Thursday, December 8, 2011

Girl Develop It Recap

On the evening of Tuesday, December 6th, the second half of Girl Develop It Ottawa's Intro to HTML and CSS workshop took place - and as you can see in the pic below, everyone looks absorbed in their code!

As one of the assistants for the workshop, I had a great time and found it to be an interesting experience. If you're a developer who likes helping people learn, I think you might enjoy assisting with or leading a similar class (see this post on tumblr.)

Seeing people walk through the process of building a web page from scratch, and troubleshooting when they ran into problems, reminded me of when I first began dabbling with HTML and CSS many years ago. I liked meeting the students - who came into the class with varying levels of prior experience, but were all friendly and curious about code. I credit this to instructor Suzan Hill's teaching style, which was clear enough for the almost complete beginners in the class, while students looking for more information were able to ask the assistants questions in detail.

If this sounds interesting, you'll be happy to know that GDI Ottawa has more programming classes in the works. For anyone who wants to get started with web development on their own, I've included a link below to one of the online resources I've found helpful for HTML/CSS learning and reference. 

Online intro to HTML/CSS guide

Liz Allen is a computer science student at Carleton University. She tweets about technology and life at @liz_codes

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

She Topped All the Men in Math and Kept Her Life in Balance

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a popular blog post about a 19th century woman who beat all the men at Cambridge University in their prestigious math exams:
Philippa Fawcett did the unimaginable: she beat every other man and woman who competed in the prestigious mathematical examinations held at Cambridge University. This was in 1890, a time long before men and women were even allowed to study for degrees side by side. Even the science of the time suggested that this probably couldn't happen.
The cool thing is that she managed to do it while keeping an impressive balance in her life.  Check out the entire post (She Topped All the Men in Math and Kept Her Life in Balance) to find out how!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Global Entrepreneurship Week

Global Entrepreneurship Week 2011 is celebrated during the week of Nov. 14th-20th 2011.

The National Capital Region will be participating as well so check out the OCRI website for details of when and where.

Carleton University will be having many events and here are a few.

Lead To Win for Women and the Technology Innovation Management program.

Most events have limited capacity therefore do not forget to register.

If you can't be there in person you can follow the conversation on twitter via these hastags #leadtowin #GEWnews

I am sure there are many more events so let us know details of how you plan to celebrate.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Two Months Before Mommyhood

I'm actually not sure I've talked about this whole "becoming a mom" thing here on the CU-WISE blog yet, so, if you didn't know, I'm expecting! Not only that, but I'm due in less than two months. (That's one reason you don't see me on the current list of executives.)

I noticed on my personal blog that I hadn't written about pregnancy or mommyhood very much, so I took a few minutes to list out some of my worries and some of the things I'm looking forward to.  Check it out.

What are your impressions about being a student and starting a family? It probably seems like a particularly scary notion if you're an undergrad, but can you see yourself doing it as a grad student? What goes through your mind when you see other students with pregnant bellies walking around campus?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Women-Led Start Ups Have Fewer Failures, What Does that Actually Mean?

Local developer and entrepreneur Alicia Liu recently reflected on recent research that said women-run startups are generally more successful:
So these women, on top of an already gruelling process of pitching and due diligence, had to overcome additional obstacles, including investor bias. So wouldn’t it make sense that this additional selection, though unfair, means that only the very best women are able to get funding and grow their businesses to successful exits? Viewed like this, the study results are not surprising.
To me, the additional selection imposed on women through overt and subtle stereotypes, biases, and differential treatment contributes to fewer women in male-dominated fields, like running a tech start up, but it also results in higher quality. This is analogous to survival of the fittest.
What do you think? Do the women running these startups just happen to be better than average because they were the ones tough enough (or smart enough, or whatever quality you want to insert here) to make it? Is the same true of women in highly male-dominated fields like computer science and engineering in general?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Kudos to past WISE exec and officer for defending their PhD theses!

I just wanted to recognize the awesomeness of one of the original four founding members of CU-WISE and past Executive Natalia Villanueva-Rosales, and past CU-WISE Officer Terri Oda, both of whom successfully passed their PhD thesis defences in the last few weeks.  Both of their committees were rather impressed with them.  Congrats ladies!!

I don't think we celebrate our own accomplishments enough, so I'm always trying to encourage others to do so here on the blog.  If you're a member of the CU-WISE community and have something to share about yourself or another awesome woman in science or engineering here at Carleton, you can always contact CU-WISE ( and have us post it!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ada Lovelace Day: Natalia

In celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, I wrote about one of my fellow CU-WISE founders:
I participate in Ada Lovelace Day every year by blogging about my tech heroines.  This year, I had a really hard time deciding who to honour because there are so many worthy candidates! After some thought about what stage of life I'm at and what's happening today for her, I finally settled on Natalia Villanueva-Rosales.
You can read the whole post on my blog.  I hope you'll consider blogging about your tech heroine today, too!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What My Little Ponies have to do with technology

Terri recently wrote a piece on the Geek Feminism blog that I just had to share:
I was the sort of little girl who had over a hundred My Little Ponies, largely due to my mother’s uncanny ability to find them incredibly cheap at garage sales. With so many, we could put on pony musicals where we wrote or adapted all the music and made costumes out of whatever scraps our parents were willing to lend us. My childhood best friend and I built an entire “computer game” for my little sister to play using ponies as the characters (Gameplay was inspired by our favourite adventure game for PC, Monkey Island. Nowadays, I’d call it a roleplaying game but I didn’t know the terminology then.) We had ponies on the bridge of the Enterprise, and ponies going camping on the very conveniently green-carpeted stairs in my house, and ponies ponies ponies.
Definitely check out the entire post here, and find out what a "brony" is in the process.

14 Year Old Airplane Builder

I came across this video and wanted to share it with you. It's about Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski who is very passionate about planes. She took her first flying lessons at the tender age of 9. By the age of 14 she build her first aircraft and flew it at the age of 16.

Her advice is to never let an opportunity to pass you by.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Girl Develop It Ottawa Kicks Off its New Chapter

One of CU-WISE's original founders, Serena Ngai, recently started a new chapter of an organization called Girl Develop It.  It's all about getting non-technical women in Ottawa to learn how to program.  To me, this has the potential to help blur the line between women in tech and women near tech, which can only be a positive thing.

I recently taught at the chapter's kickoff workshop, where participants learned some basics of programming using Scratch.  You can read all about my experience on my own blog.  I also posted on the new blog for the Ottawa chapter, which I encourage you to follow to keep up to date on future happenings.

If you want to learn how to program or just meet a bunch of ladies who are trying it for the first time, be sure to join the Girl Develop It Ottawa Meetup Page!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Women and Going Beyond the Game

From my personal blog:
While it seems to me that many more women are playing traditionally "male" video games these days, there is also a group of women who go beyond the game in ways that, according to James Paul Gee and Elizabeth Hayes, are important to 21st century learning.  An in depth look at this phenomenon and what we can learn from it is described in Women and Gaming: The Sims and 21st Century Learning.
 Read the rest here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What Do Women Want in Games?

