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jarich (4909)

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I run Perl Training Australia [] with pjf [] and do a lot of the course writing and maintenance. I also organise the courses we run, so if you want one, just ask. I hang around a bit on Perlmonks [] and also help run Melbourne Perl Mongers [].

Journal of jarich (4909)

Tuesday July 20, 2010
08:30 PM

On tour: Open Source Bridge, YAPC::NA and other fun things

After the fun I had at OSCON last year, it was no effort at all for pjf to convince me to spend June and July in the USA this year, conferencing.

Portland, Oregon

I arrived at midnight on the 31st May and was met at the airport by Schwern, pjf and Nadia, who took me onwards to donuts and pies. Having traveled for something like 30 hours at the time I was rather wiped out and probably not as appreciative of this as I should have been, but I soon got to bed and slept very soundly.

Schwern warned me ahead of time that he was going to be a busy, and thus less friendly host, and that he and his housemate Nick had been a little guested-out due to an almost endless procession of house-guests. He must have exaggerated. Between them, Schwern and Nick took us to the local farmers' market, to a parade, to numerous dinners and drinks out, and more. Schwern helped us get to the conference location, and also accompanied me home most nights.

Open Source Bridge

The conference was Open Source Bridge; and it is unlike any community-run conference I've ever attended. It was extremely professionally run, with copious amounts of information, high quality keynotes and speakers, an excellent feedback system... big and little things that the conferences I've been involved with are still struggling with after 6+ years and this was only OSB's second year! My talk was very well received, I was spoiled for choice for every single session and the unconference at the end really just capped things off. It was good to see so many familiar faces, and I caught up with some Australians, and Australian-expats that I hadn't seen for quite some time.

If you get to choose the geek conference you go to next year; make it Open Source Bridge!

More Portland, Oregon

The following two weeks, Sherri and Christie kindly hosted Paul and I. When I ran into some personal issues, I could not have hoped for more generous hosts. Sherri made sure I got out of bed each day, and many days Schwern and others made sure I got out of the house. Apparently we were lovely guests, but really Sherri and Christie were excellent hosts. Sherri cooked copious amounts of extremely yummy vegan food, and let me eat it for breakfast and lunch. They took us strawberry picking, to a great Ethiopian restaurant, and took me to an amazing vegan cafe for breakfast on my last day in Portland.

YAPC::NA, Columbus, Ohio

Next up was YAPC::NA in Columbus, Ohio. Very much like YAPC::EU I felt completely at home in this crowd. It was great to know that I could walk into any conference talk and have a pretty good idea of the topic matter. It did feel a little strange that many of the big names, and the people I view as particularly important knew me, but many of the regular people neither recognised me nor my "handle", but I suspect I shouldn't have been so surprised.

My tutorial was very well received, I met a whole lot more people, learned a bunch of new things, and got all fired up about finishing writing our Enterprise Perl course and documenting perl5i. It was really, really awesome to catch up with Karen, Jesse and Piers again, specifically.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee wasn't originally on my list of places to visit, however a friend online invited me to drop by and visit, and I had a few days free, so why not? My friend, Jordi, and Sarah, invited me to stay with them. Jordi is an astrophysicist who spent some of the first afternoon explaining to me how it is that neutrinos do in fact mutate. Which was actually much more interesting than I think he thought I'd find it.

We walked the riverfront, found great restaurants, saw the music festival from afar, went to a nearby Strawberry festival (yum!) and spent time playing with the newly arrived arduino set. I've been wishing I could get involved with arduino for years, but also never been into electronics. Jordi and I worked through the basic tutorials with his board, and I found the whole thing very cool!

To top the trip off, Jordi and Sarah invited me to hang out for drinks with some of their colleagues one evening (they all work at the nearby university). I had a thoroughly good time, and felt I fitted in just fine, even though most of them use Python. :) After drinks there was dinner (with 3 free drinks for the ladies) and then Tron. Ah, good times.

