Thursday, December 29, 2005

more on girl geeks

As written about in the Washington Post (and a few other places) today, there are tons of women using the internet, especially those under 30 years old. This is awesome- when I was in college, I used to volunteer on Girl's Day at the Computer Clubhouse and spent much time (too much time, really) talking to the administrators and other volunteers about how to get more girls interested in Computer Science and other geeky stuff. At the time, I was one of 6 CS majors at my (single sex) college. I'd even taken one class- Physics- at MIT where I was the only girl in the entire class. So I thought a lot about why that was, and why the gender disparity was so large. We talked mostly about videogames, because in the late 80s and early 90s, most people who got into programming entered it through videogames. I think this is going to change, and more people are going to get into programming, and interested in Computer Science, though internety and WWWebby stuff. And if there are more girls using the internet, there might be more girls in CS in a few years. One of the big problems with videogames as a programming portal is that, well, most girls don't really like most videogames. The only two I've ever liked playing are Tetris and Sim City, and I think my experience is not that different from a lot other girl geeks. I heard Sherry Turkle (at MIT) speak a few times on women's programming styles (over simplifying, women tend towards a bricolage approach). It will be interesting to see if women approach CS through internet programming- PHP and so forth, since that approach, in my experience, lends itself much more to a bricolage style than learning C to hack up Doom does.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

santa kateMy best friend, with a little help from Amazon's wishlist, gave me a great christmas present today. Blown to Smithereens (he didn't know they were from NJ so I'll mention that here) and a book of photography criticism. The CD is excellent.

And yesterday I talked to Kate about her Christmas present which was some trains from Santa. She told me about all the cars and how they go around. That reminded me that I love this photo of her that I took when I was home. I thought when I was taking it that she was mad at me for putting the hat on her head. Instead, she looks really pensive. I wish I knew what she was thinking about. Probably what to play with next, or where she'd hid Cozy bear. But you can see how determined she can be, especially in her mouth. I usually hate it when photographers talk about capturing the "real" person, so I don't want to say that this photo is the "real" Kate, however it is a good view of how serious she can be.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Three songs I've been listening to: Sukie in the Graveyard and Another Sunny Day by Belle and Sebastian, and Debbie Loves Joey by Helen Love. Bouncy pop music this week instead of Christmas Carols. I had Christmas with Kate last weekend, which was lots of fun. The highlight was our trip to a playground on a really warm, really sunny afternoon. I got a hazelnut coffee from the Dunkin Donuts next to it, and then we went and played. There was maybe 2 inches of snow on the ground, just enough to make a nice landing at the bottom of the slides. Kate got upset with us when we climbed to the top of the jungle gym, though- she stood at the bottom and yelled "No! Come down!" -so cute to see a 2 year old yelling at adults for hanging from jungle gym bars. Kate & I made a date to go out to a diner for lunch next time I'm home, and I promised to get her an egg cream, which she's never had. I love old NJ diners where you can get egg creams, and the toast always comes pre-buttered. There are three great ones within a few miles of my parents' house, which was wonderful when I was in high school.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

France, natural selection, and sleeping dogs

Le Cours MirabeauThis evening, I pulled out an old photo CD of my trip to a friend's wedding in Aix-en-Provence, way back in June 2002. I used to have them online at Artsy Fartsy but Alex took that website down a few months ago, so I'm uploading them to Flickr. While I was playing with the pictures and tagging them, Declan jumped up on the sofa & sat down right next to me. Then he started nodding his head... and leaning over to the side... slowly... until the side of his head bumped my ibook. He jumped up with a "how in the world am I supposed to nap with that thing on your lap?" look. I had to fold up a blanket and place next to me, so that he could nod his head slowly over onto it. He knows that I'm a sucker for how cute he is when he's sleeping, and he knows very well that I'm willing to contort myself into all sorts of crazy positions, let my arms fall asleep, put huge cricks into my neck, in order to let him fall asleep on my lap. I can't help it, he's so precious when he's fast asleep.

At work today, I got in a long discussion with two other P13Ners about how different dog breeds show how natural selection and evolution work. Of course, with dogs, it's not so much natural selection most of the time, but humans doing the trait selection. But it leads to analogous results. One of the other dogs on our floor is a little black daschund, Scooter, who's a cute little guy. The conversation started when Declan walked into an office and did a loop under the desk to look for crumbs. My friend commented that Declan didn't see - or didn't smell - a few crumbs that were down there, but Scooter would soon be by & would vacuum them up. Stephanie wanted to know why Scooter would be better at picking up crumbs than Declan, and I remarked "Oh, he's not a herding dog, so he's got way better eyesight and a better sense of smell." So we talked about how Declan is rather far-sighted but has super hearing, because those skills help you keep track of sheep, while Scooter, who was originally bred to hunt small animals, has a really good sense of smell. The we talked about Sammy's webbed retriever feet and fetch obsession. And Declan's duclaws and the rocky Shetland Islands, then how much humans knowingly selected different traits, while others just emerged. So yet another reason why it's fun having dogs at work, they lead to random discussions of Stephen Jay Gould.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

one last one....

My favorite photo of Kate right now, in her Christmas dress.