I happened to stumble across this article by the well-known game designer, interactive storyteller, and author Chris Crawford called What Do Women Want (Again)?
I’m intrigued by the renewed interest in this old problem, and dismayed by the complete lack of progress I see. The games community just keeps spinning the same old wheels, getting the same old wrong answers. Really, folks, some community memory would behoove us all. Nearly twenty years ago Midway addressed the problem by creating Ms. Pac-Man. Their market data showed that more women seemed to play Pac-Man than other games, so they put a bow on Pac-Man’s head and voila! the first woman’s game was created. This unpromising beginning has set the standard for all subsequent discussion, a standard that has been rigorously adhered to.
This was written back in 2001, and I can't help but wonder how much progress has been made.  Certainly some I would think, given that it seems more women are playing games than ever before.  Perhaps the advent of social games on the Wii and Kinect have helped by getting more people over the "I'm not a gamer" hump.

What do you think? What games are well designed for the female audience? What games do you adore?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Games for Change Festival 2011

I just got back from New York City for my first visit to the Games for Change Festival. In its eighth year, this year’s festival was held on June 20-22 at New York University.  I wasn’t able to attend the entire conference, but thanks to live streaming I caught most of the Tuesday talks I would have missed otherwise.  (You can watch the archives of the live stream, too!)

I wrote a complete blog post summarizing the event on my own blog, which was also syndicated on BlogHer, which I encourage you to check out.

Here are some other great resources to learn more about the event:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What I love about being a software developer

A developer I met on twitter told me to check out this article a while ago on the benefits of being a female software engineer. I enjoyed it, but had a few varying opinions so I thought I’d first give my personal list of the things I love about being a developer, and then also some positives about being a woman in the field.

Things I Love About Being a Developer

Feeling like I have the power to build anything

We’re so bombarded with new technology all the time that I think we sometimes take for granted the magic of it. As a programmer, almost ironically, I feel like I get to live in constant awe of this magic. I’ve always been a creative person. I started writing songs and poetry in grade 2 and still do, got pretty good at drawing in middle/HS, and even thought for a while that I might try taking up woodworking in post secondary. The spirit of creation is the midnight oil that keeps programmers glued to their monitors into the wee hours. Having the ability to create programs you can use as tools just blows my mind. If you think it looks boring sitting behind a computer, just remember that’s exactly where you’d be if you were editing that music video in Final Cut Pro, or writing your famous blog that’ll be made into a TV series, or putting together parts for a song with GarageBand, but you wouldn’t be able to do any of those things on that computer without programmers! MAGIC!! :O

Seeing my creations work/do something I wanted to accomplish

Building a program is fun, but using it after or seeing people use and appreciate it is even more rewarding. If you’ve created a piece of software that works well and looks nice, just seeing the fruits of your labor on your own screen is enough to make you do a happy dance, if that is you’re nerdy/cool enough to do something like that *brushes shoulder off*

Making an algorithm that’s just that much better than the other guy’s

Now if you’re not competitive you can still enjoy programing for a lot of other reasons, and just because you don’t have the fastest most elegant solution for something does not mean you won’t be a successful programmer (not at all!), but for myself, I can get competitive sometimes . Especially when it comes to challenging projects or assignments. I’m not proud of this one but I know I’m not the only one who enjoys this. When the guys are talking about their solutions for an assignment like “Oh yeah I used a priority queue, and my algorithm does this. Runs faster than most of the other programs apparently. What’d you use?” I love when I can respond with something like. “Oh yeah that’s cool. I used one too but my recursive function cuts off early and uses a shortcut if the player isn’t being blocked, to score faster, which happens most of the time if it’s running against random players, so it ended up working in like half the time after I did that ” If you’re a good sport a little friendly competition can be fun I don’t want to make programing look harder than it is right now though, so for anyone reading this who isn’t sure if they’d be good at programing just try it and if you don’t like a language try another one. Some of the terminology used to describe it can make it look difficult but, it’s way easier than it seems, and not everyone who is good at programing likes the more challenging problems, but they’re still every bit as good of a programmer, and they end up being every bit as successful. So many opportunities are there for you if you have this special skill so I want to encourage everyone to try it. Especially more GIRLS! Still, if you’re bright and enjoy a challenge there are career paths you can take and courses you can take that can give you a lot of that Feeling kick-ass for solving a difficult problem is just a job perk worth mentioning. If you enjoy solving puzzle games and things like that, or you enjoy math or physics, you might want to check out programing, you’ll probably fall in love with it.


Computer science students, make on average anywhere from 16 to 18 bucks an hour for their first summer jobs during school, and then it can get up to 23 an hour by the time you graduate. Now this varies greatly depending on a lot of things and these are only my estimates based on what I’ve gathered from friends and acquaintances, so if you’re a student reading this, and it’s not your story, don’t worry! Even if you graduate with no work experience you still have a very marketable skill, and probably a great career ahead of you. I just had my first computer science job at the start of this school year (4th year) and now continuing into the summer my salary has gone up. I started late, I never really went after an IT job until last summer when I was coming out of third year, and I started late for the summer so I ended up giving up and waitressing, but I’m making more now than I was waitressing, I have a steady job 5 days a week, and I pinch myself because although I did enjoy my service job, getting paid more than I was hustling tables to do what I love already in my first job is a dream come true. If you give up on finding a summer job, just don’t give up on the career. It can feel daunting if people around you have jobs in the field and you’re late for the party(how I felt with my guy friends who almost all had IT jobs since 1st or 2nd year), but even working for free for a startup can be one of the most enriching experiences, and can be worth much more to you in the end than getting paid anything if you want to even try that. It’s not all about the money, but the money is there to be made. Again LADIES! There need to more ladies in my field getting in on this!

Being an expert/ respect

I have limited experience in the field, but from what I can tell there is a lot of respect in the work force amongst developers for each-other, especially if they all bring something different to the table, it’s all “Oh well you’re the expert on the databases”, or “Well I don’t know as much about that area of the product but this is what I think, what do you think?” and “Let me know how you feel about my ideas! ” or “Let me know if you have suggestions for how else we can go about this! ” Everyone values each-others input and there’s a real feeling of comradeship, teamwork, and respect. It’s great to feel like you really have something to contribute if you have special knowledge, and it’s great to be respected for what you can bring to a project at work, or for an expertise, which you’ll almost certainly end up developing over time in development, especially if there’s a certain language or type of project that really gets you passionate at the start.

Can always grow/ go new places/ go anywhere

There are so many options in a developer’s career. As an indecisive person it can make my head spin sometimes when I try to think exactly what direction I want my career to take, but as someone with a lot of interests it also makes me glad to know I can always explore new dimensions of the industry. From government jobs, to startups, to contract work, to open source, to future managerial possibilities, to starting your own business, or going to grad school. There are just a whole world of possibilities for career options in computer science/ computer engineering, and you can always learn more if you’re ever bored with where you are. There’s always more to learn and new exciting technology to explore

Entrepreneurial spirit of the industry

Since my second year at Carleton when I was exposed to a few startup companies in Ottawa I’ve thought that starting my own company was something I wanted to do eventually. I’ve seen other Carleton graduates succeed at it and after working on a 48 hour coding competition to make a game for Windows phone 7 (the Great Canadian Appathon), I know that when I’m working with friends on something we designed and came together to create, I can work tirelessly for days and it doesn’t ever feel like work. I know I’m not alone in catching the startup bug either. It’s something that comes from being a part of an industry where the product is completely digital (so no building materials or shipping or packaging costs to worry about), the industry can change so quickly that being a small and agile company has major advantages, you can be personally involved in all aspects of the creation of your product from start to finish (entrepreneurs like to have control), and the impact your service could have on society seems only limited by your imagination. I say seems because a lot of developers feel like once they build an amazing product people will just come use it, and aren’t used to the marketing/customer service side of the industry. As someone who has always been fascinated with human behavior and motivation, with a minor in psychology, who’s a big people person, I’m also passionate about how people are going to use and react to software so I love all sides of the process of getting an idea from someone’s head, on to people’s computers, and into their lives.

