Who are the Role Models in Technology?

February’s edition of the Communications of the ACM contains an article called “Woman in Computing – Take 2”.  I printed it out last night but it isn’t as interesting as I had hoped. I hadn’t released from the cover that this was going to be a review article.  It does contain lots of facts and figures about women in computing but I am more interested in finding out the “why”.

The papers lists some of the current initiatives that are under way to try to increase the numbers of woman in computing.  One of these is to expose girls to positive role models in the technology sphere.  This is something that I have read about recently in the blogosphere as people are starting to write about Ada Lovelace day.

Recent research by psychologist Penelope Lockwood discovered that women need to see female role models more than men need to see male ones. That’s a relatively simple problem to begin to address. If women need female role models, let’s come together to highlight the women in technology that we look up to. Let’s create new role models and make sure that whenever the question “Who are the leading women in tech?” is asked, that we all have a list of candidates on the tips of our tongues.

This subject was also addressed by The Information Technology Association of America who released a report [pdf] in 2003 which stated the following:

Underrepresentation of women and minorities in IT leads to the inevitable “vicious  cycle” of fewer professional role models for those who wish to enter the IT profession.   The Panel believes that the scarcity of adequate role models and mentors has a direct  correlation to the perceptions that female and minority candidates will develop about IT.

I have written about role models before but I have to admit that this is an area I still don’t understand.   Part of the problem is that don’t have clear understanding of what a role model is.  Meriam Webster defines a role model as:

a person whose behavior in a particular role is imitated by others

Now that is very clear when I read it but I can’t tell you who any of my role models are.  I don’t consciously sit around and think that I want to be like a particular person.  And I imagine the same is true for most people.  This is problematic though as it means that I am likely to underestimate the need for positive female role models in computing.

This isn’t the only thing I am confused about though.  If I forget about trying to work out who influenced me or who I imitate can I name some people that I imagine others would want to imitate that would cause them to pick computing as a career?

One Response to “Who are the Role Models in Technology?”

  1. My Minority Report — バカな火星人 Says:

    […] Karen talked and blogged about role models in technology, and referred to the “underrepresentation of women and […]

Non-Perl Conferences

For the past few years all the technical conferences I have attended have been Perl related.  This year I decided that I should try to get to some non-Perl conferences.  So far I have registered for QCon Tokyo and the Open Source Developers Conference in Taiwan.

I still haven’t got used to the fact that I live in Asia and that I should be paying more attention to what’s on in my local area.  There are some disadvantages, as I won’t be able to understand all talks, but I will understand enough of them to make it worthwhile going.

I’m looking forward to hearing Martin Fowler speak at QCon and to attending Paul Bakaus’ jQuery tutorial at

Food Glorious Food

One of the highlights of my recent trip to the U.K. was the food.  I love living in Tokyo and enjoy eating Japanese food but there are lots of things I miss eating.  Some of these are things I can’t cook for myself, because I don’t have an oven, and some others have ingredients that are difficult or impossible to get in Japan.

I have been surprised by the food that I miss.  I really miss roast turkey and roast potatoes. I never ate potatoes that often but for some reason once I got to Tokyo I started to miss them.  I’ve always loved turkey.

My family know that I crave turkey and I ended up having two fantastic turkey dinners in January.  The first one was in Belfast with Marty’s family.  This turned into a traditional Christmas dinner and was so much fun that I’m starting to think we should create our own tradition.  The second one was with my Dad and Step-Mum in Aalsmeer.  They cooked a really succulent turkey that I don’t want to think about too much now as I’m starting to miss turkey again!

To combat my food cravings I have been learning to cook new things that don’t require an oven.  And that can be made with ingredients found in the local supermarket.  This week I made spicy Italian meatballs.  I knew it was something that Marty would really like and thankfully I ended up liking it too.  In January I made Coq au Vin but I didn’t like this.  I think it’s one of those things that really needs to be made with a good red wine and I know nothing about red wine. Trying to pick a good one in a Japanese supermarket is beyond me.