New York City

My next scheduled stop was the big apple. While at YAPC::NA I discovered that a fellow Melbourne Perl Monger (Patrick) had recently moved to New York, and he insisted that we should stay with him. I had some minor adventures getting to his place, but received a very warm welcome, and was glad to take a cold shower. That was the first summer-like weather I'd seen for my whole trip thus far.

While in New York, I explored the New York Public Library (and saw the Rose Room), had a tour of Google with lunch (thank you to Tom Limoncelli), caught the Staten Island ferry, saw the Statue of Liberty, walked down Wall Street (and saw the cordoned-off outside of the New York Stock Exchange), checked out the Empire State building, the Sex Museum, Times Square and the Rockerfella(?) building. Much touristy stuff.

Patrick and Helen were lovely hosts, and it wasn't their fault at all that the temperature refused to drop to something reasonable for the whole time I was in town. ;)

Minneapolis, Minnesota

My last touring destination was Minneapolis where Steven Levine arranged an amazing weekend of activities to keep me busy. I did my best, but arrived with the start of a sore throat and fever. I arrived on a Thursday afternoon and first up was dinner with Matt and Deb followed by a scotch tasting. Even though I'm not a scotch drinker, I wished I was well enough to participate, but having already had some paracetamol, I dared not. It seemed like a lot of fun though.

On Friday, Steven took me out to a favourite breakfast location (which we did every day, actually), and then later to a wedding of two of his dear friends (Denise and Jim), neither of whom I knew. Both bride and groom sought me out and told me how glad they were that I could come. There was shape-note singing, morris dancing and contra-dancing and a fantastic time was had by all - especially me! I also got to meet more lovely people including a sweet, sweet gentleman by the name of Mal.

On Saturday we drove off to a little township which has a cafe in a cave, explored some antique stores and enjoyed the river before going to the arts museum (very cool) and then saw a documentary about Joan Rivers (fascinating) and finishing with dinner at Pizza Luce's (with a fun story attached).

Sunday was July 4th. So we started the day with a traditional block party at Matt and Deb's with a children's bike parade (or race), more morris dancing, a jazz band, singing and much neighbourly entertainment. I also managed to squeeze in a chance to run off and meet another friend, Yevgeny, for coffee where we talked about scuba diving and the Con I hadn't made time to attend). We ended the day with dinner with Michael and daughters followed by fireworks. By this point I was taking painkillers every 4 hours just to be able to talk, so I was getting a bit worried.

Monday we'd planned to go to the Taste of Minnesota festival, but I asked instead if I could go to a doctor (after talking with my travel insurance people first). The doctor was lovely, ran some tests and advised me to take various over-the-counter drugs. They helped immensely, and made it possible for me to attend the sea shanty singing that evening (although the drugs weren't quite good enough to allow me to sing).

The next day was a day of sad farewells. I felt so welcome and adopted into Steven's crowd that I would have loved to stay in Minneapolis for another month! However, it was time for my next adventure, so Steven drove Mal and I to the airport and he headed off to work. Mal I and had some minor fun getting through security, caught our planes in different directions, and thus far, lived happily ever after.

Two weeks on, and I might be over whatever it was that made me sick, too.

Saturday February 20, 2010
03:20 AM

Gamers over 30 and the South Australian elections

South Australia is about to have its state elections. The incumbents have already attempted to ban anonymous public comment on the elections and now are making a big deal about computer gamers.

South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson (think Minister for Justice/Law) has so far successfully blocked a R-18 classification for computers games in Australia. Our highest rating is MA (15+). The effect of this is that some games which ought to be R-rated are allowed to be sold to teenagers, some games get "modified" to make them appropriate and yet other games are not available at all (legally). We do have R-ratings for movies and some other media; but to allow it for games requires approval from all the Australian states; and Atkinson has been holding out.

