news!

I was admitted to the University of Michigan’s School of Information! Provided I graduate, which, given the way my programming languages class is going, might be in more doubt than I’d like. But hey, they like me! I can feel good about myself.

I am really never going to have an incentive to learn time management. This was the application I procrastinated the most on, and I ended up staying up most of the night before it was due to finish it.

I’ve been asked several times whether Michigan is one of my “top choices.” I am not sure how to answer this question. Given that I applied, yes. I didn’t see any point to applying to programs I wouldn’t be pretty excited to get into, since the whole point is to learn the HCI stuff I want to do, and if I am not doing that I might as well just get some more generic programming/software engineering job. On the other hand, I know what the askers mean is “is this the one you were really hoping to get into?” Carnegie Mellon was really the only standout of the four schools I applied to, and the more I think about and look at the other programs, the more excited I get about them. I don’t know how I am going to choose.

But really, what a wonderful problem to have.

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misc thoughts

I finally found the “preview” function I have been really wishing WordPress had. Turns out it only shows up when you’ve saved a post but not published it. Since I tend to just hit publish (and check the published post for formatting and errors, irritated by the lack of a preview), that was not helping me.

-2 for usability on that one, wordpress.

I also meant to tag that last post, but I can’t decide what to tag it. I also haven’t defined any categories yet. I ought to take some time to decide what kind of organizing principle I want. If I’m going to use both tags and categories, I ought to use them for reasonably distinct purposes.

wisdom

In popular culture, people like to say “It’s just semantics!” which is a kind of put-down: it implies that their correspondent is quibbling over minor details of meaning in a jesuitical way. But communication is all about meaning: even if you and I use different words to mean the same thing, we understand one another, but if we use the same word to mean different things, great confusion results. In this study, therefore, we will wear the phrase “It’s just semantics!” as a badge of honor, because semantics leads to discourse which (we hope) leads to civilization.

Just semantics. That’s all there is.

from Programming Languages: Application and Interpretation by Shriram Krishnamurthi

directions

I keep going back and forth on how focused I want this blog to be. On the one hand, it seems like blogs people actually pay attention to stay mostly on-topic; especially when it is a not very general-interest topic like software usability. On the other hand, I was wandering through the blogotubes the other day and read some things about women in computer science, and, being a woman in computer science, this is topic of some importance to me. One of the persistent problems women in technical fields encounter is “impostor syndrome,” or feeling like they are just faking their way through a field where they don’t really belong. I definitely have personal experience with this feeling, despite the fact that all the evidence from my classes is that I am, in fact, good at programming. And yet, I was not any kind of hacker nerd in high school, I don’t write code recreationally, I’m not a gamer, and I’m not one of the ridiculous whiz kids who can design and analyze an algorithm in their head in the middle of lecture. In fact, probably my weakest point is that I really need to play around with code (or math problems) before I can really get the underlying concepts.

And yes, reading that, I completely understand that that is a ridiculous “weakness” when a significant portion of the students I’ve been a TA for don’t understand the underlying concepts after an entire semester of working with code. And as for not being a proper geek, I taught myself HTML in 8th grade, and CSS in 11th! I was always poking through menus and options and discovering functionality in programs I was using, when most users never realize there are settings they can change. The first time I ever used one of those circular mice Apple thought it would be totally slick to produce, I hated it, and I still flip out over that completely idiotic design decision. People who are not nerds do not care about that.

In other words, it’s just that from the beginning, my geekiness has been design-oriented, not “thrill of coding” oriented. And that’s fine. It’s totally legitimate. But I didn’t feel it, and I still have trouble sometimes. I didn’t participate in any summer research until 2007, I never ran a goddamn internet business in my spare time (I once read a quote from a man responsible for hiring tech people talking about how he only wanted to hire the truly passionate and driven candidates, and that was honestly one of the examples he gave of the kinds of things he wanted to see on the resume, but I can’t find it now). I read posts like this post about the “two types of programmers” and, even though the author later says that the very act of reading a blog like his means you’re in that 20%, it really made me feel like the fact that most of my leisure activities have little or nothing to do with computer science meant I was basically an apathetic mediocre programmer.

Anyway I didn’t really mean for this post to turn into a bunch of stuff about my own insecurities, especially since I’ve been a lot more confident about the whole thing in the last year or two. It helps that I am pretty passionate about HCI and basically since the first time I learned about it I have deeply felt that this is a field where I belong. The point is, though, that I can be and am a talented, qualified (for graduate study at least) programmer. Even though I spend my free time doing things like crafting and cooking and reading novels about relationships and emotions instead of shiny tech and browsing blogs full of cute animals and feminist commentary and playing spider solitaire instead of creating my own toy games*. So, for the sake of all the other women out there who feel like having a life besides tech geek things means they just aren’t good enough, I will not restrict the topics I write about. As my (wonderful, and very aware of gender issues, and the general gap between people who “get” CS and those whose brains don’t follow the patterns of thought nearly as naturally) intro prof used to say, “There’s more to life than computer science.” Even for people who make a living in it. The personal is political!

There’s also the fact that, when it comes down to it, people will pay attention to this blog because of the quality of my thoughts and writing, not because I only ever write about one kind of thing. Maybe that’s part of the trouble. Imagine leaving my success up to my own skill!