I had meant to take pictures of my new cooking acomplishments for my blog but the food got eaten much too quickly for that to happen.  Marty will eat anything that doesn’t have teeth!

2 Responses to “Food Glorious Food”

  1. Jessica Marie Says:

    What about getting a toaster oven? My mom uses hers to cook for herself and my step-dad all the time.

    I just found out that the French words for stepmother and stepfather in French are ‘belle-mère’ and ‘beau-père’; beautiful mother/father. So you went to see your dad and your pretty mom, and I want to see my mom and my handsome dad. Do the Japanese words have any such oddness?

  2. karen Says:

    One of my friends recently bought a portable oven that they recommended. So I’m going to look at that next time we visit them.

    The Japanese words are strange but in a different way. They use “giri no …” in front of the name of the family member. This describes someone related by marriage. The problem it causes is that “giri no imouto” could mean younger step sister or younger sister-in-law.

101 things...

I still haven’t managed to come up with 101 things to do in 1001 days.   I have 97 things on my list.  And I imagine that I’ll come with a few more things over the next couple of weeks (though I have a feeling I’ve thought that since I created the list.)

I have a variety of different types of things of my list.  Some are one-off things, like organising a trip to the Galapagos Islands, and others are things I want to do on a weekly or monthly basis.  My first list had things that needed done daily but I found it was much too difficult to monitor these and have removed them.

This month I am behind in Japanese language and exercise related tasks.  I still tire easily and it puts me off exercising.  It doesn’t take much at all to put me off studying Japanese – though I have started to get into a routine again and have been on target the past two weeks.

I am on target for all cooking relating tasks.  I now eat more fish, cook dinner at home on a regular basis, and learn to cook something new each month.

I completed one task this month – visit a dermatologist.  It’s awful that I need to add something like this to a list but I find it really hard to go to a Doctor.  Not because they frighten me but because I worry about wasting their time.  I feel guilty if I go to see a Doctor.  The dermatologist was shocked that I hadn’t come sooner but I need to be sure that something really is wrong before I would consider seeing a Doctor.

I am glad that I took José’s advice and created a list. I am now working towards things that before I had only dreamt about doing.

Visiting the Dermatologist

Yesterday I went to see a dermatologist.  I had been putting this off as I had hoped that my thyroid medication would be working by now and I know my skin will be very dry until this stabilizes.  But since I’d gotten to the stage where any weight on my feet caused me pain I decided not to wait any longer.

I now have a variety of creams to treat my skin with.  I still don’t know exactly what is wrong.  The dermatologist had a book on how to explain skin conditions in English.  She used this to explain that I have eczema on my head.  But she didn’t know how to explain the problem with my feet.  She was able to tell me that it’s not something that can be cured – as my body is attacking itself – but it can be controlled.

Now I need to find something to help with fatigue and sensitivity to cold.

One Response to “Visiting the Dermatologist”

  1. Khaos » Blog Archive » 101 things… Says:

    […] « Visiting the Dermatologist […]

Ski Trip

Ever since I learnt to ice skate I  have wanted to try skiing.  So when a group of friends organised a ski trip I was keen to go.

I knew that I would find it very difficult.  At the minute I tire easily and don’t cope well with the cold.  I also have shortened muscles in my legs that make bending painful.  But I did manage to ice skate with the muscle problem and I knew that if I got too tired I could just stop and rest in one of the many restaurants around the skiing area.

The hardest part of learning to ski was learning to use the ski lifts.  The access area to these was very narrow and instead of snow there was ice.  As I had just put skis on for the first time I had no control over my feet.  The skis seemed overly long and I kept slipping over the ground.  But to get to the lift I had to get through a gate and around a narrow path.

The gate was activated automatically by my ski pass.  I managed to wave my arm over the right place to activate the gate and then tried to move forward whilst this was open.  But I stuck in the ice.  By the time I managed to push myself forward the bar of the gate had come back down.  I pushed on regardless which set off an alarm but at least I wasn’t stuck anymore.  Then I attempted to move along the narrow path.  My friend helped to drag me along and I eventually got to the place where we would wait for the lift.

