I am Ahmed

Yesterday, social media exploded with the story of a 9th grader, Ahmed Mohamed, getting arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school.  Ahmed now gets to take trips to Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the White House.  His future is probably set.  Because he made his own clock. So he could learn. Because it was fun.

I’m glad it ended that way.  It could have gone very differently.  And I have to wonder.  If he had been white, would he have been arrested?  I don’t know anything about the school or Ahmed, really, but I’d have to venture a guess that someone at the school knew him, and knew of his interest in electronics and programming.  At least I sure hope so.  Where were they when all this went down?  Why didn’t the principal know?  Adults failed him because adults far too often assume the worst in kids.  It’s what teen shows are made of.

Ahmed’s story to me is one where people were afraid.  They were afraid of the technology.  No one had ever seen a computer board outside of those scary spy and crime shows on tv where they’re hooked to bombs.  They were afraid of who Ahmed was, based on his ethnicity.  First, we need to educate people about technology.  If engineering or CS is offered more broadly, educators would see projects like Ahmed’s more frequently.  They might even be able to look at it closely and understand how it worked.  And more importantly, we need to get away from stereotypes about what techie people look like, and what certain kinds of people are like.

Men Only

In the last few days, I’ve encountered some things where men are the only reference point.  Here are some smart people: list of men.  Here are some books you should read: only male authors.  Here are some people to follow on Twitter: only men.  Usually, it’s been men who’ve done this, but not always.  And sometimes those references are to people I know and admire, and sure, read their book or follow them on Twitter.  But also diversify.  Women, smart women, often don’t put themselves out there as much as men, sometimes out of fear, and sometimes out of lack of time, and sometimes out of a choice of what to prioritize.  Find some women to include in your Twitter feed, blog and book reading, and people to seek advice from.

Want some suggestions?  Here are a few:

  • Audrey Watters (@audreywatters)
  • Leslie Madsen-Brooks (@lesliemb)
  • Maggie Powers (@mpowers3)
  • Janet Stemwedel (@docfreeride)
  • Laura McKenna (@laura11d)
  • Lisa Palmieri (@Learn21Tech)

Leave your suggestions in the comments.  I’m always looking for more!

Past, Present, Future

First, let’s talk about the past.  Last night, when I got back from a wonderful day spent at UMW with old friends, sharing stories about how we met, people we knew, etc., I started digging through the blog archives to figure out the thread.  All of us had gaps in our memory, and most of us have known each other for around 10 years, so we almost can’t remember when we didn’t know each other.  The first mention of any connection I can find is this one, noting that Barbara Ganley’s blog is awesome and you should all read it.  Later that summer, Barbara G., Barbara S. and I would do a presentation at BlogHer, memorialized here and here.  Finally, there’s the first Faculty Academy, where I met many of the people I was reading and connecting with online in person.

Barbara G. had talked about fear at FA that year, and I wrote more about it here, and that, I think, spawned the fear crew and more conversations about fear, at least one of which is documented here.  As I drifted into K-12 and Barbara G. went on to do her own thing, and Martha had another kid, and Leslie moved to Idaho, we no longer came together, but we kept up online as always.  And maybe we’re not blogging as much, but there’s Twitter and Facebook.

Presently, we’re all in different places, but essentially, everyone is still connected, mostly through education and technology and all that entails.  Thankfully, our conversations have shifted a little as things really have changed.  We have makerspaces and the idea of posting online doesn’t seem crazy anymore.  The thing I think we all have in common is a need to push the envelope and to keep pushing people out of their comfort zones so that learning can happen.  Ironically, this involves looking back to the past sometimes.  Some people get stuck in the past, wishing for the old days of just books in libraries and no smart phones.  But some, like Jim Groom, look back at the old tv consoles and video games and computers (now stacked  in his office) and see the DIY spirit that was there and the hope of the future they didn’t yet know.  Those things seemed so cool in the 70s and 80s.  People are not as amazed by new tech as they once were. What we try to do, I think, is bring that amazement and wonder back.  And now, I sound a little like Gardner, so that completes my circle.

None of us know what the future will be like, but we keep looking in that direction, with a healthy respect for the past and for where people are.  Everyone I talked with yesterday wants to make change in some way.  Sometimes that’s directly through their work, and sometimes that’s through other activities (but it’s colored by their work, I’m sure).  And that’s exciting and inspirational, and makes me ready to keep moving forward.  Thanks, UMW crew, for the inspiration and the memories.

