Filed under STEM

Get the Next Generation Hacking

SCALE: The Next Generation

This year’s Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) is going to run from January 20-22 (this weekend!) and they’re launching a new thing: SCALE: The Next Generation.

The goal of conference is to be as “youth driven” as possible. This event offers a unique opportunity to see & experience the inner workings of planning a conference. Youths will be able to determine the content and help steer the direction that this mini conference will take.

Great opportunity to get young people exposed to open-source and hacking — especially those who would not normally have access to such things, due to social or financial or other barriers. It’d be pretty rad if, in the future, they could maybe do something like team up with the Boys and Girls Club or some other youth outreach program, to get more kids coming and working with tech. That’d be pretty rad, I think.

(As an aside: when I say hacking, I’m not talking about black-hat-Sandra-Bullock’s-The-Net level stuff. I’m talking about the fun definition of hacking, of taking something and modifying it to make it your own. So’s we’re clear here.)

Young Woman Living in Homeless Shelter is an Intel Science Competition Semifinalist

On its own this is an honor, and all the more awesome because her passion for science overrode anything else going on in her life, which is great. I would like to hope this encourages Intel and other large companies to invest more in youth who lack opportunities that others may have due to their financial standing.

Booth Babes and CES

Ugh, I wanted to take a shower after watching this segment on the BBC about CES and booth babes. However, I’m really glad to see the usual swath of opinions.

Woman in Tech: It sucks because tech is currently showing me what I’m worth, and apparently it’s not very much.

Booth Babe: I don’t think it’s a big deal. Women approach us. We’re not as scantily clad as they are at car shows so it’s not that bad.

Suited Dudebro: Frankly your trying to make a piece on this subject is cute but irrelevent.

Plainclothes Dudebro: Well it works because we like looking at pretty things.

Plainclothes Tech Guy: When I see a company that uses booth babes to sell a product, I think it’s sleazy.

So I’ve blogged about booth babes in the past, and a good tactic to try to convince dealers at shows to stop using booth babes. Some people accused it of being erasing and eliminating, but I’m going to respectfully disagree with that opinion. The goal isn’t to erase women, or to erase attractive women. The goal is to demand industries treat women like human beings, and not like pretty organic stands upon which a product rests.

The basic tack is this: When you see someone at a booth, assume they are knowledgeable about the product. Treat them like an intelligent human being who has been selected by their company to sell the product based on their product knowledge and conversation skills. If it should turn out that they are not knowledgeable about the product, ask to speak to someone in charge, and demand why they wasted your time by having representatives who don’t know what they’re doing and can’t answer questions.

Pretty simple, really. Stop using women as objects to hock goods. Treat them like intelligent people. If they are revealed to be simply there to draw the [male] eye, get mad. Because the downside of booth babes is that women are dismissed as objects, and are not seen as persons with knowledge and/or authority. By turning women, or anybody really, into an object there to hold your product while looking pretty, you diminish their worth as a human being.

It’s called objectification. You can tell by the part where it uses women like objects. This is pretty textbook.

I’ve heard the argument that booth babes are trained in the product they are there to sell. Not “just” eye candy. Oh, I guess that makes it all better then! Except wait no, it fixes nothing. Just because objectification isn’t the only bullet point on the list of shit you’re hiring women for, doesn’t mean it’s then totes okay for objectification to be on that list. That’s not how it works, not even in the slightest.

So, yeah, no more booth babes, please? It’s gross and skeevy and makes me think your product must be absolute shit if you have to use cheap tactics to attract attention. Do better.

(Bonus Aside: Female-only booth babes of course enforces the idea that these shows are only for straight cisgendered men, and that gay men, women, or anybody else who is not drawn to scantily clad women need not bother showing up, because this shit ain’t for you. This is what we call a hostile environment.)

U.S. Government Announces TechGirls Exchange Program for Teens in the Middle East

(via TheMarySue) In 2011 Hillary Clinton announced an exchange program for women tech leaders in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the US, and after a successful first run, a new program has been started for young tech-savvy women aged 15-17.

The TechGirls Exchange Program, which will take place in the summer of 2012, will bring 25 girls from the MENA region to the US for three to five weeks. A similar program has also been announced for Jerusalem.

This is pretty awesome. While the original program sounds more like a true exchange, this sounds simply like bringing young women from the MENA region to the United States. I certainly hope it’s a true exchange, because there are a lot of benefits to spending time abroad, but like I said, that’s unclear to me at this time.

But, yeah. Neat!

US Research Open Access In Peril

Microscopy Lab Research

Discovered at Slashdot:

“Several years ago, the U.S. National Institutes of Health instituted a policy whereby publications whose research was supported by federal funds were to be made freely accessible a year after publication. The rationale was that the public paid for the research in the first place. This policy is now threatened by legislation introduced by, you guessed it, a Congresswoman who is the largest recipient of campaign contributions from the scientific publishing industry. The full text of the bill, H.R. 3699, is available online.

From the bill:

SEC. 2. LIMITATION ON FEDERAL AGENCY ACTION.

No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that–

(1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or

(2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.

So, like, that doesn’t sound too bad, right? I mean, if the public sector has done some research, but it doesn’t want that research released, then they should be well within their rights to keep that research under wraps. Like, if you own it, you should control how it’s published, right?