I was so stressed from my attempt to line up that I hadn’t thought about how I would get into the chair.  It comes from behind and I could barely stand up looking forward so there was no way I was going to try to watch for it coming.  You won’t be surprised then that the chair caught me unawares and hit me on the ass.  Thankfully this knocked me into the chair and not on to the ground.

The ride on the ski lift up the mountain was really beautiful and I did my best to ignore the fact that I would need to get back out of the chair at the top.

Getting off the ski lift involves skiing.  I had never skied before.  How on earth was I supposed to be able to stand up and ski off?   It was really scary trying to get out of the chair.  I lifted my poles and put my skis down and then tried to convince myself to stand up.  In the end my friend and the person managing the lift yanked me up and made me ski and somehow I managed not to fall over.

Attempting to Get off the Ski Lift

Attempting to Get off the Ski Lift

I was then shown some basic skiing techniques and I was able to ski down the beginners’ slope without falling over.  At times I felt as if I was going really fast but I imagine that’s not actually the case.  And I convinced myself that if I did fall over that snow has to be softer than ice.  On my successful arrival at the bottom I was feeling excited and keen to try again.  Isn’t adrenalin wonderful?

Of course this meant braving the ski lift again.

My second attempt was worse than the first one.  When it was my turn to go forward to get on the lift I lost complete control of my right leg.  I managed to get my right ski caught in my friends left ski and wasn’t able to untangle this.  While I tried to fix this the ski lift snuck up on me and hit me from behind again. As I fell back into the chair my right ski came off.  At this stage the ski lift had to be stopped.  I was so flustered I practically forgot how to apologise in Japanese.  My friend was too busy laughing to help me.

I’m going to stop talking about ski lifts now in case I develop some sort of ski lift phobia as I really want to try skiing again.

The second most difficult thing was getting up once I fell over.  Thankfully I didn’t fall over much because I really couldn’t work out how to get up.  I couldn’t understand verbal instructions about this and in the end my friends lay in the snow to try to show me.  And I still couldn’t do it.  I either needed two people to lift me up or I had to try to take my skis off and then stand up.

I did end up spending more time in the restaurant than anyone else but I still had fun and I’m looking forward to trying to ski again.

Not A Geek?

I was amused to read that Marc doesn’t consider himself a geek.  Mainly because I have spent years trying to defend my own non-geek status and basically I think I’ve failed in that endeavour.  The meaning of the word geek has changed so much in recent years it’s hard to know exactly what a geek is.  I no longer consider it an insult and rather like this definition from Wikipedia:

a peculiar or otherwise odd person, especially one who is perceived to be overly obsessed with one or more things including those of intellectuality, electronics, gaming, etc.

But when I went and looked at the source material in it’s noticeable that the Wikipedia entry leaves out some of the more unpleasant connotations of the word:

a peculiar or otherwise dislikable person, esp. one who is perceived to be overly intellectual

I don’t mind being peculiar – maybe I even cultivate it – but who wants to be described as dislikable?  I certainly know some geeks who are dislikable but some of the most likable people I know are also geeks.  To me the two things are not necessarily connected.

The other attribute of a geek that I don’t believe I have is social ineptness and I imagine this is one of the reasons that Marc doesn’t think that he is a geek.  It’s certainly one of the reasons I use.

A person who is single-minded or accomplished in scientific or technical pursuits but is felt to be socially inept.

If I was going to use a word that matched that particular definition I would probably use nerd and not geek.  I’m married to someone who has been described as an uber-geek and he is comfortable in any social setting.  I’m not sure that the dislikable or socially inept labels are necessary attributes of a geek.  Of course these things are subjective.   Although I would not be called socially inept there are certainly people who at times find me difficult to understand.  This happens to most geeks.  They have a tendency to use language that is specific to the domain they are interested in and forgot that other people don’t necessarily know what they are talking about.