Woman of Fear #1

Back at Educon, I made a promise to visit all the women who’ve influenced my development as an educator.  I’m currently sitting at the kitchen table of Martha, the first stop on my tour.  Martha is graciously hosting me, and I feel terrible that I haven’t visited sooner since I live a mere 3 hours away.

I met Martha about 10 years ago.  One of the faculty she worked with emailed me to serve on a panel at this thing called Faculty Academy.  I said yes and he put me in touch with Martha.  I also met at least one of the other women on my tour through Faculty Academy and maybe a second, Barbara 1 and Barbara 2.   So Martha’s running the whole show, and the show is truly impressive.  FA inspired me for years, and I was lucky enough to do a keynote for them in 2009 (a keynote immortalized in video, a video I have watched and all I can think is, “What is going on with my hair?”).

Martha, the two Barbaras, and Leslie, and I had a gig about fear of technology in education.  This wasn’t the healthy fear of data mining and privacy, but a fear of embracing technology to enhance teaching and learning.  We went around the country talking about it, and trying to help those in the room overcome it and/or help their colleagues at home overcome it.  While some have gotten past that and Martha and her colleagues are examples of people doing really interesting things with technology, in my conversations with Martha over the last few hours, it’s clear a kind of fear still exists even 10 years later.  As I used to say back then, I find it so interesting that faculty will push their students to get out of their comfort zone and simultaneously refuse to leave their own.

So Martha is pretty amazing.  She is fearless in many ways.  She takes risks but isn’t afraid to say no.  Things that would freak me out, she seems perfectly comfortable with.  At least on the outside.  I have one more day to visit, and then I’m on my way.  I’ve dragged Geeky Girl on this trip, and I’m glad.  I hope it sends the message that it’s important to honor the people who’ve meant something to you and who inspire you.  Too often we don’t do that.  I’m especially happy that the people whom I’ve chosen are women.  I didn’t really seek women out as mentors in college.  It wasn’t until grad school that I even encountered a woman that served as a mentor, and even then, I ended up getting most of my support from a male mentor.  The women of fear were really the first women that I felt like I truly learned something from.  Years after we no longer work together, I  still turn to them for advice and inspiration (even if they don’t always know that).  I’m hoping to visit the rest of my posse this summer: LesIie, Barbara G., Barbara S., and Audrey.  More than ever, I need the inspiration.

Using Technology for Personal Goals

I have almost always turned to technology for assistance with my goals.  Way back in 2004, I wanted to use blogging as a way to keep track of my thoughts and comments on online news and web sites.  And I used blogging to help me stay accountable for writing my dissertation.  I’ve been using various to-do apps for years (current is Any.do, but I’m trying out TickTick right now as well).  My RSS reader (currently feedly) has been a great tool for keeping up with my field, the news, and even friends.  And Mint has helped with setting financial goals. No tool is ever perfect, and as my needs shift, I’ve had to turn to new tools.  Periodically, I evaluate what I’m using to see if it’s still working for me.  My favorite tools tend to work across platforms–web and phone, maybe even a tablet–so that no matter what device I have on me, I have a way to access the tools I need.

As I’ve been thinking about what I want my goals for 2015 to be, I’ve been keeping an eye out for useful tools.  I started by evaluating a new to-do app.  Jury is still out, but I’m still with it.  As luck would have it, I ran into this MakeUseOf article* on apps to help with various goals you might have.  The very first app on the list immediately appealed to me.  There are two things I know about myself: 1) I do not like to do housework (but I like a clean house; go figure) and 2) I love playing video games.  The main thing I like about the video games I play is the element of randomness and change in them.  Housework has none of that.  It’s all about doing the same thing over and over, which annoys me.  Why is there not an automated loop for it yet!  Unfuck your Habitat is the perfect answer for me.  I’ve tried other methods of gamifying housework: Chore Wars, FlyLady.  But they don’t last because either I have to make my own list or the lists they have just don’t match what I need.
The very first item in the app is a random challenge.  You can choose a 5, 10 or 20 minute challenge.  If you don’t like the one they’ve given you, just click new challenge, and voilà, a new one appears.  A 5 minute challenge might be to wipe down the shower walls and throw out empty shampoo bottles.  A 20 minute challenge might be to do the ironing or do the dishes.  They also have random challenges by room, so if you’re determined to deal just with the living room, you can do that.  You can make your own list, and there’s a built-in timer.  You can also earn achievements and get (un)motivational messages.  There’s a companion web site with so much more.  How sad is it that I’m now excited to start cleaning the house?  I guess that’s the point.
So one possible goal facilitated by technology.  Maybe I’ll find some more.
*Though the site is overwhelming, I find enough useful stuff there that I keep it in my feed.

Can you be girly and be techie?

Should you?  I’m going to get in all kinds of hot water for bringing this up, but I’m going to anyway.  There’s a conversation elsewhere on the web about tech-oriented events that, say, include fashion advice or manicures.  Many, many years ago, I attended a BlogHer event that went awry on that front.  This is Twitter-like, pre-Twitter post about that.  For the record, I do think it’s a bad idea for events to go to standard feminine stereotypes for their agenda.  Women get enough of that elsewhere (and then some).

However, there is a sense in the CS/Tech world that in order to participate, you have to “be one of the guys.”  There’ll be no lipstick or heels in this field, thank you very much.  If you haven’t ever seen me, you might not know that I tend toward the girly on many fronts.  I like heels and “girly” clothes.  I like makeup.  I like flowery things.  But I can go with jeans and a t-shirt and watch all the Star Trek movies in one sitting.  I’m not just one way or another.

Just as we shouldn’t exclude people based on gender, we also shouldn’t exclude people based on their expression of that gender.  Gender, fwiw, is on a spectrum, to use CS terminology, it’s not just a 0 or a 1.  It’s everything in between, which is, of course infinite.   So that means accepting lots of different ways gender gets expressed. It also means not making assumptions about what a specific gender might want.  Because gender is not that simple.

So, yes, be girly and techie.  Or be whatever and be techie.  Quit viewing the world in binary and view it at least in 8-bit, maybe 16.  Really, it will expand how you see things.

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Being on (the) edge

Can’t believe how many days have passed since I last posted here.  It’s been a busy couple of weeks.  We just finished our accreditation process, in which I was heavily involved, and then last week, I played catch up.

I’m at that time of year where I am both looking forward and assessing where I am.  It is now that we start to think about new courses, changes to existing courses, etc.  So I’ve been having conversations with various people and thinking a lot myself about what’s next for Computer Science at my school.  There are too many options, it seems, and also too many constraints.  I’m at the point where my options–all of them–impact staffing, both my own and others.  And that’s where decisions get hard.  Can you add another person? If not, can an existing person extend themselves until the schedule opens up or enrollment increases?  Take the leap or not.  More conversations are ahead.

It’s really a good place to be.  I’m not making an argument just to have Computer Science at all.  I’m trying to come up with a plan to increase what we already have.  I’m both on edge about that and on the edge, bleeding or leading, not sure which.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, too.  I always seem to find myself engaging in new adventures, new technologies, new ways of doing things, mostly because they fit with my own philosophy.  When I latch onto them, I’m usually thinking, “Oh finally, there are others that think this way and are doing this thing I’ve been doing!” But there are lots of people, online and offline, who are skeptical, who don’t understand, who don’t like new things.  How should one approach these people? How do you react to someone who’s never heard of makered, never used Twitter, never read a blog, doesn’t understand the difference between writing code and learning a foreign language?

I do try to take a critical stance toward anything I do.  I try to say, “Is this the right thing? Is it grounded in solid research? Does it help my students learn?”  But sometimes, you have to go with your gut, and try something, and then reflect on what you’ve tried, retool and try again.  Taking the risk is hard.  I try to understand that.  I have trouble doing it myself.  But, if you don’t take the risk, what will be lost?  What could you gain if you do?  Weighing that is hard.  It is like looking over the edge and not being able to make out what’s there.

I guess the difference is, I feel the fear, but don’t fear it.  I am trying to embrace and thereby conquer it. At least I hope that’s what I’m doing.

Chromecast review

So far, my Chromecast is pretty awesome.  Netflix and YouTube look amazing.  We’ve cast from my computer and Mr. Geeky’s phone.  Casting other tabs can be problematic.  I’ve found HuluPlus to be the most problematic.  There’s a significant audio delay which is quite annoying.  Rumor has it that Hulu is joining the Chromecast gang, so hopefully, it will be as nice as Netflix and YouTube.

I’ve cast straight from the Comedy Central website to watch The Daily Show, and that has worked really well.  Amazon Instant Video and Amazon Prime were a little tricky.  To view those through Chromecast, I had to disable the Silverlight plugin and use Flash instead.  I could shift renting videos from Amazon to Google Play to alleviate part of that problem, but having Prime, which I love for the shipping, means I’m losing a benefit if I can’t easily stream to Chromecast.

Mr. Geeky tried HGTV, though, and had some issues, mostly with the website itself, not Chromecast specifically.  So, that brings me to a larger point. Mr. Geeky’s issues had to do with a) having difficulty finding the episodes he wanted to watch, b) having to watch the same ad over and over, and c) glitches with the video going back to the beginning.  Chromecast (and Roku, and other streaming services) will change the way we watch tv.  They already have.  But TV networks and stations are going to have to change the way they put video on the web.  They’re going to have to use a service that allows people to easily find the shows they want to watch, something people are using their DVRs and cable services for now and which Roku, as I understand it, has a nice searchable directory.  Otherwise, a lot of shows won’t be found.  And, they’re going to have to something about advertising.  I noticed this issue when watching Hulu on Tivo.  Often the same 1 or 2 ads permeates all the videos.  I’m assuming that ads are keeping the price of these services affordable.  I don’t mind sitting through a couple of ads during a show, but I’d like them to be different and hopefully, somewhat interesting.

I’d love to also see a way to watch some broadcast TV live via Chromecast or the web.  There are some rumblings about this happening, but it’s still just rumblings.

It’s funny, ten or so years ago, I remember saying they would never get video to the web for a variety of technical reasons.  Those reasons have been overcome.  What’s in the way now, are old business models that don’t take into account an increasingly mobile audience who prefer time-shifting, and who don’t have cable.  It’s coming, and frankly, Chromecast is a step in that direction.

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Cat Tracking Project Update

So I’ve successfully logged my gps data.  It took some figuring out how to take my data file and translate the data into something human readable, but I found a nifty online tool to do it.  I’m going to work on coding some of this myself, but I couldn’t find any libraries that would work.  But here’s my test:

View GPS Path Test in a larger map


Some things to note.  Hooking up the battery wasn’t hard except that there are 2 on switches, one on the board itself and one on the battery case. I’m planning to make a snug pocket to hold the battery case, probably out of felt, which I have a lot of lying around.  Here are some pictures from the project.

sewn on


the layout

on switch

Automation only goes so far

Pretty much this entire school year, I’ve been trying to come up with a good way to syndicate content to my school web site for my colleagues.  I’ve tried various iftt recipes.  I’ve gone back to diigo, rss, and javascript.  I’ve tried a learning management system.  I was kind of stuck with the school web site because that’s where my colleagues are.  There are a handful on Twitter, but mostly everyone is still just reading email and checking the web site.  Nothing automates perfectly.  For example, diigo is a great option for bookmarking things, but its embedding tool is awful and makes bookmarks hard to read once they’re embedded.  There are no bullets or other options. I tried to use another tool to take the RSS from diigo to Javascript, but the RSS feed isn’t valid so the Javascript is borking. Storify looks pretty good embedded on a web page, but I find it hard to collect the links into Storify.  I can’t get the extension to work well and I don’t want to take the time to visit the site itself. I’m having the same issue with Learni.st.  The embedded format is nice, but the bookmarklet doesn’t work. Delicious no longer has the linkroll tool.

That whole “Small Pieces, Loosely Joined” thing is failing me right now.  I will try to not go all gloom and doom about how the web is falling apart, but hey, exhibit A.

So, I’ve resorted to emailing, mostly.  I see an article or tool I think a teacher might be interested in, I just email them.  Is it time consuming? Kind of. But it’s very direct and this way, I know they’ve seen it.  And, I think, It probably creates a better connection rather than just hoping they visit the web site.  It’s a reminder that there are things that should be automated, and maybe things that shouldn’t be.