Things I Love About/ Advantages of Being A Woman in The Industry

You are well liked because you bring an energy that’s missing

Before I came to University to study computer science in a program with a girl guy ratio of 1 to 9 (not even: women make up 7% of my program a percentage that’s gone down since the 80′s when the percentage was closer to around 45%) I was in an arts HS with a girl guy ratio of 7 to 1, and I notice now that the guys in our school were very well liked, whereas in computer science the girls are more well liked, and I’m not just talking about crushes here, there’s just an energy that’s missing when a population is heavily dominated by one sex, the dynamic is out of balance, and people are drawn to the energy that’s missing. In HS I couldn’t wait to get to university because I wanted to have tons of guy friends, I wanted buddies to joke around with, I’d had enough of talking with girlfriends about feelings, of shopping and sleepovers, after a couple of years of comp sci, I got sick of having so many guy friends (not that I got sick of the friends I had ) and started trying to make more girlfriends outside my program to balance my life. That’s just how it is. Whether by nature or nurture, male and female friendships have a different quality to them and we need both in our life. I’m very grateful for all the wonderful friendships I’ve made in my program and in my industry

Men compete more agressively with other men they work with

If you’re a woman this means less butting heads or trying to show each-other up on teams who’s members should be co-operating, and smooth sailing in general. Generally once people get older I think they’re more mature and secure so everyone is more supportive and less competitive with each-other in general, but they’ll still compete more with each-other which makes co-operation easier for women in the field. This isn’t because they don’t think you can hold your own. They’re not going easy on you. It’s evolutionary for men and women to compete more with members of the same sex.

I love that I have an unexpected occupation

I get some surprised looks when I tell people I’m a software developer and I know what you’re saying, “Lana maybe they’d be surprised if you were a guy too!”, and yes maybe they would have, it doesn’t always have to do with gender, but it may have something to do with it considering the very low number of women in the industry. When someone says “Wow!…wow good for you!” I’d never be upset by it. They didn’t expect me to be a programmer because people use mental heuristics to try and guess my profession, mental shortcuts, which usually work well. I’m a woman and so chances are you’d be better off not guessing that I’m a programmer if you want to have the best chances of winning the guessing game, but to see someone ask me if I work at the mall, while I put my makeup on on the buss and then get to see their face as they question their assumption, is just a lot of fun for me, especially as a feminist. Never make assumptions about people Not even yourself

Compliments/ not hard to find a date

A guy friend of mine, in computer science, gave me this one: “Computer Science: the odds are good but the goods are odd” While this is pretty funny, to be blunt, you’d find just as odd goods in any of the other more gender balanced sciences, like chemistry or bio, but in comp sci you don’t have other women to compete with. Seriously though the guys in my program are some of my favorite people in the world, there are a lot more cool down to earth computer nerds out there than you’d think, and if you’re intimidated by the gender ratio, just remember, a lot of them are more afraid of you than you are of them, so extend an olive branch to one or two and you’ll have at worst a guy who stalks you but also makes you feel good about that freshman 15 you put on, or a douche who you quickly get over because all the guys around you are asking you why you’re dating his douche ass, or at best a lifelong friend, or a lifelong partner, maybe even a business partner if you’ve caught the startup bug. Either way most of the guys in my program are wonderful intelligent fun and creative people, so this is just a bonus worth mentioning.

Being able to act like a total dork and get praised for it

I’ve always been nerd at heart. You wouldn’t know it if you passed me on the street or saw me out with my girls but if you could see how I am on the inside I’d probably look like a skinny teenage boy with braces and really thick glasses, and it shows when I’m with my guy friends in computer science. I’m a music nerd, I’m a comic book nerd, I’m a psychology nerd, I’m a Youtube nerd, I’m a video-game nerd, I’m a book nerd, and a very proud computer science nerd, and I let out quite a snort sometimes when I laugh, and I snort a lot around the guys in my program. I feel like we’re all one big nerdy family. I love it! I've never laughed harder or spoke more freely, candidly, or passionately with any other group of people. These guys are my soul-mates :P Why is this under the advantages of being a woman in computer science? Why not stick it with things I love in general? Because I think it’s really good for me, as a woman, to be around guys who couldn't care less if I was wearing any makeup, around guys who wouldn't notice the difference if you died your hair red, blonde, lost 20 pounds, or gained 20, guys who don’t care about social graces or which other crowd you’re friends with, around guys who make you feel like you can be yourself, even if that means you feel like swearing like a sailor, not doing your hair that day, and snorting really REALLY loud when you laugh just cuz you feel like acting a little crazy, because I think us girls need to learn to love ourselves more unconditionally, and worry less about our image/appearance and more about what we can do with our lives, and what we can experience. These guys want to hear if I’m working on a software project or learning to play ukulele, because that’s cool and fun, they don’t care if I buy new clothes or get new makeup, or start wearing my hair differently, they’ll just compliment you whether you have makeup on or not. They’re chicken soup for the female soul. :)

My ambitions are not just for myself. I want to succeed for other women/girls

I think I’m naturally a very ambitious person, not in a power hungry or status hungry sort of way, just in that everything I’ve wanted to do in my life I’ve wanted to be the best at it, I’ve wanted to do something great with it, even if no one but my family is going to see it, I want it to have an impact. I want whatever I do to create something awesome that makes a difference and moves people. I also have a deeply rooted sense of fairness and justice and if I see something that runs up against that, it upsets me a great deal. I won’t ever become upset to the point where I let it invade my life in a negative way, and I’m a very balanced and grounded person, but as Martin Luther King said “True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.” I think that there are a lot of leftover outdated attitudes in our society from the women’s movement and before it, that go unnoticed and effect women and men for the worse. When men and women are offered a salary, men will reject it and ask for more 8 times more often than women. In fields like nursing that are dominated by women people are underpaid, and men avoid them, in fields like computer science and engineering we’re paid more and women avoid them, and I know that these things won’t just naturally balance out without effort, because when you act unconsciously in life as an individual, imbalances don’t just go away, they’re self perpetuating, and it’s the same thing with society as a whole.

Salary is a big deal. How much we think we can/should make is about how much we think we’re worth to the world, and it’s a sensitive topic, which is why people don’t like to talk about it, but I’m someone who craves real conversations with strangers, I want to talk about things like this because it matters so much, which is why I’m writing so much in this post .

If you’re a woman and you make a conscious effort to keep yourself aware that the guy next to you is asking for a higher salary 8 times as often, and that you’re worth just as much, and you make a conscious effort to do the same thing, which is not easy at all for most women, then the difference in money you’ll have made over your lifetime by the time you retire is in the millions, but even better than that if you can think about the difference it would make if you end up being the first woman to start a tech company that makes such a significant impact on the industry that your face is on the cover of Time and all the IT and business magazines and that gives little girls something to stick on their walls instead of the fashion models on all the covers of all the magazines they’re used to seeing women on, that’s not just an ambitious goal that’s revolutionary, that’s an Obama moment just waiting to happen that some woman is going to get to have. Don’t you want to be the woman to make that moment possible? You can be. If you pursue a career in computer science or engineering haha obvious plug right there, but that’s why I’m so passionate about my industry, all the opportunity and all the frontiers out there just waiting for whoever is brave enough to take them.