I don’t use the word geek as an insult but there are still times when I don’t like to be called a geek.  Any word can be used as an insult if you say it in the right tone of voice.   I think that it’s O.K. to be called a geek by someone who is also a geek.  But sometimes when non-geeks use the word they are just calling me a weirdo.  And no, before you ask, being peculiar is not the same as being a weirdo.

4 Responses to “Not A Geek?”

  1. Chastity Says:

    I love when you write about words – all their connotations and usages. You may be the only person I know who cares about the underlying meanings of words as much as I do. You’re able to write coherently about the things I think of regarding words that only translate in my brain intuitively. (That seems very unclear.) I like that you can write clearly about the things I can only understand internally – on an intuitive level. Face it, we’re word-geeks. 🙂 Also, you’re right, geek is a much friendlier word than nerd.

  2. Jessica Marie Says:

    My understanding of these words is as follows:

    Nerd: socially inept, but intelligent; interested in a narrow range of subjects.

    Geek: socially accepted, intelligent; interested in a broader range of subjects.

    Dork: Wants to be a geek or a nerd, socially inept, unintelligent. Thinks his/her social ineptitude equals intelligence.

    A bit different from your understanding, and that’s the fun I suppose.

  3. karen Says:

    I’m amused by your definition of dork 🙂

    Isn’t is great that even though we speak the same words that we don’t mean the same things? I’m always worried about what people think I’m saying to them – but can’t really stop every conversation to analyse the words and ask “so what exactly do you mean when you use that word”.

    Actually I do spend quite a bit of time in conversations defining the words I’m using. Especially when people disagree with what I’m saying or just look completely baffled.

  4. Stray Taoist Says:

    Well, I think it is more the single-minded-ness that springs to my mind first when I consider the connotations of geekery. When applied round here, it generally means focused on one activity to the exclusion of others. Quite the opposite to the definitions given by Jessica. And ‘nerd’ seems to have fallen out of use, at least amongst the Cambridge-Town intelligensia.

    I too spend arguments/discussions/exasperated encounters trying to get people to define their terms. I no longer adhere to such cultural strangleholds. Linguistic terrorism is the way forward!

    But crikey, two recent posts from something I said. How honoured am I? Very, as it happens. And no mockery from it either! How times change! 😉

    I tried to make some joke about ‘peculiar’, ‘familiar’ and ‘witch’, but it didn’t work. So I bow out now.

Winter Weather

I’ve been disappointed by the lack of winter weather in Tokyo.  My friends, who don’t live anywhere near me, keep talking about snow.  I would like to see some snow.  It was snowing briefly when I was in Northern Ireland but rushing through some wet slushy snow when walking to an airplane didn’t really count.  I want to spend time looking at snow and taking pictures of the world when it goes white.

The weather in Tokyo has been mild but it’s not overly warm inside today.  I have goosebumps on my arms as I write.  I should probably put the air heater on but I much prefer the underfloor heating.  Pity I can’t type and warm my arms up on the floor at the same time.

There has been a lot of noise today because of the gale in Tokyo.  In Northern Ireland we used to live in an old house and the wind could actually sound as if it was howling – very Gothic horror movie.  Here the wind sounds like a fan blowing.  Probably because the wind is coming in through the kitchen fan and the air vents.  For whatever reason I find the noise here much more irritating and keep glancing at the kitchen and wondering why we haven’t turned the fan off.  Hopefully the wind dies down soon.

Next weekend we are going to go and look for snow.

Apartment View towards Fuji

Apartment View towards Fuji

Conference Travel

I have started to look at my summer travel plans.  This year things are fairly complicated with a mix of conferences and family commitments.  It’s possible that I will be in Pittsburgh, Toronto, San Jose, Belfast, Lisbon and London.  I am going to be away from home for longer than I would like.  I am aware, however, that I’m finding it harder to travel than before.  (I do hope that by the summer my medication will be sorted out)

I am pleased that YAPC::NA is going to be in Pittsburgh as it will allow me to visit some good friends.  There hasn’t been a lot of information about the conference yet but I expect that they will soon have a call for papers.