Wilco "A Shot in the Arm"

So here it is, dark outside, and my dog is spread out across the sofa. The only other contents of my living room right now are my dog's crate, my suitcase and skateboard, a bike helmet, some laptop chargers, and a bottle of water. I still haven't recovered from last week's burst pipes that flooded most of my apartment, so everything that I own is still stacked in the kitchen or my bathroom. Wilco's Summerteeth is playing on my ibook. I haven't listened to this album in months, although it's always been one my favorite albums by any artist. A Shot in the Arm is one of the standout songs on it, and the lyrics seem to fit my empty living room. Yeah, on a literal level, I really need a shot in the arm to unstack my furniture from in front of my stove and my sink. The adrenaline was flowing when I stacked them up and pulled all my stuff out of my flooding closets. But the carpet is dry now, and so I keep finding other things that need my attention more. Like this song. That's not it, though. The static it descends into at the end is pure Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, it grates, and I don't feel like it suits this song very well. Not enough to ruin the rest of the song, though. The pop- and I mean this as a good thing, well done pop music is wonderful- is beautiful. The way they grab a melody and toss it out, Tweedy's voice trailing behind the guitars. The opening keyboards, setting up the beat, and his voice following it along into the story he's telling.

Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway (Again) always troubles me- it feels, through the verses, like any of the songs on this album. And the chorus, while nice, never takes off to the level of Shot in the Arm, it just... muddles. It's echoing off my empty rug, flat. I'm Always In Love is better, perfect interplay of voice and notes, and this one has both a quicker beat and someplace to ride it to. My dog is stretching, lazy, splaying his toes and pushing his nose further under the back cushion of the sofa. We're both quiet, maybe he hears the same lush harmony in the end that I do. Maybe he doesn't, and it sounds like driving to play frisbee to him instead. I listened to this album this summer, and the end reminds me of the sunlight at the park at 8:30 PM. When it got low enough, I'd take off my sunglasses, and play the end of our games without them, seeing the light shift. To the west of the field was a thick stand of really tall trees, so there would be at least an hour where the sun almost disappeared behind them, but didn't quite set. It was good frisbee light, because you could see the disc better without the glare. After the games, I'd sit on the sideline and unleash my dog, take off my cleats, and let him curl up in my lap. So I don't know why "I'm always alone" reminds me of sitting barefoot in the grass with him, but I'm almost there.


As Flickr has finally convinced me, tags are insanely awesome. Photos of shelties like Declan, photos of my neighborhood, photos tagged seattle and coffee.

I was making a playlist this morning in itunes, and decided that I wanted a bunch of jangly guitar songs. Unfortunately, all the songs I'd consider jangly are spread out across a few genres in my itunes, like Blood and Roses by The Smithereens in pop, and Troubled Times by Fountains of Wayne in my catch-all genre bucket of alternative. (A long standing sideproject that I never make any headway on is to reclassify all my alternative songs with better genre titles.) So within itunes, I have no way to easily generate a smart playlist of jangly songs. The closest you can come within itunes is to put "jangly" into the comments field of a song's info. Smart playlists at least can see this, so you can generate a smart playlist where "comment contains jangly" and work off that. But there's no real tag browser, and no good way to give songs multiple tags or multi-word tags. Yes, you can get "comment" to show up as one of the columns in my version of itunes. But if you put in the comments of one song "jangly blue" and in the comments of another song "quiet jangly" they aren't going to show up next to each other when you sort on the comments field. So it's really a stop-gap measure.

MP3 -or ID3/4/N- tags are little bit different. If you haven't used them, they embed information about the artist, song title, album title, genre, and some other bibliographic data into the MP3 file itself. That comment field is a ID3 (or ID4? I don't really know) tag. This is really handy, obviously, but I wish that it had some other name.

Because I was getting annoyed at the comment field this morning, and I decided was obviously not the first person to want to assign tags to my songs, I did the obvious thing- tried running a web search to see if there was some sort of itunes tagging plugin that I could download. Here are my results. As you can see- LOTS of hits on tags. But not the kind of tags that I want. Ordinarily in this sort of search, where one word can mean a few different things, it's time to pull out the "not" operator, but I'm having trouble coming up with a not phrase that will exclude ID3, and only show me results that talk about, for lack of a better description, keyword tags. The problem with doing "not ID3" explicitly is that there's a fair amount of discussion on the web about using various ID3 fields to emulate tagging. (Most people, it seems, to lean towards the comment field.)

So, a fairly unsatisfying morning on two fronts. While I'm on that vein, Blogger really needs to get its act together & get a good way to tag blog posts, as well, so that I could tag this "unsatisfied" and "tags."

Friday, December 09, 2005

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Eat your own dogfood

A really common concept in software development is Eat your own dogfood - aka, use the application/website/tool that you wrote as part of your day to day life. It is absolutely the number one way to find usability issues and bugs in your software. If you're writing a new calendaring tool, for instance, manage your appointments in it.

So on that topic, the number one thing that makes me wonder if web developers really "eat their own dogfood" and use every piece of websites that they've written is the presence or lack of "next page" links at the BOTTOM of webpages.

I really like 43 Places (disclaimer- I've worked with all but one of the guys who wrote it), but they're sometimes guilty of only putting next page links at the top of their webpages. If you want to, say, scroll through the 900+ people going to Sweden, you would scroll down the list, reach the bottom, and then have to scroll back up the page to click the next page link. Bad design! Next page links at the top of a page are nice, but next page links at the bottom of a list page are essential.