(3) PRIVATE-SECTOR RESEARCH WORK- The term ‘private-sector research work’ means an article intended to be published in a scholarly or scientific publication, or any version of such an article, that is not a work of the United States Government (as defined in section 101 of title 17, United States Code), describing or interpreting research funded in whole or in part by a Federal agency and to which a commercial or nonprofit publisher has made or has entered into an arrangement to make a value-added contribution, including peer review or editing. Such term does not include progress reports or raw data outputs routinely required to be created for and submitted directly to a funding agency in the course of research.

Oh.

So basically, if any private party (eg anyone who isn’t a federal employee) contributes to a publication in a value-add way (eg peer review or editing), even if that research was funded by the government, they have a right to withhold that publication from being distributed? Is that what I’m seeing?

Sheesh. Please someone correct me if I’m mis-reading this. I’m no lawyer, and it’s been awhile since I’ve made a practice of parsing government legalese.

Women are More Likely to Buy Tech than Men

Not sure how I feel about this.

Women expressed more interest in tablets (18%), laptops (20%) and smartphones (20%). Only 15% of men planned to buy a tablet, while 14% sought a laptop and 17% intended to buy a smartphone. The only category in which men surpassed female interest was flat screen LCD TVs, with men (19%) favoring the sets over women (17%).

Some interpretations taken from this (Women like to communicate! Obviously they buy communication stuffs!) are really fucking stupid. Because what if it turned out the other way, and men dominated the tablet/laptop/smartphone market? Well obviously duh because men like gadgets and tech! Please.

I’d like to take a positive spin on this and think this might cause advertisers to shift how they advertise tech. Which, it might. But I dread to think what the takeaway will be for them.

Overall I guess I’m meh. I only own an iPad because I was given one. I was holding out for a better tablet. I’m looking at ultrathin laptops (CES has me going all *.* except then I remember it’s kind of a vaporware show when it comes to shit I like), and I’m the one who drove to have a server and a couchputer in the house (what they’re calling “smart TVs” now, I think, which I’ve had one for years, and I will forever call it a couchputer). I’m all about tools making my life easier, and therefore this study doesn’t surprise me. I just worry people will interpret it in stupid ways that will only serve to give me a headache.

Women in Startups: A New Funding Source

Women Innovative Mobile

Yesterday at NPR there was a post about Female Startup Founders, specifically highlighting a new accelerator group (think Y Combinator) called Women Innovative Mobile. From the site:

Women Innovate Mobile (WIM) is the first startup accelerator and mentorship-driven program designed for women-founded companies in mobile technology. WIM’s goal is to provide women entrepreneurs with the guidance, feedback and connections needed to make their startups best in class companies and formidable business concerns.

Now, I’m not going to lie, the original report and the WIM website is awesome with gender-essentialism (Don’t look for dudes in hoodies, but ladies in skirts and great shoes! Women manage their kids’ lives on their phones, so won’t they have some great ideas for how to use phones? Bleh, really?) but you know, we can’t all be perfect, I guess. I appreciate the aiming specifically for women as startup founders thing. That’s nice.

Brain Processes Stories as Though They Were Real-Life Situations

File Under: Why It Matters

BrainIn a recent study done in Washington University in St Louis, researchers have found that, when reading, the human brain simulates what it reads. It simulates everything, and even engages the part of the brain which would process this situation in real life.

A new brain-imaging study is shedding light on what it means to “get lost” in a good book — suggesting that readers create vivid mental simulations of the sounds, sights, tastes and movements described in a textual narrative while simultaneously activating brain regions used to process similar experiences in real life.

Do I need to explain why this matters? I will, just in case.

This sort of thing is fairly benign, or even positive, when reading helpful stories. When reading about another culture, about a heroic adventure, about someone doing the right thing despite personal loss. That’s great. In these instances, the brain’s ability to simulate what we read is very helpful. We get to experience difficult situations in a safe, controlled environment.

But what if those messages are bad? What if those messages are things like, the hero is always a white, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied male? What if it’s things like The Black Character Will Always Betray You or Die For You? What if it’s Women Are Just Trophies For Men At The End Of Their Journey? What if it’s just another in the series of unhelpful or damaging tropes?

When you see these stories, and you see them over and over, your brain re-enacts that shit. It will start to see these things as real, and act that way, even if you as a rational person realize this shit’s not okay. It’ll result in subtle crap like checking for your wallet when a black man gets on the bus, or talking over a woman in a meeting because your opinion matters more. It’ll lead to thinking saying things like “I don’t mind if people are gay, I just wish they wouldn’t flaunt it” is totally okay and perhaps even open-minded of you. Shit like that.

When we say humans are a storyteller species, this shit is what we’re talking about. So to anybody who’s ever tried to convince you that narratives don’t matter, it’s just fiction, blah blah blah, well no, no it’s not. Because science.

Goddard Women Highlighted in New Book (NASA)

Women of Goddard

Women of Goddard, via NASA

From the official NASA website:

Women of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., are highlighted in a new book and a set of six posters in an exhibit at the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center.

The book features 103 Goddard women in STEM careers. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math and encouraging students to study these subjects is the focus of NASA’s education program. All Goddard women in STEM careers were asked to contribute a photograph, a short career description, and a quote for a one-page profile in the book.

This is really awesome, not only because it’s discussing women in STEM careers, but also because it’s pieced together from women speaking in their own words, which always makes me happy.