I have been looking at round the world flights as this could work out cheaper.  I’ve never booked one before because I usually end up having to hop back and forward between continents.  This is also true this year but given how expensive it is to get out of Japan it still might be my best option.  Getting to Canada from Northern Ireland is also going to be more expensive than before as there are no longer direct flights to Toronto.

There are benefits to a round the world ticket.  I can always call into Australia on the way back to Tokyo without any extra cost.  And I could also visit a few more places in America.  The only drawback is that I will be travelling on my own – and visiting new places by myself isn’t as enjoyable as doing it with company.

What is Clever?

I was reading Marc’s latest post in which he talks about the fact that people now describe him as being clever.  Clever is one of those subjective concepts that’s difficult to pin down.  What does it actually mean?

My niece thinks that clever people are the ones she can’t understand.  The people who talk strangely and use fancy words.  (And there is no doubt that Marc is going to meet all her expectations here.)  I, on the other hand,  don’t consider people I can’t understand to be clever.  Many of them are just poor communicators.

Marc mentions his formative years and how no-one described him as clever then.   Schools don’t seem to be a great judge of cleverness.  My little sister is above average in every subject.  Is she called clever by her teachers?  Not at all.  I think it they could sum up “pain in the ass” in one word that’s how she would be described.  And actually she has been called “stupid” on multiple occasions by teachers.  She is many things – stubborn, irritating, at times silly – but not stupid.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines clever as, “mentally quick and resourceful”.   This isn’t exactly how I think of clever.  I would use words like “bright” or “sharp” to describe mentally quick people.  In some ways I think of clever as quite a dull word and not a particularly interesting way to describe anyone.  Probably the fault of “Mr. Clever” which, when I was a child,  was the dullest Mr. Men book ever.  Who wants to be clever when you can be “Mr. Happy”, “Mr. Topsy-Turvy” or “Mr. Tickle”?

I also have bad memories of being called “clever-clogs” which, was always said in a scornful tone of voice.  Actually I can’t easily remember any time when being called clever as a child was a positive thing.  Teachers used words like “hard-working” and “conscientious” when they wanted to give compliments.  My peers said things like “oh you’re so clever, little miss know-it-all, teacher’s pet”.  Usually closely followed by some comment about me being a witch.  (Actually I think my peers still do this from time to time just without the teacher’s pet bit.)

Even though being clever is something that some people ridicule I like clever people.  I saw Stephen Fry on T.V. whilst I was in the U.K.  I listened to him talk for a bit and then turned to Marty and said, “if anything ever happens to you I need to find a man like that”.  Marty was a bit puzzled.  He looked at Stephen Fry and wondered why I wanted a very tall, older man.  But I wasn’t talking about his appearance, I was talking about his mind.

As for Marc, I would like to think that people could come up with interesting and ingenious ways to describe him rather than stating the obvious and describing him as clever!

One Response to “What is Clever?”

  1. Stray Taoist Says:

    Insightful post, glad to be of inspiration 🙂

    As ever, you are probably right. (Resists….saying…clever clogs…) I guess it comes down to the way you interpret words. Whether I have thought about it (more than slightly) or not, I don’t think I ever associated the word _clever_ with negativity. But I can see your argument.

    But you *are* a witch! 🙂

Strange Art in Newcastle, Co. Down

I was walking along the sea front in Newcastle when Marty and I came across some sort of strange reflective sphere.  We stopped to look at it and took pictures like the other tourists.

Reflective Sphere in Newcastle, Co. Down

Reflective Sphere in Newcastle, Co. Down

Marty hadn’t seen anything like this before and I was completely underwhelmed because I have.  Last year, whilst at YAPC::NA, I got to see Cloud Gate, in the Millennium Park, Chicago.  I tried to describe this to Marty but failed miserably.  I thought it looked like a giant reflective red blood cell or an amoeba but I think the local description of “the Bean” is better.

Cloud Gate in Chicago

Cloud Gate in Chicago