* I did create a simple text-based blackjack program in high school, and that was fun. Also I tend to feel incredibly geeky playing spider solitaire because I think about my strategy in terms of algorithms. I’ve decided it’s definitely a game that requires a dynamic programming approach, because I have tried several greedy strategies that turn out to be sub-optimal. But this may just be me justifying my liberal use of the “undo move” button. Without that, the only strategies available are greedy. God, listen to me. I don’t have geek cred?

photos!

My teacups arrived!

When I said “just ordered” in the last post, I meant a week ago. Anyway I wasn’t expecting them for another few days, but they are here, and the pattern is just as charming in person. To celebrate, I took some photos.

teacup

The green dude just behind is my buddy, the bestest little humidifier. When there’s a windchill of -20, the air in my toasty dorm room gets awfully dry, which causes me many problems. Gustav there makes it better.

And while I’m here with my camera, I might as well show off a little for my new blog. The little pile of papers you can just make out in the back is the makings of a birthday card for a friend that I can finally finish (just a week and half late!) now that I went and bought more rubber cement. Here it is, assembled but not attached:

owl card

It looks brighter in person, I don’t have very good lighting options and the flash just washes everything out at that distance.

I have a month-long winter break, and I tend to go a little stir-crazy. This time I dealt with it by making lots of things. One such thing was this little tote:

owl tote

again, not great lighting, but you get the idea. Also, the owl is the same pattern I used on the card. I started playing around with inkscape over the break, and I think it is awesome, but that is a post for another day. The relevant info here is that I drew the owl in inkscape and printed it out in various sizes as a stencil for the decoration on the tote bag, and for the card.

Finally, I have been knitting myself a cardigan since october, and over break I came this close to finishing it.

cardigan

It’s not perfect, which is more apparent when I am wearing it, but considering that it is my first knitting project that wasn’t rectangular, I am awfully proud of it. I just have a wee bit more front band to knit and then sew on, and then I’ll sew on the buttons and it will be completely finished.

some closeups of the texture:
cardigan closeup

cardigan texture

for the knitters in the audience, the whole thing is knitted with twisted stitches. I started knitting twisted by accident, purely because it had been a year and I’d forgotten the proper way, and by the time I realized why it looked funny, I’d decided I liked the effect and just kept going. I think it livens up the vast stretches of stockinette and drab color (I am considering doing a little kool-aid overdyeing). I used Patons Classic Wool yarn, and it is great stuff.

now to make tea to drink from my pretty cups!

wildebeest cash

The days when I have to deal with the Real World are fast approaching (though I do hope I’ll get into graduate school), so it seems like maybe time to start getting myself a little more together. This mostly means learning to manage my absent-mindedness so my life doesn’t dissolve into chaos. I like to remind myself that I have been taking baby steps for some time now–like discovering that I get a lot of benefit out of using a planner. So for most of college I’ve used a simple paper planner to keep track of my schedule and deadlines and such. But every so often I’ll lose my planner, and it doesn’t help me see where I’ve scheduled conflicts (an ever-present danger), so I’ve also started using google calendar too. Aside from some bugs and odd little quirks, I quite like it. Presumably those will be ironed out by the time it’s no longer beta, but then gmail is still listed as “beta” after 4 years, so maybe that will be a long time coming.

Another step towards being independent is that I’ve been making a list of things I’ll need to have to care for myself when I’m not living in a dorm, as they occur to me. Currently the list includes quality knives, a dustpan, and “cute tableware.” I’m thinking of collecting vintage pyrex and corelle in this pattern. I just ordered a set of teacups, after cracking my last mug. Probably I should also start a list of things it won’t be worth it to keep once I’m not living in a dorm, though I right now I can’t think of anything other than the little shelving unit I found on the side of the road and some cheap Wal-Mart rag rugs (what can I say? I have a glamorous lifestyle). Well, and I’m hoping this will be my last Midwest winter for a long time, so maybe I could get rid of some of these gigantic coats and sweaters. And my sheets! If there’s anything I won’t need again, it’s twin XL bedding. Hey, I’ll go add these to the list! Thanks blog!

Anyway, today I started using GnuCash. My dad recommended it to me because it uses a double entry system, where all transactions are coming from one place and going to another. I’ve been resisting setting up anything to track my finances for some time now, since I am kind of terrified of growing up. But I’ve also been wary of GnuCash because, well, accounting software + open-source Linux application kinda sounds like a usability nightmare to me. I love using ubuntu, but let’s face it, your average app is not a paragon of good interface design.

But overall, I found it simple. The hardest part was figuring out what different accounts I would need to create, and there was a “druid” (cute, linux) to get some common ones set up and then as I entered transactions I realized I wanted to track some more subcategories of things. The only real interface problem I encountered was trying to add opening balances. The druid gave me instructions, but they didn’t seem to work the first time. Hard to know if it was a design problem or an outright bug. But once I got it straightened out, entering my transactions for January went smoothly. And it’s actually sort of exciting to be able to immediately see how much money I have, and how much I’ve spent in the last month on various things. Since my tuition payment was in January, nearly all of that was “college expenses,” of course. Real world, here I come!