Second Girl Geek Dinner

I'm lucky enough to be welcoming Ruth Ellison at the second Girl Geek Dinner, which is going to be held this Saturday at Indian Affair in Phillip. I had a good chat to Ruth at the inaugural dinner, and found her to be absolutely fascinating. Can't wait to hear what she has to say. If you're interested in coming along, you need to hop along to the GGD blog and RSVP.

As an aside, yes, the pictures on my blog are screwed up and throwing errors. It's a problem with the template (the pictures are hosted on Photobucket). I'll be grabbing the pics and hosting them myself as soon I find two seconds to jump in and grab them all. In the meantime, please bear with me!

Ada Lovelace Day - To All the Unknown Tech Women

Ada Lovelace Day is all about putting the focus on women in technology. It's about raising awareness of, supporting, and encouraging women in technology. It's about acknowledging the work that women have done to contribute to technology. And it's about recognising that women everywhere have shaped and will continue to shape the face of technology, whatever technology that may encompass.

According to the organiser of Ada Lovelace Day, Suw Charman-Anderson, today bloggers around the world are "picking a tech heroine" and blogging about her. I'm going to buck the system here, and instead of blogging about one influential woman in technology, I want to acknowledge all of them. I want to acknowledge the women who have been slaving away in server rooms for decades, the women who have been writing code for a faceless corporation for years, and the women who started in a tech company last year and have just completed their first software release. I want to acknowledge the women who have just graduated with an engineering degree, the teenagers who have just enrolled in one, and the little girls who want to work with computers when they grow up.

For a woman, moving in to technology is a life-long journey, fraught with obstacles and challenges, and resplendent with success and satisfaction. This story is every woman's, every teen's, every girl's. Hopefully, you see a little of yourself in it.


Anne had always been pretty bright. Not genius material, but smart enough that she didn't need to try too hard to get good grades. She would finish her homework quickly, devour the required reading, and then curl up with a crossword puzzle, a novel - the subject didn't matter too much, or a handheld computer game. As a young child, she had pulled her toys apart to see their insides, and then tried to put them together again. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn't. Very occasionally, they did something new and interesting that they hadn't done before. When her parents bought a new computer, she set out to teach herself how to use it, and over the course of one glorious Christmas break she not only worked out the inner workings of the operating system and most of the programs, but also started writing simple programs for it. Her parents, endlessly requested to try the latest version of her programs out, suggested she get some fresh air. Then when school went back, the computer was pushed to the back of her mind again.

She was in the top maths class until senior year, when she dropped down a level. Girls didn't join the top maths class, at least not unless they were seriously uncool. Or wanted to be. When she was choosing her subjects for university, she avoided any that had a maths component. She wasn't any good at maths. At uni, she discovered the computer lab, and made friends there in between lectures. Before long, she had transferred into an engineering degree, terrified that someday soon she would get a phone-call asking her to stop dreaming and get back into a degree that would suit her better. She learned how to get along with the guys, how to blend in, how to be inconspicuous.

At graduation, she was the only female on the dais. She didn't notice. But the men did.

Anne got a data-entry position at a big tech company, and was grateful for the start. After a year, seeing the men around her being promoted, she left to pursue the next step. And she got there, a new job, a new office, a new crowd of engineers. Male engineers. At first the work was challenging, and the men around her willing to help her out. She improved quickly and, pleased with her new knowledge, was eager to help out the new hires on her team, and gave advice freely. But then she noticed a subtle change in the men around her. For some reason they were becoming resentful, saying she had benefited from extra help because she was a woman, that she was granted extra liberties, that she thought she was better than them. Her self-confidence started to ebb, and she started to question her own abilities. Eventually, spurred on by the cutting comments in the lunch room, she decided to move on.

At her next position, for the first time, she wasn't the only woman on the team. They kept a wary distance from each other for a while, until one day Beth asked her out for lunch. They chatted about life in the engineering lab, about the men they worked with and their personalities, and Fran asked Anne about her previous workplaces. Over the course of the next few months, Anne's confidence was restored, her skills had improved, and she was no longer afraid to stand up for herself. When Beth left the company, Anne kept in contact with her, and when a new young woman started in the company, Anne did for her what Beth had done. Took her for lunch, and mentored her.