In response, a political party called gamers4croydon have formed with the purpose of trying to get this rating approved if they win. Hooray! In the mean time, a gamer apparently stuffed a threatening letter under the Atkinson's family home at 2am some nights back. While I don't approve of such behaviour, I was baffled to hear that this makes Atkinson "feel that my family and I are more at risk from gamers than we are from the outlaw motorcycle gangs who also hate me and are running a candidate against me." Gamers are scarier than bikies? I haven't read the note; perhaps that one is.

So that's a bit of background. Then last night I read an astonishingly condescending article about gamers. This was written by Caroline Overington who has won the Walkley Award twice for investigative journalism, but that's no excuse for the tripe she's trotted out.

Let's see what she has to say:

[A]nyone over the age of 30 who spends any time deep in some sagging sofa, console in one hand, the other down the front of their pants, imagining themselves to be a combatant in some pretend city, is lame.

Anyone who has an avatar -- a dinky little cartoon version of oneself, bearing a physique that is in every way discordant with the physique of an actual gamer -- is major-league lame.

I know what you're thinking. Gamers, who cares? They don't participate in life in any meaningful way. As a rule, they don't even have jobs. With their wet hands and their weak chins, they'd never get through an interview.

I get that this is supposed to be funny, but it failed. Not because I don't have a sense of humour; but because telling me that there aren't any females in gaming isn't funny, it's marginalising. Telling me that gamers are so socially inept that they can't have relationships is not funny, it's marginalising. Telling me that gamers fail at life isn't funny, it's belittling.

Most of the gamers I know have jobs, have spouses and maybe children, are active in a number of different communities and are reasonably physically active. This shouldn't be surprising because the Interactive Australia 2009 Report tells us that the average Australian gamer age is 30 and that 68% of Australians play computer or video games. If all gamers over the age of 30 were as lame as Overington says, we'd have serious problems.

Spending your non-work hours playing computer games late into the night is certainly not a worse pursuit than spending them watching TV. At least with games you're actually required to do some thinking, rather than having it all be passive consumption. Sure there are probably hundreds of "better" things to do with your free time, but there are worse things too.

If Overington wanted to make a subtle dig at Atkinson's refusal to talk about 18+ ratings; I'd have expected her to poke some fun at the idea that computer gamers are more scary than bikies! As it is, I cannot make any reasonable guess as to what motivated this attack.

Tuesday February 16, 2010
08:18 PM

Barbie tries a career as a Computer Engineer

Mattel ran a competition for the public to pick Barbie's next career. There were about 5 options to choose from. Barbie's career as selected by girls around the world was News Anchor; however the popular vote was for Computer Engineer so they've done both.

A good write up with links to more has been done on the Geek Feminism Wiki.

Disappointingly, yesterday the BBC published an article criticising Computer Engineer Barbie's appearance and practicality. My response, which may be too long to appear in full in their comments field, is below.

I say "Good on Mattel!" Whether or not the current female geek population ever played with Barbie dolls is irrelevant. By having a Barbie doll looking like a confident IT geek, that's one more message to our children (both boys and girls) that girls can grow up to be into computers too. We need more messages like that, because all the literature I've read says that the numbers of women getting into, and staying in IT (in Europe, the USA and Australia at least) is dropping. If it's a men's playground now, what's it going to be when there's less than 10% women in it? How about 5%?

If you look at the careers section for IT in a Malaysian newspaper, you'll find that it's 50% women represented. If you talk to Malaysian business people you'll find that most of them take it for granted that women will apply for IT jobs and get them. No surprise then that there's more than 40% women in technical professions over there, and it's growing. Malaysian women have the same pressure to be beautiful as the English do; and it appears they carry this into their IT roles even more than we do and they've found a way to make it all work.

On the other hand, over here in the first world, our whole culture around who goes into IT is weird. We continue to perpetuate the unattractive stereotype that IT is full of pimply male teenagers who have no social skills; despite having thousands of high profile, attractive men with very good social skills in technical leadership positions we could point to. We continue to criticise, as unrealistic, any portrayal of geek women which shows them as being feminine, attractive, self-confident etc despite numerous women in IT being all those things and more (go read some of the profiles from the 2009 Ada Lovelace day).