Hope that you enjoyed the reasons I love software development, and I also hope that you’re a young girl and this got you to thinking about where you want your post secondary education to take you, and maybe that you’ll pick computer science or engineering as a career :)

If I’ve left an advantage out or if you disagree with anything I’ve said let me know I always love a good discussion about these things


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

WIE at Carleton University

Check out this wonderful video about women in engineering at Carleton.  CU-WISE is mentioned a few times as well! :)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Reminder: Grace Hopper Celebration scholarship applications due May 31st

Edit: The deadline has been extended to May 31st.

Just a quick reminder: scholarship applications to attend the 2011 Grace Hopper Celebration are due May 31st, so you've got a bit less than a week to get them done!

The Celebration is being held on November 9-12, 2011 in Portland, Oregon. CUWISE has limited funds to help with travel expenses, so if you're interested in going this year please apply for a scholarship so that more CUWISE members can afford to go!

Don't forget that you'll need a letter of support from a faculty member, so make sure you go out and ask for that now so they have time to write it before the deadline! You'll also need an updated resume and a 500 word essay, so the sooner you start the better.

My friend Leslie recently gave a presentation on the scholarship application process that I'm embedding below so you know what to expect:

Good luck!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Stop Playing Homework and Do Your Video Games - A Video Game Quintet"

Welcome to summer term! I don't know if I'll be keeping up the Wednesday fun videos all summer, but here's a live performance of a great little video game quintet to ease you out of exams and into whatever you're doing next. I really love that they've got people doing stuff in the background (check out pong at 4:04) and that girl in the foreground with the cards to tell you what you're listening to for people who might not recognize all the tunes. A very fun performance!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

This one sets the bar high for geek parents

Want to be the coolest geek mom on the block? Maybe you could try building this neat marble run around your kid's room:

How's that for some Wednesday fun?

The kind soul who made this video also provided instructions on how to build the marble run. Forget kids, I kind of want to build this for myself!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Carleton Students Win a Prize For Innovative and Challenging Mobile Game

I recently competed on a team with three other students from the School of Computer Science (Jamie Madill, Andrew Erdeg, and Jacob Agar) in the Great Canadian Appathon.  It was a 48-hour mobile game development competition.  Our team didn't place in the top three, but we did get a prize for the most technically challenging game! (I will admit that wasn't thanks to me - Jamie happened to be working on fluid simulation for his thesis and implemented it for the game.)

From the Carleton newsroom article:
The goal of the single player puzzle game is to fill coloured drains with matching fluids that takes full advantage of the interfaces offered by modern mobile devices. The player can dig trenches in the sand to channel the fluid by drawing shapes on the touch screen in the same way they would trace out shapes in the sand. In order to move the fluid, the player simply tilts the phone, causing it to spill down the channels. The challenge lies in not wasting fluid by channelling it down mismatched drains.
The most unfortunate part of the competition? There were hardly any female programmers! (I guess that's why the National Post featured me in one of their articles covering the event.) This was a great experience, so why not give it a shot at your next opportunity?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Super mario bros accapella

There are a lot of covers are the mario bros theme, but this one Jimmy Wong's version is especially cute and singable because it goes beyond the source to make something really fun:

And as if the song itself weren't amazing, the artist himself is a pretty neat guy. Check out the NPR story on him: Jimmy Wong Saves The Internet:

Jimmy Wong reminded me that the tools that can be deployed by the so-called cyberbullies are also freely available to those they harass.


The lyrics are funny and good-spirited, and effectively turn the tables on the original rant. And the song itself has a catchy hook, has been viewed about 800,000 times, and is now for sale on iTunes.

When I was a kid, here's one thing I never thought of saying to a bully who was about to pummel me:

"Hey, don't mess with me. I've got a quirky sense of humor, a great singing voice, and I know how to code!"

But Jimmy Wong and many others are proving those types of creative skills could be a decent way to put up a defense.

Jimmy's Mario song is available on iTunes along with a bunch of his other music, and proceeds are currently going to the Japanese relief efforts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A terribly educational video about turtles

Since I know your brains are all filled with studying now that exams have started, I thought it best today's wednesday fun had a nice simple "educational" video that won't take up too much memory space. Enjoy!

And best of luck with your final exams!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Reminder: Google Summer of Code!

A quick reminder: Google Summer of Code applications are due tomorrow!

Summer of Code is a program where students can get paid for working on open source projects over the summer. It's a pretty neat opportunity if you're looking to try open source development, because you get matched up with a mentor who's volunteered their time to help you work on your project.

You don't need a lot of experience to contribute. We're hoping to find new contributors this way, so we're prepared to train you on how to set up your development environment and contribute to the project.

I'm going to be mentoring for GNU Mailman this year. If you're curious about our proposed projects, you can find them on our wiki. We've got a bunch of really great mentors and I'm hoping we'll have some great students to match. I've already had a chance to meet some of our applicants on our IRC channel (#mailman on

There's a whole slew of projects just waiting for great people like you. While the deadline is super close now, you've still got enough time to put together a good application if you're interested! Geek Feminism has run a few posts about preparing applications that you might find helpful: Google Summer of Code 2011: application tips from this year, and Showing your awesomeness for Google Summer of Code from last year, and many mentors are anxiously watching their email/IRC/mailing lists for last minute questions from students.

Go check out the list of mentoring organizations and put in an application now!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Back in the tech boom, I worked in a research group at a very fun company that not only had plenty of toys around, but let us play with them during meetings. Some weeks I'd grab our huge set of dominoes and set up a lengthy run. When I finished, we'd pause the meeting, knock them over, then get back to discussing the business at hand. It might sound ridiculous, but playing with stuff like that really kept us energized during the meetings, and meant we looked forwards to them even when we had heavy stuff to discuss.

And in that spirit, today's Wednesday fun video features dominoes and tic tac toe:

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Random Advice for an Undergrad

I recently wrote an email with a bunch of advice based on my own undergrad experience and thought, 'why not share!' So here it is, my random and somewhat long list of what helped me be successful in undergrad:

  • For math classes, I took notes the whole class, and I worked in the library on the practice problems.  The only way to do well in math is to do all the assigned problems.  It's so easy to let it slip but it's important.  Especially with today's distractions, going to one of those study desks in the library and putting on music on headphones will help a lot.
  • In computer science classes (which are likely similar to a lot of your technical classes), I didn't really take notes because there were always slides, but I did try to read the textbooks in many (but not all) cases.  When reading or when in class you end up getting to the point of thinking "ugh, I've seen this before."  But that's exactly where you want to get! Without ever reaching that point, you never truly know the topic.  If you read the book and go to class and don't get to that point, you can find other ways to get there.  There are TA's, profs, online resources... (Though one tip is to learn to recognize when little details are less important and when it's a core topic you really really have to know.)
  • Speaking of TA's and profs, learn how to use them to your advantage.  It's a bit intimidating at first, but seeing the profs and coming with well thought-out questions will actually impress them, and you will get a ton of help.
  • Study groups can be good, but they can also be a bit of a time suck if it doesn't stay on focus, or if you work on problems you don't need help with.  I recommend getting together with the right people to work on particularly difficult assignments.  Take notes during these sessions but don't write the whole answer.  This will force you to think about it for yourself later on.
  • Here's what I do for studying for an exam and sometimes larger tests:
    • Make a hand-written summary sheet of all the important details.  This is very time consuming so it can't be left to the last minute, but just the act of writing is the first step to remembering it.
    • Go through the sheet and try to memorize what needs to be memorized, and understand the rest.
    • Ask a friend or parent or roommate to ask you questions based on what's on the sheet.  If you wrote it right, they don't even need to be all that knowledgeable of the material.

