop photo on my blog doesn't accurately convey my youthful, vivacious demeanor. Or something like that. However, I suspect that they found that interacting with me in person wasn't all that different from interacting online.

ambulance chasing at supernova

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So, I'm at Supernova, which is being massively blogged (see the conference blog, David Weinberger, etc for real-time coverage).

I, however, am much too tired to be listening carefully, let alone real-time blogging. Why am I so tired? You probably think I was out late, belly-dancing at Joi's party. Nope. In fact, Halley and I left the party early, since we were tired. A funny thing happened on our way to catch a cab, however.

After waiting much too long for a cab on King Street, we decided to walk down King Street to find one at the metro stop, joined by Paddy Holahan, a nice Irish gentleman who'd been at the party, too. When we got to the stop, there was a line of cabs...but we were on the wrong side of a wire fence, about 3-1/2' high. Halley and Paddy decided to climb the fence. Being the less adventurous sort, myself (and about a foot shorter than either of them), I decided to walk around.

By the time I got around the fence to them, Halley was limping. Apparently she'd tossed her (spiky-heeled) shoes over the fence first, then hopped over...right onto the heel of her upside-down shoe. Yeah. Ouch.

"When was the last time you had a tetanus shot," I asked. She couldn't remember. Uh-oh.

Got to the hotel, and the assistant manager grabbed a first aid kit and took a look. A short look. After which he suggested it was time to call the EMTs. He was right...it was a nasty puncture wound. A few minutes later, three delightful EMTs showed up in a big-ass ambulance. Next thing I knew, I was in the front seat, Halley was in the back on a stretcher, and we were on our way to Arlington Hospital. That was around 11pm.

At 3am, they finally wheeled Halley back out of the ER, heavily drugged on Percodan, and unable to walk. We called a cab (which the hotel gave us a voucher for!), and we were back in the Hyatt at 3:30am, where they even provided her with a wheelchair.

Ever the go-to girl, however, at 8am I dragged my sorry self out of bed, grabbed some coffee, and ended up sitting between Joi Ito and Sam Ruby.

Now Clay's talking, and it's (unsurprisingly) entertaining and interesting enough that it's almost penetrating my sleep-deprived brain. Sure hope the blogging accounts fill in the content blanks for me later, once I've had enough caffeine to be rational.

california, here i come...

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In November, that is. I'll definitely be speaking at the Internet Librarian conference in Monterey.

So, what's going to be the least expensive way for me to get to Monterey from Rochester? Airfare directly to Monterey from here is outrageously expensive (~$600rt), so that's not ideal. Airfare into SFO from here is about the same (right now; I suppose it could drop).

One possibility is to fly JetBlue (my favorite airline) from Rochester to Oakland ($308rt), and then rent a car. Mapquest says it's 120 miles. Is that a silly thing to try to do? Will the roads make me crazy and stressed? Or would it be fun and beautiful and worth it?

Other ideas?

start the day with a kiss


Or at least a picture of one.

You don't necessarily need to know the context for that photo entry to enjoy it, but it adds some depth. Weez's 19-month-old son Gabriel has a bit of a biting problem--and Weez has the bruises on her arms right now to prove it. We were out last night*, and she was talking about her struggles in getting him to shed this behavior. So, the photos are a nice follow-up.

*Girls' night out after a workout. Sitting on the patio on a warm night at The Distillery, with frozen margaritas, raspberry wheat beers, and appetizers guaranteed to undo what we'd accomplished in the gym. Bliss.

Clay on the project-formerly-known-as-Echo

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Clay Shirky has an excellent post in m2m on the development taking place on an alternative to RSS for weblog syndication. In addition to discussing the importance of the work itself, he's done an excellent job of convincing me of why wikis can in fact be valuable in specific contexts.

However, I continue to be frustrated by the lack of consistency in wiki punctuation standards, which I'll address in my own m2m post sometime real soon now.

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