There seems to be a fair amount of retrospective retribution going on: "I had to suffer and struggle to get accepted; so anyone coming after me should have to too!" That's not right. If we want more women in IT; we should promote the good bits, and actually try to be realistic about the bad bits rather than talking them up all the time. (As a woman in IT who goes to conferences, I do know that there are bad bits, but I also know that the creepy guys + those with no social skills is still probably less than 15% of the population).

So thank you Mattel for making it just that much easier to talk to girls about going into computers!

Tuesday September 22, 2009
12:23 AM

Wanted: something needing testing

Despite loving programming, I don't find much opportunity to do much of it at the moment. Sure there are short-term consulting contracts and endless re-writes of our course answers, but that hardly counts. I'm also finding it a challenge to be inspired by a few things that I kind of should do but which aren't essential. For example how we handle bookings could be better automated, but until we quadruple the number of courses we run, the parts which are manual aren't really much of a problem.

I used to love debugging, but I don't have a lot of real world experience writing tests. I can teach how to write simple tests for simple cases, but I haven't really gotten my hands dirty writing lots of tests on an interesting system.

So this is what I want. I want a module that has some tests, but needs a whole bunch more. It would make me especially happy if it came with a spec' but that seems kind of rare in the real world, so I'll settle for enough documentation that I understand what's going on. I don't want to have to read a bunch of RFCs and all the code before I understand things enough to write some tests; but I'm willing to read an RFC and some code. I don't want to randomly pick a module from CPAN, I'd rather work with someone who actively wants help adding tests to their module. I'm very happy to use CVS or git; I'm very happy to join a mailing list; I'm very happy to write tests for bugs in RT; I'm very happy to provide patches if you don't use CVS or git. I will ask lots of questions and I will want feedback on my tests including areas you think I've missed or a nod to a job well done.

Anyone got a module of which you've been meaning to improve the test suite? I'm especially happy to help with anything in alias's top 100 lists.

I'm also only going to pick one module, for the time being, and it might not be one that gets requested here. If there's lots of interest, I might take this list along to the next Melbourne PM bug-finding night, but this request is not a promise that I'll work on your module. Sorry.

Friday August 14, 2009
10:57 AM

A Perl only conference and the most awesome community

Those who know me will know that I'm not a stranger to conferences. I've been to all of the OSDCs, a few LCAs, a few SAGE-AU conferences and now an OSCON and YAPC::EU. Until YAPC::EU; the OSDCs and OSCON were my favourites as I identify myself far more with being a developer than a free software geek or system administrator. But I'd never been to a conference specifically aimed just at Perl developers.

I loved YAPC::EU. It was great to be able to attend a huge variety of talks at all levels on a topic I know well. It was awesome to meet people in person I've only known through mailing lists or on IRC. It was grand to find out that Perl people are my kind of people, no matter where in the world they're from. I fully intend to try to get to both YAPC::NA next year and YAPC::EU (in Pisa!).

Perl developers appear to be exceedingly wonderful people all across the globe. We've been invited to meetings, bought drinks, and even had Perl Mongers fight over who got to host Paul and I at their house on our travels! (Well okay, it didn't come down to violence, but it was amazing to see so many eager to open their houses to Paul and I and give us somewhere to stay.) Our hosts have been uniformly wonderful, and we've slept well, eaten well, and got to see all sorts of amazing sites in our trips around the place. Much of this would have been harder and in some cases impossible without the generousity we've experienced.

I want to give especial thanks to: Drew Taylor and his wife Kimberlee who hosted us in Dublin, drove us around the place. Also their daughter Samantha who showed tremendous patience while we were being driven around the place even though that was delaying her trip to the pet shop to get another goldfish.

To Murray and Becky who gave us a bed in Edinburgh, and then made room for Andy as well, so that we could more easily get going the next day. Also Aaron who offered us a bed, 5 minutes after we'd accepted Murray's offer.