  • I guess the last major thing will be time management.  This is always tricky, but if you are having a hard time with it, you might try the time-sheet technique - I did this in my Masters and it was useful.

Another great resource from the CU-WISE archives is the Advice for Undergraduates document.

What else do you do to study and make the grade? Share your wisdom here!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

World's greatest paper rollercoaster

Who needs expensive plastic toys when you can build marble rollercoasters out of paper? This coaster is over 12' high!

Here's a picture of a shorter one:

and the video to go with it:

For more pictures and videos of various paper coasters, check out his website, It looks like he does a lot of school visits -- maybe this would be a great outreach activity!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Celebration of Women in Science and Engineering is Just Around the Corner!

Last year's Celebration was pretty awesome, but this year is going to be something special.  You see, we've made a big effort to ensure our talks are fun and exciting no matter what your background is.

So, for example, if you're in biology, you'll understand what the computer scientists and engineers are talking about.  Even if you aren't in science or engineering at all, you will enjoy what we have to offer!

Even better, we've invited a group of high school girls to be in our audience this year.  We've already got more than 25 signed up.  We're hoping that we can ignite a love of science and engineering in these students, and show them the awesome choice that Carleton is for post-secondary education.

The full schedule with talk titles and descriptions is now posted online, so go check it out and we'll see you on April 6!

What's it All About?

The link above describes it like this:
The Carleton Celebration of Women in Science and Engineering is a showcase of graduate students, faculty, and alumni of Carleton University. The number of women who enrol in many science and engineering programs is quite low, so the amazing things they do can easily go unnoticed. This day puts them in the spotlight.

The goal of this event is two-fold. First, we aim to provide networking opportunities for all female science and engineering students. Second, we would like to see members of the greater Carleton community and the general public attend these talks and learn about some of the great things happening in science and engineering. We want the world to know that there really are successful women in these fields!

This year's Celebration will showcase research and projects done by female students and faculty from Carleton in a way that is accessible to the general public, including high school students.

Everyone is invited!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Scientific Tuesdays on Wednesday: Colourful Milk

For this week's Wednesday fun video, we've got a video from Household Hacker's Scientific Tuesday series. It's a neat trick to do with milk, food colouring, and soap:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Do video games have to be about combat?

By the time this is posted, I'll have just come back from PAX East, a huge video game convention. So here's a video game related video, but something a little more educational than the standard trailers. The question here is "Do video games have to be about combat?" Extra Credits says no, so here's their video on the subject for a bit of Wednesday meta-fun:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Disturbing stuff happening at the University of Waterloo

Normally I try to focus on the positive for this blog, but I think it's important to be aware of this story:

For just under a month, women at University of Waterloo have been terrorized by an anonymous propagandist who claims that women’s “defective moral intelligence” poses a serious risk to the planet. ... [The communications] have bit by bit advanced the thesis that women should not be educated as highly as men, and that universities should not teach gender equity, because woman’s deceptively weak exterior hides her evil interior. When women are educated and treated as equals, according to the propagandist, they pose a real danger to the planet.

While everyone hopes these are just delusional rantings and will stop at that, women at UW are understandably worried that this is a precursor to violence like the massacre at École Polytechnique in Montréal.

Having been the target of such ravings in the past, I really feel for the women at Waterloo. You try to convince yourself that it's not a threat to your safety so you can continue your life, but you really can't be sure. They've had to shut down the university’s volunteer-run Women’s Centre and LGBT student centre out of concern for the volunteers' safety, and that seems like the right choice to me but must be frustrating at a time when women might want more support available to them, not less.

Read more, including how poorly the administration has responded to the threats, at Hook and Eye: How we're 'celebrating' International Women's Day at the University of Waterloo

Fun uses of technology: "Just the way you are" cover video

Today's wednesday fun is a great example of creative use of technology. When Dawen decided to do an acapella cover of Bruno Mars' "Just The Way You Are," he did the video all shot in one continuous take with 4 iPads, 3 Macbooks and an 1 iTouch. How cool is that?

Found via Angry Asian Man (who made the screenshot used above).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Women's International Day

Today is a very special day, it's the 100th International Women's Day and it's up to each country to pick their theme. There are 246 events in Canada alone, with Ottawa having their own version. Companies are reaching out to women and Google created a special doodle for the occasion.

The Washington Post did a brief mention of women in tech.

"The top tech women named in the list are Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz (recognized in the "Business & Trade Unions section), founder and philanthropist Martha Lane Fox and blogger Juliana Rotich. The list also includes seven scientists and doctors: Hawa Abdi, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Athene Donald, Fabiola Gianotti, Jane Goodall, Molly Stevens and Susan Wicklund."

There is a lot of focus on some very serious issues facing women however it is very hard to find info. on women in tech. Do any women in tech come to mind? If so can you share your story about them.

Till then, Happy International Women's Day.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How CEOs' daughters are helping close the wage gap

I found this quite interesting:

Father & DaughterA new, not-yet-published study that tracked 12 years of wage data in Denmark finds that when male CEOs had daughters, their female employees' wages went up 1.3 percent while their male employees only gained .8 percent raises. So the birth of a daughter effectively shrunk the male-female wage gap by .5 percent on average.

If the daughter was a first child, the gap closed by a whopping 2.8%!

The rest of the article: After CEOs have daughters, women employees’ wages go up

Friday, March 4, 2011

Can you accomplish more with a female instructor?

I don't get what the bit about Obama and Desperate Housewives at the start of this article from Slate entitled "Pscyh-out sexism" is trying to say, but the research summarized later sounds interesting. Here's a quote about the first study:

The psychologists asked female students studying biology, chemistry, and engineering to take a very tough math test. All the students were greeted by a senior math major who wore a T-shirt displaying Einstein's E=mc2 equation. For some volunteers, the math major was male. For others, the math major was female. This tiny tweak made a difference: Women attempted more questions on the tough math test when they were greeted by a female math major rather than a male math major. On psychological tests that measured their unconscious attitudes toward math, the female students showed a stronger self-identification with math when the math major who had greeted them was female. When they were greeted by the male math major, women had significantly higher negative attitudes toward math.

In the next study, they found that university-level women asked fewer questions in class and in office hours after a term with a male prof than they did after a term with a female one. And in the final study, they found that women had more confidence with a female teacher... even if tests showed that they were outperforming their male colleagues.

The latter two studies could be for reasons other than the gender of the teacher: previous studies have shown that although fewer women reach the level of prof, those who do tend to be exceptional so it might be their innate talents and not as much their gender that allows them to reach their students better. But still, it's an interesting selection of research, and really speaks to why it's so valuable for the women of WISE to teach others!

So next time you wonder if it's worth coming out to an outreach event, remember that your smiling face may be just what another young woman needs to get her to try that little bit harder!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Great Canadian Appathon

I wrote the following on my personal blog and thought the CU-WISE community might be interested in participating, too!