For all the Annes, and the Beths, you can do it, you're not alone. Some days it's hard, but those days are nothing compared to the days when it's absolutely wonderful. Remember the hard days, and help those starting out to get through them too.

For all those who want to be Annes, or Beths, do it. No job is more rewarding than the job that you love, even if you have to fight for it. Especially when you have to fight for it.

Please, call out to the women that you work with in the comments. The women who are doing the hard work: unsung, unacknowledged, but appreciated all the same ...

Sustaining sustainability


Those of you who know me well know that I am an avid consumer of 'foodie' magazines. In the March edition of Australian Good Food (a relatively new magazine and my current favourite), they discuss Alice Walters' book "The Art of Simple Food". I don't own the book (although I'd love to!), so I can't comment on it directly. However, my understanding is that it encompasses simple food (what we would refer to as 'stodge' in my family) with an eye to encouraging sustainable living with a few good principles. Sustainable living has been a passion of mine for a while now, and my own goal is to provide as much of our own food as we can. This is limited of course by renting but, here at the convent, we have a young vegie patch that is just starting to give us harvestable produce and a few established fruit trees. We've also gone down the livestock path in the past but have now decided to put off the second attempt at that until we have our own land to run them on. What I find interesting is rarely do you find a good, well-explained list of things you can do easily without entirely giving over your life to running your own market garden. So, here's mine:

* Grow as much of your own food as you can. Don't put anything in the ground unless you can eat it. is a great resource for working out what you should be planting now and when you will be harvesting it. It can also send you planting reminders on a regular basis. Every couple of months I use my email reminder to decide what to plant next. Currently I'm harvesting zucchini, bok choi, basil, mint, rosemary, and a few other things. Shortly I'll be planting cabbage, onion, silverbeet and cauliflower. This keeps the garden turning over nicely and also means the kitchen gets a variety of different things to keep it interesting.

* Compost everything organic. There's no reason why any organic matter should go to landfill. We have a worm farm for vegetable scraps, any garden clippings and weeds go into the soon-to-be-filled-with-chooks chook yard, the bug-eaten bits I pull off the vegies in the ground (the bok choi has a lot of this) get left in the garden to mulch down.

* Keep environmentally helpful animals. Chooks are great. Not only do they produce food (eggs at least, even if you don't relish the idea of plucking a chook directly), they also - when kept responsibly - turn over and fertilise the yard. Our chook plan is moving along slowly but surely. We have a large enclosed yard, previously used for dogs, and a smaller 'chook tractor' made to my Dad's own design out of poly-pipe and chicken mesh. The idea is that the animals will be housed in the yard overnight to keep them safe, and a few of them will be motored around the lawn during the day. If you do have environmentally destructive animals (we have a cat) make sure that they are locked up at night and that you do all you can to prevent them from harming the native animal population (like belled collars).

* Think about what you put into the environment. Be aware of the chemicals you use, especially outdoors. Try and think about how these things leach into the soil, and into our waterways, and question those things that you do by habit.

There are also important things like buying locally, eating seasonal food, and keeping your cooking as simple as possible. Two or three top quality ingredients can make a much nicer meal than 32 obscure items that you had to source by mail-order from some obscure deli in Melbourne. In other words, a simple lamb roast with garlic and rosemary from the garden can often provide a lot more satisfaction than the most exquisite four-course a la carte meal.

Community sites, or virtual commons


I bang on about the virtual commons quite a lot. I'm involved, and have been involved, in a few different community websites and (more reluctantly) social media networks. Some are great, some are tolerable, some fall under the 'necessary evil' category and others are just downright painful. In one particular case, it started out as great and made a rather swift downward slide towards absolutely-worthless-and-offensive-to-boot.

It is difficult to say goodbye to a community network, even one that has become something you no longer have a desire to participate in. There are always a clutch of people you wish to retain contact with and, in some cases, the only way to do this is through the site in question. In this case I was lucky enough to be able to keep in touch with these friends through other means - Facebook, this blog, and Twitter - but it doesn't make the break any easier. People are discussing things that are going on in the community, and you feel the pull back to it. The moral objection has to be strong to survive that. But at least it makes you question your objections, and define and defend them. That's healthy for any conscientious objector, I believe.

But in all this change and turmoil, the question that begs to be answered is "What went wrong?" Often, this question can't be answered until after the break is complete. And so I found myself, some months after extricating myself from this particular community, wondering idly exactly what happened. Coincidentally, I ran across a random link to Paul Graham analysing his first two years as the founder and creator of hackernews. I've never followed hackernews, so I can't comment on it directly. Paul Graham's analysis is rather lengthy, but stick with it if you can. It's absolute gold in terms of online community-building. He discusses things he tried, whether they succeeded or failed, and why he imagines it happened. He also takes a brief look at Reddit and Digg, and discusses their good and bad points. There's a lot to take away from the article, and it reignited my ideas about the community site I left.

Interestingly enough, the owner of the site in question has opened a dialogue with me. While I've been free with discussing the problems, I have kept mum on my ideas for fixing them. Perhaps it's uncharitable of me, but until he stops excusing the issues, and until he accepts that there's a problem he needs help to solve, I'm keeping my ideas to myself. I might decide to start up a competing site one day (in my spare time, ha!) and who am I to give away all my great ideas to someone who won't make the best use of them?

Yet again, xkcd hits the proverbial nail on the head in Comic 386

xkcd is issued under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial license. The statement from the xkcd website can be found here.

Updated 18 March:

Just stumbled across this post on Vulpes Libris, all about the strange relationship we have with community sites. It definitely explains why we find it so hard to tear away from a previously much-loved forum, even when the forum in question is more hurtful than helpful. Go have a read.

Well, go on ... !


Mrs Mummy

From my dear friend Estelle, a delightful short story titled "Mrs Mummy":


Once upon a time …
… in a long ago land …
… far away …
… lived Mrs Mummy.

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. “Hello, sun! Hello, birds!” sang Mrs Mummy.

Mrs Mummy was very busy. She hustled and she bustled. The coffee was hot. The porridge was bubbling. The sausages were sizzling. Suddenly …

“WAAAAAAGH!” roared Baby Belle.

Mrs Mummy to the rescue!

Tsk, tsk. Poor baby! Her face was flushed. Her nose was runny. Her throat was kind of croaky.

“Never fear,” clucked Mrs Mummy. “Mummy’s here.” And she picked poor baby up and kissed her.

“WAAAAAAGH!” roared Baby Belle.

Mrs Mummy was very busy. She hustled and she bustled. The sandwiches were cut. The flasks were filled. The fruit was washed. Suddenly …

“I c-can’t find my t-t-t-toothbrush!” sobbed Gracie.

Mrs Mummy to the rescue!

“Never fear,” smiled Mrs Mummy. “I can find ANYTHING!” And she set about to look.

She looked high and she looked low. She looked in the toy chest and she looked in the rubbish bin. She looked in the laundry hamper and she looked in the freezer. There were no toothbrushes. She did find her egg beater, though.

“Tick, tick, tick,” said the clock.

“WAAAAAAGH!” roared Baby Belle.

There was a knock. It was Bob-the-Odd-Job-Man-Next-Door. He had come to fix the blocked drain in the bathroom.

“Here’s your problem,” said Bob. And he held up FOUR dirty toothbrushes.

“Ew!!!” said Gracie.

“It was a science experiment,” said Betty-May.

“That’ll be forty-two dollars and seventy-six cents,” said Bob-the-Odd-Job-Man.

Mrs Mummy was very busy. She hustled and she bustled. The dishes were washed. The beds were made. The underwear was starched. Suddenly …

The front door SLAMMED. “We m-missed the b-b-b-bus!” howled Gracie.

Mrs Mummy to the rescue!

“Never fear,” sighed Mrs Mummy, “We can still make it.” And they screeched off down the road.

Mrs Mummy turned the corner. So did a big, yellow grader. The grader got there first. And they crawled off down the road.

“Tick, tick, tick,” said the clock.

The big, yellow grader turned the corner. “Hooray!” yelled Mrs Mummy. And they screeched off down the road. “Oooh, look at the nice policeman!” squealed Betty-May. And waved.

“SHAME!” said the nice policeman. “That will be a hundred and nineteen dollars and fifty-three cents”.

“Thankyou,” said Mrs Mummy in a teeny tiny voice.

“And two demerits,” said the nice policeman.

“WAAAAAAGH!” roared Baby Belle.

Mrs Mummy was very busy. She hustled and she bustled. The beans were sliced. The potatoes were diced. The table was set. Suddenly …

Mrs Mummy didn’t feel so good. Her head was hot. Her nose was sniffly. Her throat was kind of tickly.

“BIM BAM BIFF KAZOOM!” said the television.

“I hate you! I hate you!” screamed Betty-May.

“Well, I hate you more!” yelled Gracie.

“Gigga gaga” cooed Baby Belle.

But she was covered in spots.


The walls shook. The windows rattled. The world fell silent.

“What’s wrong with Mum?” said Betty-May.

Reading to children

I noticed this post over at bookninja today. A short one, all about reading to children. Apparently, only 3% of fathers read to their children, compared to 89% of mothers. The statistics could be wrong, there appears to be no more information than that, and I'm not quite sure what they're measuring (read to their children every night, once a week, ever ... ?). Being a writer and a lifelong book lover, I've read to T from birth. It never occurred to me not to read to her, really. It is only recently, though, that I've started to notice she is really starting to understand the stories we read. We've been reading some longer books recently ("chapter books" in T-parlance), a chapter every night over a week or two, and it is lovely being able to discuss the simple plots with her before and after the night's chapter.

We just finished Fairy Dust and The Quest for the Egg, beautifully illustrated and a nice story that didn't play too heavily on its Disney origins.

T was also lucky enough to be given a copy of Bob the Builder and the Elves signed by the author, Emily Rodda, and we are now embarking on that story too (while giving me a great opportunity to bang on about how valuable some books can be).

Of course, the question is, where do we go next? Well, Mothers for Women's Lib to the rescue! They've found the Amelia Bloomer Project which is a US list of books suitable for children, all with a strong female character. Not just any females, though:
We need not just cardboard “feisty” or “spunky” female characters, but tales of girls and women who have broken barriers and fought to change their situations and their environment.

Wheeee! I'm off to start my Amazon shopping list, who's coming?

Why is it that finding books and toys that are gender neutral (not just feminist) is so difficult? T got given a bag of lollies at her birthday party on the weekend, and it contained a chocolate with Batman on the wrapper. Naturally, it was in blues and blacks. She holds it up and says "Look, it's got Batman on it, Mum". I respond with "Cool" or whatever other non-committal monosyllable I chose to employ, since I was busy with the massive cleanup. T, in the meantime, is obviously studying this and pipes up with "why is Batman always wearing black clothes?". Well, good question, I think. I half-heartedly suggest that perhaps Batman should try a brighter outfit sometime. T agrees, adding her opinion that Batman should consider pink and purple. Of course, his crime-fighting potential might be harmed, but would it threaten his masculinity? Naturally, things don't have to be pink to appeal to girls, but this goes further than that. T is a huge fan of the Pixar movie Cars, but have you ever tried to buy a Cars winter jacket in the girls' section at Target? For that matter, have you ever tried to buy a winter jacket in the girls' section at Target that didn't feature faux fur trim? Take my advice, head straight to the boys' department. I'm hoping that by doing so, I'm at least proving to my daughter that there's no rule that says you can't wear 'boys' clothes, or play with 'boys' toys, or - heaven forfend! - use 'boy' colours in your colouring-in.

The moral of the story? Find positive role-models for your little girls, don't fall prey to the gender segregation of consumer culture, and always - always - debrief your children on the way things actually are, not the way the media portrays them to be.


Thanks to my wonderful friend Greg Sydney-Smith, and his most stunning web-dev skills, my blog has been restored to more than its former glory, complete with working comments!

Thanks Greg, your generosity and talents are very, very much appreciated!