To Andy Armstrong who took Wednesday and part of Thursday off to drive us around Northern England, showing us castles, Hadrian's wall, the remains of a Roman fort and after giving us his bed for the night; drove us through to Darlington.

To Smylers who met us at the train in Leeds, helped us find dinner rather late at night and gave us a bed, as well as taking off much of Friday to hang out with us and see us off on the train.

We really do have an awesome community.

Saturday July 04, 2009
11:57 PM

Actually the DarkPAN might matter a lot

I agree with chromatic that it would be really nice to get a whole bunch of "Modern" features turned on in later versions of Perl by default. However, I also accept that this is probably a bad idea.

I run a Perl training business. It would make me overjoyed to not have to remind the students to add use strict; use warnings; use autodie; to the top of each script. The students aren't being lazy or difficult when they forget to add these things, they're just forgetful because I'm teaching them so many things all at once.

On the other hand, I do consulting too. There are many, many Perl systems out there in the real world; systems which must work for the business to function; but which are not well written. Systems without test suites. Systems without even version control. Systems without development or testing environments (yes, everything is done in production). It's terrifying. Not just to me, but also to their developers, so these system are left alone, and only touched if absolutely necessary. This is the DarkPAN.

Many of the owners of these systems are already afraid to upgrade, so they don't. Whether they're still using Perl 5.5.3 or 5.6.1, it's "good enough". But these are not the people we're worried about.

The ones we need to worry about are the ones with active Perl developers who are pushing and pushing for a newer version of Perl, so they can use new features in their new projects (without thought for existing systems). If Perl is backwards compatible, then most of the time they should be able to get those new features and the monolith that no one wants to touch should still work. I've seen an organisation jump from 5.5.3 to 5.8.8 and there was about 4 hours work for one developer needed to fix things (mostly related to changes in some module APIs, I don't remember which). This was considered a good bargain.

I don't think it's reasonable to make the 5.10 branch the last upgrade that such organisations can reach without having to massively edit their scary monoliths. I don't think they should have such scary monoliths, but that's another story. As such, I would be unhappy if all the new modern stuff I want in Perl was turned on by default. People should be able to write Perl 5.5.3-like code and have it work in Perl 5.10. To illustrate this, consider the following code:

# Very bad code!

open FILE, "";

while(<FILE>) {

Under Perl 5.5.3 through to 5.10 (and probably earlier versions as well), that prints out the contents of "" if the file could be opened, and doesn't print out anything otherwise. This is presumably the desired behaviour. Moving this code to a version of Perl that turns on strict, warnings and autodie automatically would require this snippet of code to be completely rewritten or to have warnings and autodie manually turned off:

# Very bad code!

no autodie;
no warnings;

open FILE, "";

while(<FILE>) {

Of course, that these things need to be turned off should itself be a warning that the code is badly written, but strangely enough badly written code does exist. The next obvious way to achieve the same effect is with file test operators.

# Only slightly better code

# Hope we don't get a race condition
if(-r "") {

        open my $fh, "<", "";
        while(<$fh>) {

Fortunately, we seem to already have a good solution to the modern Perl problem. Perl 5.10 had the right idea with use feature qw(...); and Perl 6 has the right idea with use v6;. As others have suggested, we should be able to make most people happy with a pragma that does the right thing. So instead of starting every program with chromatic's boilerplate:

use 5.010;

use strict;
use warnings;

use utf8;
use Carp;
use Want;
use CLASS;
use SUPER;
use autodie;
use autobox;
use signatures;

use mro 'c3';

use IO::Handle;
use File::stat;
use autobox::Core;
use UNIVERSAL::ref;

Perhaps as of 5.12 we can just say:

use 5.012;

To turn on all the appropriate modules and features. Failing to specify such a version means we're in classic mode, and we provide the same interface as we did before. This has the logical advantage that scripts written for 5.12 are clearly marked, so that someone with Perl 5.8 knows that there may be features in use that aren't available to them.

This shouldn't be problematic, because we're already doing this magic when we write use 5.010.