Carleton's Game Development Club is one of six host schools for the upcoming Great Canadian Appathon:
The Great Canadian Appathon is a chance for post-secondary students across Canada to showcase their skills in developing great games. Students can get together in teams of up to 4 people to hack their game together for 48 hours. The event is presented by XMG Studio and the National post. The Prizes are being sponsored by TELUS and the finale event is being sponsored by KPMG.
A few friends of mine were hoping I would join their team, and yesterday I finally decided that I would.  (I was a little worried about time because there are a few projects I have to wrap up in the next couple of months, but this looks like a really fun opportunity I don't want to miss.)

This is supposed to be one of those hackathon-type events where you work for 48 hours straight to come up with a game programmed completely within the allotted time.  I've never participated in any of these before.  The closest I've come is the one all-nighter we pulled for our school's notorious software engineering class project.  (And that's the only all-nighter I've ever done in my life!)  I'm a little nervous about it because that's not really how I work usually.  My eye problems alone make it impossible to work all night.

Luckily, it sounds like the plan is to design as much of the game ahead of time as possible, and maybe even prototype it.  Then the idea is to have us work in shifts with partners, so those who like working at night can.  According to the Appathon's rules, you don't even have to be on campus - you can work online if you want.  I don't know if it's a gender thing or just because we're getting older, but I personally really appreciate this flexibility.

The competition is happening March 11-13, so I'll post about our experience after that.  In the meantime, if you happen to be a student, consider giving it a shot yourself!

Top Women in Tech Lists

There has been a sudden increase in "top women in tech" lists lately, which is pretty awesome.  Just wanted to stop by to share some of my recent favourites:
Now if only the third hit when Googling "top women tech" wasn't "Top 10 hottest women in tech:"  :(

    The Speaker Orchestra

    Here's a cool little promo video involving paint, speakers, symphonic music and a conductor to tie the whole experience together. If you've got 3d glasses, you can watch it in 3d which is probably pretty cool, but I'll just embed the regular video here for some wednesday fun:

    DTS: The Speaker Orchestra from Ross Ching on Vimeo.

    Want to know how they set that up? Ross Ching has an amazing blog post on how the production was done including lots of pictures.

    Monday, February 28, 2011

    The advantage of being me

    From The Advantage Of Dual-Identities (A Case Study of Nabokov), I bring you this quote:

    It’s also important to note that the advantage of having a “dual-identity” – being both a novelist and a scientist, for instance – isn’t limited to Nabokov. According to a study led by Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, people who describe themselves as both Asian and American, or see themselves as a female engineer (and not just an engineer), consistently display higher levels of creativity.

    So as a female, half-asian all-canadian researcher, I'm clearly better at creativity than all those boring white dude researchers?

    Angela Montenegro from Bones... I don't even know exactly where to begin on this. So I'm going talk about Bones for a minute. I've been watching it with my sister lately while we do other things (crochet, do mending, wander around looking for things in an mmo, eat dinner, etc.) and the other day she pointed out that she loves how the show deals with Angela, or really, how it doesn't. See, Angela Montenegro is the team's artist: she does sketches of the victims. But she doesn't stop there: she also coaxes data off broken camcorders and swallowed flash drives doing digital forensic work. She's an adept computer programmer who writes software that helps visualize and model what happened during a crime. What's cool about Bones is that it's totally taken for granted that she can be an artist and a coder. (And really, pretty much whatever else she wants to be.)

    So I guess while I fundamentally agree that having multiple "identities" is a huge asset to my work and creative abilities, I sort of feel like... why are they making such a big deal about this, as if it's some hugely abnormal thing. Why can't they just accept that Angela can draw and code? Why do people insist on compartmentalizing people into single skill sets? I can drive a car and code and no one thinks that's weird, but plenty of people have commented with surprise that I can edit a magazine (yes, I used to do this) and write code. Hello, world?

    The article just makes me a little uncomfortable. This worst part is the paragraph about how the US will be overrun by mixed-race folk like me with superior creative skills -- awkward racial superiority with a different spin -- but even the study methodology doesn't quite sit right with me at a first reading. But maybe the article is simply a journalistic reflection of research into of a real logical fallacy that people often employ: the assumption that one must specialize in only one skill to be the best person one can be. That's one of those things that might be true for programs, but I really haven't seen much evidence of it being true for people.

    Despite my issues with the article, I think it's got a nice take-away message: it's a-ok, normal, and maybe even superior to have and use your multiple identities. And don't let incredulous folk tell you otherwise.

    This was originally posted on my personal blog.

    "Image Enhancing" Has Nothing to do with Photoshop

    After listening to Gail's informative presentation on 'Unlocking the Clubhouse', I began thinking about the issue of image in computer science. Many disciplines have their own Hollywood representations, glamorous (though unrealistic) portrayals of their field. Archaeology and anthropology have the Indiana Jones films. The English department has The Dead Poets Society. Even physics has a photogenic ambassador thanks to Professor Brian Cox (on whom People magazine bestowed the title of "World’s Sexiest Quantum Physicist.") In fact, the only area I can think of without such a superstar is accounting... sorry, accountants.

    But I digress. While some may find "image" to be a trivial matter, the importance of public perception shouldn't be so easily dismissed. A positive image of computer science is important for recruiting diverse talent to the field. There are many capable, intelligent people who may pass over CS as a career because of misconceptions about the job of computer scientists. Dilbert-esque scenarios of cubicle rows and "code monkey" work may spring to mind. I think that a key part of recruiting more women to CS involves breaking down stereotypes of the field. In that respect, I think the media can have a role in reshaping people's perception of computer scientists. One of my favourite recent examples is Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy, featuring the grey-hat hacker Lisbeth Salander (pictured). Another favourite of mine is the television show Numb3rs, a crime drama that follows two dramatically different groups of people - a team of FBI agents and a group of academics - who collaborate to solve crimes using the power of applied mathematics. And as tacky and cliché as the 1995 movie Hackers seems today, to my ten year-old self it was the coolest thing ever.

    Is the use of technology in such media unrealistic? For the purpose of entertainment, there's bound to be some exaggerations for dramatic effect - but that's missing the point. The point is to break down preconceptions of what "kind of person" uses computers, and what they use them for.

    (Have any favourite fictional scientists of your own (female or not)? The comments section is wide open!)

    Wednesday, February 23, 2011

    Weird Al's Patterns

    One day, several years ago, I was hanging out in the Math Society lounge when it came up that pretty much everyone used to watch the educational kids show Square One. (It turns out an inordinate number of people in that room also played trombone, but that's another story.) This show was my introduction to a lot of fun math concepts, including Fibonacci numbers, and it was also probably my introduction to Weird Al.

    I've had this song about patterns from Square One stuck in my head many a time, starting with the first time I heard it now several decades ago... and now I'm giving this earworm to all of you as today's Wednesday fun video. No no, you don't have to thank me. ;)

    Thursday, February 17, 2011

    Video Games as a Stealth Learning Tool

    My PhD research is all about using augmented reality in games designed to teach you something.  I think educational games has had a bit of a bad rap for a while, and maybe this is for good reason.  There so seem to be memories among many students of basic skill and drill activities thinly disguised as games.

