What Women Want

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Any one of us only knows those in a small slice of this environment. How else? We can’t spend all day and all night reading weblogs. That way lies madness.

As an example of knowing only a small selection of the voices, I was only recently made aware of the strong community of women academics in computing, engineering, and other sciences. Among these are Rants of a Feminist Engineer, who introduced many of the webloggers; FemaleCSGradStudent, who writes about the bubble bursting when realizing what it means to be a woman in the field:

My own bubble burst at the age of 26. It was the year I came to graduate school. Until then, I knew that there weren’t that many women in engineering and computer science, but I chalked it up to, “Well, we’re just catching up after the feminist revolution. It’s only been…50 years.” Despite evidence from the other fields that had been male dominated were now more equal, like family medicine, pyschology, and biology, I held firmly to that idea. I had been the only girl in my electrical engineering class. The only woman in my product group. One of four women on the plane to San Jose for the Embedded Systems Conference. But everyone had always been nice and supportive. I had friends and mentors. I had the support structure I needed to be successful. I worked in fun programs for girls in science to do my part to boost the numbers, to give back. The gender disparity hadn’t really punched me in the face yet. Not like it has in graduate school. Again. and again.

My hope for now is that I can return to a place where those support structures exist. Where the diverse contributions of many are appreciated, and folks are generally just nice.

Am I a woman scientist? who writes on the higher bar for women’s paper submissions, and See Jane Compute, who was recently interviewed. Among the questions and answers was the following:

Q4. You blog a lot about women’s experiences in an academic computing environment. How do you think those experiences are similar or different from women in other science/engineering/medicine disclines? Or even non-science fields like law or business?

Great question! I imagine that there are universal threads that run through the experiences of strong women in any field, whether it’s a more gender-equitable field like law or medicine or a field like CS or engineering that’s still struggling to achieve anywhere near respectable gender numbers. Things like not being listened to, or stereotyped because of the way one dresses or speaks, or not given a chance because “you’ll just run off and have babies”–these are universal parts of the experience of being a woman in our society. I think what makes the computing fields different, and from what I understand some of the “less enlightened” engineering and science fields (electrical engineering, physics), is the whole “macho culture”. Women are still made to feel like they just don’t belong in these fields, whether it’s because of the media images (the antisocial hacker, the almost total absence of women and their contributions in discussions of technical innovations and innovators) or the things we emphasize in the CS classroom and lab (bogging our students down in details and syntax, rather than focusing on the benefits and applications of computing) or even what we focus on to praise (“my code is faster/bigger/better than yours”). And it’s not just women–men who don’t fit the mold experience feelings of not belonging, too, although to a lesser extent. And that’s unhealthy for everyone. What I try to do through my blog is expose this culture, in all its unhealthiness, as a way of adding to the dialogue (hopefully) of how we can start to change this. I want to highlight, through my own experiences, why we should all be invested in changing the computing culture to something way more inclusive than it is now.

The academic and the applied in any field don’t always share the same concerns, or even the same understandings. However, as I read through these women’s posts, I realized that there is something we all share that reaches across the ivy: we’re women in fields where being such adds an extra element of challenge.

I’ve read in the last week, in daunting frequency, that the only reason women aren’t in computing is that we don’t want to be; that we women aren’t interested in computing, or engineering, or any other field where men are overrepresented (as one woman wrote).



First looks at Joost

s I edited the book today, while the snow blew in an oddly unendearing blizzard–alas, we missed the copper moon–I watched Joost. Specifically I watched a nice show on sleeper sharks, several episodes of National Geographic, and explored a bit with the other channels.

A television network hosted entirely through the web (Internet Protocol TV or IPTV) is the way of the future, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the major networks go this route eventually. At issue is bandwidth, not to mention integrity of signal. With Joost I found that sometimes the picture would be remarkably clear; other times, barely viewable. Still, all in all, for a beta product it was quite good.

I liked being able to pick any show I wanted, stop it, re-start it, and re-watch it if I wanted. The commercials are short and sweet, and I don’t begrudge the few minutes per show for them. What didn’t work is that Joost interrupts the program literally mid-word–it makes no use of markers to insert commercials in natural lulls. In addition, the commercials ended up being a uniform loud volume while the shows wavered in their loudness–leading me to having to hastily turn down the volume.

There’s a ‘young person’ feel to the service that I think is a serious mistake. A host from the service cracks about the ‘old people’ and the music videos seemed to feature young women who all sounded alike and all equally bared their navels, complete with navel rings.

Then there are the stripper shows. Ha! That got your attention.

Seriously, making assumptions about an audience could end up acting as a natural filter, which will end up hurting overall client numbers.

I don’t have cable or satellite, so Joost seems like a good alternative. However, I especially wanted to try out Joost because RDF plays a strong role in its infrastructure. According to Leo Simons:

We make extensive use of RDF in different places. It all starts with a core RDFS/Owl schema that is used to capture various kinds of information (think FOAF +imdb+RSS+a lot more). I suspect some parts of the modelling work that was done here will make it into future standards for online video.

We have a custom distributed digital asset management system (or DAM), built around jena-with-postgres at the moment for storage and (CRUD-like) management off all that RDF-ized information over a REST protcol.

Not only will this research go into Joost–at least part of the effort is going into TripleSoup:

TripleSoup is the simplest thing that you can do to turn your apache web server into a SPARQL endpoint.

TripleSoup will be an RDF store, tooling to work with that database, and a REST web interface to talk to that database using SPARQL, implemented as an apache webserver module.

Joost signed a deal with Viacom, which should begin to add to the content offered (Daily Show!) It’s a P2P service, a term we don’t hear very often now with the world’s seeming focus on all things Web 2.0. If this is P2P, what should happen is that my using the service also means that my PC participates in the network, providing resources for said network. I can’t find anything on that part of the application, but I’m assuming this is so. Or perhaps the true P2P is on the part of the networks involved.

Joost has a widget interface, which includes chat, a clock, and various other items of that nature, but to me, this isn’t something that’s too interesting. Either I want to watch television or I want to chat. If I wanted to do both at the same time, I’d get married again.

The interface is clean and relatively intuitive, especially if you’re used to Windows Media Center. All in all, it’s a pretty decent beta offering–true beta rather than than the, “Hi, we’re alpha, but beta is so much more cool. And it’s all fun anyway! *giggle*”. It has a way to go, though, as the current show I’m watching demonstrates, being full of stops and starts. Time to put on a movie.

Screenshots and another review.

Social Media

Wikipedia Walking

Seth Finklestein provided great coverage on the recent controversy over Wikipedia editor/community manager “Essjay” (onetwothreefourfive, and six).

The gentleman in question misrepresented himself as a tenured professor, both in an interview and in Wikipedia. Rather than show him the door, Jimmy Wales defended him–boys will be boys or some rot. It was only when Wales found out that Essjay lied to people ‘within’ the Wikipedia community that he was subsequently banished.

Essjay’s apology, if such can be said about it, was that he fabricated the information about himself to protect himself in this dangerous world. You don’t know how much my fingers itched to go out and do a little ‘self-protecting’ with my own page. Letsee…triple PhD holder, Pulitzer Prize winner, former Ms. Universe.

I refrained though. Instead, I invite you all to do the same–the three most colorful entries get a copy of either Practical RDF or Learning JavaScript, or the upcoming Adding Ajax.

Essjay’s ‘apology’ was an unbelievably silly excuse, but the irony doesn’t enter the picture until you view Essjay’s farewell page. Checking the history, most of the critical comments have been edited out.

I’ve recently stopped using Wikipedia, or stopped using it as an original source. I’ve found two things:

First, Google’s results have degraded in the last year or so. When one ignores Wikipedia in the results, on many subjects most of the results are placement by search engine optimization–typically garbage–or some form of comment or usenet group or some such that’s not especially helpful. Good results are now more likely found in the second or third pages.

Second, I find that I’m having to go to more than one page to find information, but when I do, I uncover all sorts of new and interesting goodies. That’s one of the most dangerous aspects of Wikipedia (aside from the whole ‘truth’ thing), or any single-source of information: we lose the ability to discover things on the net through sheer serendipity.

I still respect many of the authors in Wikipedia, and think it’s a good source. However, this event only strengthens my belief that Wikipedia should be pulled to the side for search engine results, like the Ask definition for words that match in Google, and people go back to searching the web by actually searching the web.

PS, also read the comments associated with Seth’s posts.

Interesting how hard items like ethics, honor, and truth metamorphose in the the soft environment encompassed by so-called social software.

Jason Scott has more on this issue.

Nick Carr’s thoughtful take.