It should be noted that this means that specifying the version stops meaning the minimum version of Perl we want to use and instead becomes an instruction about exactly what we're expecting to get. So whereas anything which says use 5.010 should work with Perl 5.12 and 5.14; it is also saying that it does not want to inherit any new and shiny defaults from either of those versions.

Thursday May 14, 2009
03:08 AM

More porn isn't the answer

When one of our own, foolishly, showed porn at a conference, and then apologised on use.perl for doing it; some of the commenters asked whether it would have been better if more female-focussed porn had been included. That was back in 2006.

Less than a month ago Matt Aimonetti gave a talk at the Golden Gate Ruby Conference entitled "CouchDB + Ruby: Perform Like a Pr0n Star." which apparently started off well, with a few porn-related but funny gags, but when he moved into the topic proper "the porn references continued with images of scantily-clad women gratuitously splashed across technical diagrams and intro slides. As he got into code snippets, he inserted interstitial images every few slides..."

The commenters to the above linked blog showed the same obliviousness to the issue at hand with suggestions such as "Maybe people would have felt better with some gay porn stars mixed in?" and "there was really only one risque image of a naked man ... if there had been a better balance would it have been just as alienating?"

I am stunned that this could possibly still be an issue. Matt Aimonetti defends himself by saying his wife approved of the talk and that there were only 5/82 risque images (presumably all the rest were just scantily clad women); other men say that they didn't find it offensive. A commenter says he showed the presentation to his wife who also just thought it was in good humour and claims that they are open minded, presumably suggesting that the original poster is not. All of them fail to grasp that the conference should be a professional setting, not a locker room.

Porn does not belong at conferences, or in user group talks, or in the board room. Porn, although a wonderful and fun thing, should be private; or at most - shared with close friends in an intimate setting. Neither of these conditions are what you have at a conference, user group or (generally) in the board room. Porn doesn't help keep your audience's attention, instead it distracts them. Those who appreciate the images are distracted by their hormonal reactions. Everyone else is alienated. If it's male, heterosexual porn; then the straight women, queer men and anyone who just doesn't like porn get the very clear message that they're different and not included. It's not nice to be made to feel like a sexual object in a room where it seems everyone else has just been turned on. It's uncomfortable and possibly threatening.

Women, in particular, are rare at FOSS conferences. The Golden Gate Ruby Conference had only 6 out of 200 female attendees. The highest percentage at a conference I've been to was 10%. We know we're minorities, yet most of the time everyone is awesome and clearly we belong, so we often ignore the fact that we're rare and go along thinking it's a meritocracy of ideas and code. Usually it is. But talks like these drag you back into realising that you are different and you are in the minority, and that ruins it for a while.

Including more porn to "cater" to the women and queer men is not the answer. Not only would it be impossible to cater to the wide tastes of the audience, but what appeals to some would be off-putting to others. More importantly, unless you're at a conference specifically about porn; then surely you want your audience to be paying attention to what you're saying and your main topic rather than being distracted by what's going on in their pants? It's not about hard-core or soft-core porn; or what you can or cannot show on TV at 8pm. It's not about whether you can see the same style of picture on a billboard on a major road. It's about being inclusive and respectful of your audience who have often chosen to listen to your talk instead of the other talks scheduled at the same time (or being part of the hallway track). It's always a bad idea to distract your audience's attention away from the topic at hand, but porn is an even worse way than usual, as it's almost impossible to get their attention back again and you've almost certainly upset some of them. Don't alienate your audience. The only correct solution is to include no porn.

Porn does not belong in an professional setting. It's a professional setting if a decent proportion of the attendees have their employers paying for them to be there (whether or not there's an entrance cost) or if attendees expect to gain employment-relevant knowledge from the event. If it's okay for you to have pin-ups in your office and include porn in your presentations at work then you are seriously in the minority. If you would think twice about giving your presentation to a technical audience which happened to consist of 50% women, attendees fairly evenly spanning the ages of 20 - 70, and where any one them could cause you to lose your job; then perhaps there are parts of your talk which need to be cleaned up. Just because most of your attendees are your age and gender is not an excuse to ignore everyone else. I don't care if your technology conferences are anti-professional, or volunteer run; if it's a technical conference, it should discuss technical (and related) topics; none of which need include pictures of scantily clad women or risque soft-core porn. Showing porn at conferences does make employers unwilling to send their staff to future events; and makes sponsors less willing to be associated with it also; so you've just made it harder to organise next year's event too.