    But game designers are getting better at making their players smarter.  For example, there's been a lot of cool research happening in the area, and we seem to know a lot more about how to create a compelling experience that teaches you something at the same time.  (Take a look at this article I wrote on my own blog about educational games.)

    Even better, more and more research is coming out that games is actually a really effective way to learn. There's a recent article in Psych Central News that says this:
    To kids, such games would remain a pleasant diversion. But to Mom and Dad, they would provide reassurance that their child is acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to excel in an increasingly competitive world.  “The concept is known as ‘stealth assessment,’” said Shute, a professor of instructional systems. “Essentially what we try to do is disguise educational content in such a way that kids aren’t even aware that they’re being assessed while they’re engrossed in game play.”
    I say it's never been a better time to be in this field, and if you're in computer science or anything related, then maybe it's the right time for you to join us and study educational games in graduate school. ;)

    Wednesday, February 16, 2011

    Finally, a reason to watch game shows

    Computer scientists have a reason to cheer tonight for Watson, IBM's artificial intelligence that is attempting to beat two of Jeopardy’s human champions and expand the frontiers of artificial intelligence. Last night's broadcast ended with Watson at $35,734, Brad Rutter at $10,400, and Ken Jennings at $4,800 after a fascinating game (in which Watson strangely thought Toronto was a U.S. city.)

    I've been closely following Watson's progress because of the implications "he" has for computer science. I like the idea of "grand challenges," as IBM calls their ambitious projects - not only for the innovation they produce, but also because of their power to engage the public and promote interest in computer science. For those interested in learning more, has many interesting videos on the project. The videos cover the actual tech behind the system (dubbed "DeepQA" by IBM), and its implications for data management and analytics in various industries. The human element is given special attention, too - my favourite segments are the ones profiling the various teams of IBM researchers from different disciplines, and showing how each of them contributed to this ambitious project.

    The videos are entertaining, fascinating - sometimes even amusing. In one of the video commentaries, one of the developers said his favorite misparse of a question was when the clue was:

    "Category: Bottoms Up!:
    It's made with equal amounts of champagne and orange juice."
    and Watson said "What is breakfast?"

    Ottawa IBM employees and Carleton students (including yours truly) will celebrate tonight with a party and screening of the final game at Oliver’s Pub. For A.I. enthusiasts, it's perhaps a more exciting broadcast than the Superbowl!

    Math song for extra credit

    I just love the description of this math song video:

    During my Freshman year, my Algebra 3-4 teacher, Mr. Krenz, gave me extra credit if I wrote him a Math Song. So I did!

    Here's the chorus, in case you need to sing along. ;)

    math is my happiness
    and life is a total mess without you
    one plus one equals two
    if you be my one, i'll be yours dude
    cuz love is about adding stuff together
    its math and me forever

    Hm, I wonder why so many of the math/science/engineering songs I find seem to be about love?

    Wednesday, February 9, 2011

    Coldplay's "The Scientist" -- Cover by Jennifer Chung

    You know, I'd heard this song a lot of times, but never really listened to the lyrics until I happened across this cover version. Given the name, I figured it'd make a different sort of Wednesday fun video.

    Ever found science or mathematics in a song where you didn't expect it?

    I was just guessin' at numbers and figures,
    Pulling the puzzles apart.
    Questions of science, science and progress
    Do not speak as loud as my heart.

    Wednesday, February 2, 2011

    Chemistry Professor Maria DeRosa Honoured for Research

    From the Carleton University newsroom:
    For the millions of people worldwide who suffer from psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia, Carleton Professor Maria DeRosa’s next research initiative provides hope for a new treatment. DeRosa is one of 10 Carleton professors who will be honoured with a Research Achievement Award from the university for her innovative research that helps find solutions to real-world problems. The other winners will be announced throughout Carleton’s Research Days celebration that runs until Feb. 11.
    Read the rest here and join us in celebrating the amazing accomplishments of all Carleton women in science and engineering!

    Fashion show with Google

    Via the design blog Today and tomorrow, this wednesday fun video show a neat way to use Google search to put on a fashion show. Just get a projector and take advantage of those image search functions!

    Fashion Show with Google from Robbin Waldemar on Vimeo.

    The video is 30 second TV commercial made by Robbin Ingvarsson & Waldemar Wegelin for the campaign ‘more with Google’ in Japan.

    Monday, January 31, 2011

    WISE Steps to Success a Big Success

    This post originally appeared on my personal blog, The Female Perspective of Computer Science.

    Last Wednesday CU-WISE held a professional development event called WISE Steps to Success for a second year.  It's one of our flagship events, and was designed to give women in science and engineering the networking, negotiation, and confidence skills we aren't taught in class.

    From the event description:
    There's more to success than just passing your courses. There are a lot of skills to be learned outside of the classroom that greatly contribute to your future. And the earlier you start learning them, the earlier you can reach your goals.

    Carleton's WISE, IEEE WIE, and Career Services have joined forces to give you the career building essentials and help you stand out. Whether you are actively looking for a job or not, this is an event you don't want to miss. This year we have also teamed up with local organization Dress for Success.

    The event is free for Carleton's women in sciences and engineering, and will include a light dinner and dessert. You will hear from experts on networking, the importance of making a great first impression, dressing for success, confidence building, and negotiation skills. You will also have the opportunity to speak to mentors from academia and industry, to meet other students in your field, and to practice your skills.
    This event was a huge success.  We had great attendance by both Carleton students and industry and academic mentors.  We saw a lot of networking happening during the breaks between talks, and the three speakers were amazing.

    WISE Steps to Success 16

    Best of all, I didn't even have to organize the event - four amazing Executives and Officers did it all! I got to play event photographer instead. ;)  You can see more photos from the event on Flickr.

    The Speakers

    Moyra McDill, a professor in engineering at Carleton, spoke about her experiences being the first woman to graduate with a degree from Mechanical Engineering at Carleton.  She told us about the "life rocks" philosophy.  She started with an empty measuring cup and added large rocks representing the most important things in her life, like family.  She then added smaller rocks into the spaces, sand in the remaining spaces, and water after all of that.  The point was that it's amazing how much you can fit into your life; just start with the big rocks, because you can't put those in after the sand/water/small stuff is already in there.

    WISE Steps to Success 10 WISE Steps to Success 11 WISE Steps to Success 12

    Next up was Andrew Moizer with an enthusiastic message about self-confidence and some tips on negotiation.  He encouraged everyone to step out of their comfort zone often.  I personally enjoyed his story very much, as he went from a big-wig in high tech to an entrepreneur with his own cattle farm. Talk about outside the comfort zone! What's really cool is his farm and cafe are in a small town my family and I visit frequently (it's on the other side of us from Ottawa).  I'm looking forward to visiting his and his wife's cafe soon.

    WISE Steps to Success 18 WISE Steps to Success 19 WISE Steps to Success 20

    Finally, by chance, a friend of mine was our last speaker.  Louise Grace came on behalf of Dress for Success Ottawa, whose mission is "to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life."  She told us about what Dress for Success does and then gave us tips on making the best first impression possible.  Her fashion advice was practical and reasonable, which I always appreciate, being someone who isn't all that into clothes.  I will always remember to check my shoes for salt stains before an important meeting or interview now thanks to Louise. ;)

    WISE Steps to Success 22 WISE Steps to Success 23 WISE Steps to Success 24

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011

    Fun classroom trick

    I'm not sure I believe the title which claims this video to be the Best Math Prank Ever, but it is definitely a memorable lecture! You may not know it, but some of our profs here also pull some neat stunts. I fondly remember a magic show put on by a professor of... I think it was economics? If only I could remember who it was and convince him to put videos online too!

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    Canada + boiling water = instant fog

    Now that we're getting down to -20C in Ottawa, it's time for a Wednesday fun science experiment! It had never occurred to me to try throwing boiling water outside in the middle of winter, but darned if it isn't a neat effect.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    Math class doodles: binary trees

    Despite the fact that I grew up to earn a degree in mathematics, I remember math classes in my elementary school as pretty much the dullest subject on earth. Which is probably one of the reasons I love Vi's doodles so much. Experiencing mathematics through doodling while bored seems way more fun than paying attention did. Here's a video of binary tree and fractal doodles to spice up your beginning of term review boredom:

    Still bored? Check out the other neat stuff at

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    They Might be Giants: Science is Real

    Today's Wednesday fun video is the cute music video for They Might Be Giants' song "Science is Real". Enjoy!

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011

    New Brunswick girl youngest to discover a supernova

    Having been part of a field naturalist club when I was in public school, I really love stories of amateur scientists with big impacts:

    Ten-year-old Kathryn Gray had lots of fun over the winter holidays. She especially liked going to Nova Scotia to visit with family.

    Then, after returning home to New Brunswick, she discovered a supernova about 240 million light years away.

    You can read more about her discovery in the Globe and Mail.

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    I'm doing science (and I'm still alive): Games and the scientific method

    Cross-posted from my personal blog

    It's the time of year where people evaluate their lives and look back over the previous year, and with that in mind, I'm going to bring you a not-about-new-years post about gaming and science to mess up your reflective blog feeds. If it helps, it's a reflective post about gaming and science.

    But they were pretty good at figuring out how to defeat the bosses. One day she found out why. A group of them were building Excel spreadsheets into which they'd dump all the information they'd gathered about how each boss behaved: What potions affected it, what attacks it would use, with what damage, and when. Then they'd develop a mathematical model to explain how the boss worked -- and to predict how to beat it.

    Often, the first model wouldn't work very well, so the group would argue about how to strengthen it. Some would offer up new data they'd collected, and suggest tweaks to the model. "They'd be sitting around arguing about what model was the best, which was most predictive," Steinkuehler recalls.

    That's when it hit her: The kids were practicing science.

    You can read the rest here: "How Videogames Blind Us With Science"

    My gut reaction to this article (which is actually several years old, but new to me) is "well, duh." When we neighbourhood kids got interested in a new game, we might have skipped the spreadsheets, but we definitely would resort to exploring in a structured manner if we got stuck. We'd compare notes, share ways to beat challenges, and sometimes try to improve upon the techniques (only sometimes because many games weren't really flexible enough to have multiple solutions).

    I guess I'm missing some of that collaborative effort nowadays in that I can always just look up game faqs if I got stuck... but because I like people and because my brother and I grew up with a community of friends to ask for help rather than a community of internet FAQs and wikis, sometimes I ask people instead of the internet because it's more fun. And goodness knows, my sister and I have been comparing Super Scribblenauts solutions all week. ("You solved that with a mosquito? Why didn't I think of that? I made an undead blood-sucking harpy!")

    I grew up in a household with two scientist parents, so not only was experimentation a daily fact of life, but the word "hypothesis" came into our lexicons fairly early on. I've grown up looking through life through a very scientific lens as a result (also a very biology-oriented filter, which accounts for my very ecologically-oriented view of computer security, but that's another story). My parents were constantly frustrated with my early science education, and I'll bet they'll find this next paragraph pretty familiar:

    One of the reasons kids get bored by science is that too many teachers present it as a fusty collection of facts for memorization. This is precisely wrong. Science isn't about facts. It's about the quest for facts -- the scientific method, the process by which we hash through confusing thickets of ignorance. It's dynamic, argumentative, collaborative, competitive, filled with flashes of crazy excitement and hours of drudgework, and driven by ego: Our desire to be the one who figures it out, at least for now. It's dramatic and nutty and fun.

    I actually didn't go into proper experimental science because I'm terrible at drudgework... easily bored, and not very good at the rigour required, and used to be prone to spending more time avoiding a boring task than doing it (at least until I learned perl and other automation tools). (My sister became the scientist, since as she likes to put it "I excel at boring tasks" -- but it's really that she's organized, precise, and takes a lot of joy in implementing a consistent system. I went into security because I like breaking things; she does regulatory work because she likes making things consistent. Sometimes, we have noticeable overlap in our skills and jobs, other times not so much.) I went into non-experimental computer science, though, because I love the collaboration and the competition and the ideas and the learning. But I hadn't really thought about my unsuitability for experimental science as being related to the reason I don't go into massively multiplayer online games hoping to be the first on the server to down some big raid boss.

    But I do science with every new game I play, as do my friends. When we picked up Dominion (a card game which includes a variety of types of cards, and you chose some subset of them to use for any given ame), we'd play a few rounds and argue strategies and then try to implement them in different ways to see how they played against each other, or changed the groupings of cards to see how it changed the strategy. I guess maybe some people play these things closer to their chests and won't share with their friends, but we toss in a few new cards and suggest to play off each other because that's part of what makes it fun for us.

    So now I'm thinking... what to games do to make sure they stay in that fun exploratory part of science and avoid the drudgework? And the answer of course is that they don't really avoid the drudgework. Earlier games had you wandering around "grinding" to get your character high enough level to take on the big boss... Let me tell you, playing final fantasy III on my DS was at times significantly less fun than "grinding" courses for my PhD has been. But they've done a lot to provide fun while you do that. One relatively modern invention has been letting players level their guild (I first saw this in Dungeons and Dragons online, but I expect the idea's been around longer... it's only recently gone into World of Warcraft) and we were shocked to discover that doing the same darned quest for the 4th time wasn't nearly as bad when there was a chance that we'd get to guild level 2 that night. Achievements, leaderboards, crafting, even ridiculous pets... there's a lot of stuff tangential to the end game that makes getting there more fun.

    How do we put that joy back into science education? I'm not talking about gamification in the modern sense; I'm talking about those great teachers we managed to get. My chemistry teacher (and many others) did it through fun demo science: he'd do experiments we weren't ready to do on our own and had us all on the edge of our seats waiting for the final explosion... or sometimes the final terrible pun. Even his "you have to be careful in the science lab" talk at the beginning of the year included opening a book that promptly burst into flame. Each lecture was filled with discovery, even when it was tangential to the point. (The lecture on molar concentrations involved terrible puns involving moles and mole-asses.) And of course there's actually *doing* the hands-on experiments ourselves, which can be incredibly fun when they're well-chosen and interesting.

    I guess in hindsight, we put the joy into science by enhancing the opportunities to learn and discover and accomplish... very similarly to the way we put the joy back into gaming.

    Perhaps it's not really that surprising that there are a large number of scientist-types who also enjoy gaming, and that gamers will employ some science to tackle the challenges within a game.

    And finally, I'll leave you with the last lines of the article, which made me smile:

    At one point, Steinkuehler met up with one of the kids who'd built the Excel model to crack the boss. "Do you realize that what you're doing is the essence of science?" she asked.

    He smiled at her. "Dude, I'm not doing science," he replied. "I'm just cheating the game!"