Getting more women to come to a conference is a hard job; I've been doing my best (with some success) to achieve this for the Open Source Developers' Conference since 2004. Stupid talks which alienate parts of the audience make that much harder; in fact I'm not sure OSDC has recovered in that sense from 2006. :( But we're working on it. If you ever think it would be nice to have more than 2-3% of women being involved in FOSS (keeping in mind that studies suggest there's 25% women involvement in proprietary systems) then don't use porn metaphors in your talks, and don't let your friends do it either.

Monday May 04, 2009
12:38 AM

My goodness, my blog has ads!

I try not to see many ads online. Generally they irritate me, and it's been extremely rare that the ads on non-search results have been selling something I'm interested in. (Those few times it's been because the ads were advertising a competitor to the site and product I was already looking at!)

I don't object to site owners using ads. I fully understand that many site owners provide services (such as this blog site) for free even though they incur costs such as hosting and machine maintenance. I just don't like to see them.

Regardless of the ethics in this debate, I was shocked to find out that not only does have ads, but that my last journal entry had a very inappropriate ad showing. My entry was about the challenges of getting more women into Perl and IT in general; not about picking up women from a dating site. I hear this is a common problem with Google Ads and feminist websites/blogs/content; as if the terms "female" and "women" can only be associated with dating. :( This is of course not the site-owner's fault, it's a failure with Google Ad-word's attempts to be relevant. It's just rather disappointing.

I've complained about the ad being inappropriate (which you can do by following the "Ads by Google" link and choosing to give feedback about that ad).

This, more than any other thing is prompting me to get around to installing some blogging software on our server and moving my primary blog there. I expect to still cross-post here, as pjf does, but probably only my Perl specific writings.

Wednesday April 29, 2009
03:55 AM

Not an Iron woMan

So mst has launched the Iron Man competition and really I think it's an absolutely great idea. Us Perl folk should be blogging more about Perl, and these blogs should be more easily found. The idea of a simple reward (trophy image) for blogging consistently is a great one.

However, I'm not going to get involved. I think having an incentive like the above would be great for getting me to write more regularly; but I can't get past my issue with the title. I realise that mst has every intention of including women but I don't view that as enough.

As a woman in IT, I am regularly reminded that I'm an odd-one out because of my gender. I turn up to Perl Monger meetings throughout Australia and I'm usually the only woman there. Just as with many other smallish (less than 30 attendee) user group meetings. I get reminded that I'm different because well-meaning guys say to me "It's good to have some gender diversity here". Although I don't get hassled in online forums, on mailing lists and at conferences as some of the women I know have been; it's tiring to always be made to feel different, abnormal.

The issue here is pervasive in our society. It's the perception that male is general and that female is a specific case. I suspect this is partially because in the past we used male gendered words, in some contexts, to express gender neutral concepts. "Mankind". "The patient should advise the doctor whether he may have any contra-indicating factors such as pregnancy". "God is not male, he is spirit". However, despite your intention, I (and many other people - male and female) understand these male gendered words to refer to the male gender most of the time, and not to both genders. At least in sport they're honest about it. It's "300 metre sprint" for men, and "Women's 300 metre sprint" for women. Look through your event listing next time and you'll see that the general case assumes male and the women's events are special.

So even though there are "paper women" trophies and will probably eventually be "iron women" trophies (although you'll note that there are many levels of the male versions already created); I'm not participating. I don't want yet another endeavour to constantly remind me that I'm an aberration. Maybe I'll change my mind later.

A more inclusive name might be "Iron Perl" or "Iron Bloggers" or "Iron Perl Bloggers" with the planet renamed to something equivalent. I agree with mst that "Iron Person" sounds lame. I am particularly fond of "Iron Perl Bloggers" as I feel that it's important for someone first visiting the site to have at least a hint about the site's focus.


Matt's apologised for comparing me to Paul; for swearing at me and for the fact that his response was disproportionate. It took a while, but we finally are having the productive discussion he wanted.

Tuesday March 24, 2009
10:00 PM

Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women's contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.

Every week I deal with awesome technical women. You might not find their profiles on wikipedia, they may all not be so notable that their names are common on the other side of the globe, but these women are busy making technology work and also working in the communities around those technologies. I'm going to mention a few of them here.

Donna Ashelford is the current president of The System Administrators' Guild of Australia (SAGE-AU) and has been on the exec committee for many years. She does a tremendous amount of work for the Guild as well as providing vision and forward planning. In her day-job Donna is a Information Services Manager at the University of Queensland where she still dabbles in tech but mostly manages people and resources. If these weren't enough, Donna generously gives of her time to assist in fostering pets for the RSPCA and thus has a household menagerie to come home to every night.

Donna Benjamin is the president of Linux Users Victoria (LUV) and the proud founder of monthly Linux Beginner workshops for the benefit of all. She is tireless in her promotion of Linux and Open Source; jumping in to be the head organiser of 2008, being involved with the yearly Software Freedom Day events in Melbourne, working closely with the Victorian Information Technology Teacher's Association (VITTA) running workshops to showcase open source, a committee member of the Open Source Industry of Australia (OSIA), organiser of the Melbourne OSIA meetings, and is now looking at writing a book! Donna is a regular speaker at all sorts of events and has even keynoted internationally. Together with her husband, Peter, Donna runs a small business Creative Contingencies providing FOSS solutions to a wide range of businesses.

Mary Gardiner, in conjunction with a small team, nutures AussieChix (which she founded) the Australian chapter of LinuxChix. She arranges AussieChix events in Sydney, has meet-ups before Sydney Linux Users Group (SLUG) to increase the number of women attending the meetings and pioneered the LinuxChix mini-conferences at which have dramatically increased the number of women attending that conference. Mary is an excellent presenter and has spoken at a variety of events including both academic and non-academic conferences. When she's not promoting women in FOSS, programming in Python, or helping with code analysis, Mary is busy working to finish her PhD as a computational linguistics researcher.

Pia Waugh is probably Australia's most famous female FOSS geek. I expect she's in the top 10 famous Australian FOSS geeks. It's well deserved. Pia works tirelessly in the promotion of open source, women in open source and accessibility. She runs workshops to show teachers how to use FOSS such as Ubuntu, is the director for One Laptop Per Child Australia where she's been involved in sharing this vision with our more disadvantaged communities, is the president of Software Freedom International (who oversee the Software Freedom Day events), and was the Vice President of Linux Australia for 5 years, stepping down a year ago. Pia is a superb and entertaining speaker. Pia, together with her husband Jeff, runs a small business Waugh Partners, which provides both high level ICT planning advice as well as customised FOSS-focussed solutions.

I've only met Alice Boxhall relatively recently. Alice works for Google and is encouraged in that work to participate in events which encourage more participation and interest in IT, particularly from those of school age. This means Alice has been involved in events such as Go Girl Go for IT and also in running a 1 day micro-conf for the AussieChix held simultaneously in Melbourne and Sydney with video-teleconferencing.

There are more women I'd love to add, but I need to get some work done.

As I write this list I realise that I would struggle to compile a similar list out of my many male colleagues. All of these women are technically brilliant, but it's their passion for sharing that makes them especially wonderful. Rather that just being inspiring programmers and technologists, these women are also making a big difference to the communities they participate in by taking active roles to make things happen. This is a precious gift to these communities and one which deserves more kudos than are often given out. These women are an inspiration to me, every week.

For more write-ups of inspiring women, check out: