Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Google Christmas Social

Free food!
Originally uploaded by Terriko.
Back at the beginning of December, Google sponsored a Christmas social which included members of CSES (Carleton Student Engineering Society), CCSS (Carleton Computer Science Society), CU-WISE (Carleton University Women In Science and Engineering) and WIE (IEEE Women in Engineering). It was a nice excuse to get the often distinct societies together for tasty treats care of Google (and the Richmond bakery... mm!) and some social time before exams hit.

Each group took the opportunity to talk a bit about upcoming and recent events before we went back to eating cookies. The societies are all pretty active and have lots of neat events coming up, so if you're looking for things to do on campus, keep an eye on all those web sites. Gaming tournaments, lectures, renovations, socials... there's a bit of something for everyone.

I posted the photos from the Google Christmas Social a while ago, but for some reason, I didn't add a link here. So here they are!

Happy holidays to all of you! Regardless of what else you might celebrate at this time of year, we can all be happy about the end of exams and a bit of time off before the new term starts. See you in the new year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

From the WISE Guy: Why should I care?

This is another guest post written by a male who supports the cause of getting more women interested in working in science and engineering: Jeff Gordon. This time he just wants us to know that there are indeed guys out there who want to help the cause.

I am not a woman.

I suppose I could go in disguise like one of the cross dressing guys from White Chicks or Mrs. Doubtfire in...what's the name of that movie? But somehow, I feel I'm better than that. Also, I’ve been told cross dressing characters always get discovered! Not a good plan.

So I come to this WISE space as a minority (1 guy) inside a group of a large majority (women). It's not unlike women in the profession of science and engineering where men make up the majority. So one guy in a group of all women about a topic specifically for women, this sounds like an episode of a sitcom or a romantic comedy waiting to happen!

So why am I here? Well ten to fifteen years ago I was a scrawny awkward teenager with a high pitched voice and lots of zits. At this time, computers were not cool like they are today. Spewing out the technical specs of my 486 were grounds for a pounding from my peers. I learned the first rule of computer club was: Don't talk about computer club! If you wanted to be popular and accepted in the 90's, computers were taboo.

Today, computers aren't taboo. They're cool for guys. They should be cool for girls too. But the number of women in computer science today suggests we aren't quite there yet. In fact, at least 4 of the 9 men out of 10 people in computer science agree with me. You women have stepped up to the plate to take the lead on this issue, but I think some guys should step up too. It's our responsibility as a community of professionals to make sure we are attracting and encouraging the best and brightest.

I've been wondering for years where all the women are in science and engineering. It's refreshing to see a group of women tackling this issue. As a guy, I hope I can help too. Guys make up such a large part of the environment of science and engineering that I think we can help out a bit too. I care about making a difference and showing that science and engineering is cool for everyone.

Geek should be the new sheek! I don't exactly know what sheek means but it rhymed with geek.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Jean Bartik and the (Almost) Lost History of the ENIAC

This post was originally made on my personal blog, The Female Perspective of Computer Science. I hope you enjoy it. --Gail

I first heard about Jean Bartik some time ago after a few Systers were lucky enough to attend an event with her at the Computer History Museum in California. I forgot about it for a while until the official Google blog made a post about the event. From there, I was able to watch a video (embedded below) capturing the informal conversation with Jean, and I followed a link to a website devoted to the ENIAC Programmers Project. I feel so privileged to get a glimpse into the amazing history of the six young women who programmed the ENIAC, but whom history almost forgot.

Nobody really knew much about the women standing in front of the intimidating 8-foot tall black metal machine that was the ENIAC; in fact, many were told they were just "refrigerator ladies" modelling for the cameras. Luckily, Kathy Kleiman didn't buy it. When looking for role models as she herself became a programmer, she discovered the truth and sought to bring the ENIAC programmers' stories to life. With the help of an award winning producer, these women's stories were recorded and are now being transformed into an inspiring documentary.

One of the many wonderful tidbits in the video above is a story about Grace Hopper, who we all know and love as the namesake of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. As you may know, Grace developed one of the first compilers for a programming language. She was once having problems with a compiler and couldn't figure out what was going wrong. She asked Betty, Jean's pair-programming partner on the ENIAC, for some help.

Betty determined that the tape used to record data onto was the source of Grace's headaches. The tape would be used in one direction, then the direction would be reversed and data written again. The problem was that, even though the same amount of data is written in both directions, the tape didn't always end exactly where it started. Physical markers were used to indicate the beginning and had to be repositioned each time. Betty determined that Grace hadn't done this repositioning. Well, apparently when this problem was solved, Grace was ecstatic, and called Betty the best programmer she ever knew. :)

I think this video is a must see for every computer scientist out there, male or female. I know that I, for one, will be very much looking forward to the documentary when it's released.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Yoga: Sun Salutation

On November 20th, CU-WISE members gathered together for something a bit different: yoga! It was a lovely, relaxing break at the end of the fall term.

Yoga: Sun Salutation

It turns out that not only are my fellow WISE members smart, they're also athletic! Everyone seemed to flow comfortably from pose to pose. It was lovely to be part of such a talented group through motion and stillness. And it was amazingly beautiful watching everyone through my camera lens.

Yoga: Sun Salutation

If you'd like to see more of the photos I took, check out my CU-WISE yoga photo gallery. And remember, if I ever post a photo of you at a CU-WISE event that makes you uncomfortable, let me know and I'll be happy to take it down. (This time we gave a little preview to the people who had come to the event, but in the future I may just use my judgement in the interest of getting photos up faster!)

Yoga: Sun Salutation

I had a blast both doing yoga and taking pictures of everyone. I hope you're all looking forwards to the next CU-WISE event as much as I am!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

‘Twas the night before implementation

Originally seen here (but not sure if that's the original source).

T ‘was the nite before implementation and all through the house,
Not a program was working, not even a browse.

The programmers hung by their tubes in despair,
With hopes that a miracle soon would be there.

The users were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of inquiries danced in their heads.

When out in the machine room there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter.

And what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a super programmer ( with a six-pack of beer ).

Her resume glowed with experience so rare,
She turned out great code with a bit-pusher’s flair.

More rapid than eagles, her programs they came,
And she cursed and muttered and called them by name.

On Update! On Add! On Inquiry! On Delete!
On Batch Jobs! On Closings! On Functions Complete!

Her eyes were glazed over, fingers nimble and lean,
From weekends and nites in front of a screen.

A wink of her eye and a twitch of her head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

She spoke not a word, but went straight to her work,
Turning specs into code; then turned with a jerk.

And laying her finger upon the “ENTER” key,
The system came up and worked perfectly.

The updates updated; the deletes, they deleted;
The inquiries inquired, and closings completed.

She tested each whistle, and tested each bell,
With nary a bomb, and all had gone well.

The system was finished, the tests were concluded,
The users’ last changes were even included.

And the user exclaimed with a snarl and a taunt,
“It’s just what I asked for, but not what I want!”

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A sincere apology from a Carleton student

As you may have gathered from my previous post, I am not entirely satisfied with the way CUSA handled their motion regarding support of cystic fibrosis research.

Unfortunately, as I am a graduate student, there is little I can do about CUSA directly. I didn't vote for them, and thus I likely cannot help get them removed from office. I can talk about my experience at the meeting and share photos taken at the CUSA meeting. But I realised tonight that there's something even more important I can do.

I can apologize.

So as a Carleton student, as a Carleton alumnus, I would like to apologize for the inaccurate and inappropriate statements about cystic fibrosis made by the Carleton University Student Union. These remarks have hurt a lot of people, and I hope as a community we can do better in the future, though it is hard to erase the hurt that has been caused.

I hope other students and alumni will join my voice in saying we are sorry.

CUSA Meeting December 1, 2008

In the past week, the Carleton University Students Association (CUSA) has made worldwide headlines for their decision to rethink supporting a Cystic Fibrosis charity on the grounds that it affects "white people and primarily men." This statement, contained in one of the resolutions passed last Monday, is not only offensive; it is also incorrect.

I attended the emergency follow up meeting tonight to see how CUSA and the Carleton community would handle the issue. And I'm sorry to report that from where I was standing, the answer was "badly."

The room

First off, the room was not large enough to accommodate all those interested in hearing the proceedings. Many students were forced to wait outside the doors, and we were told if we made so much as a peep, they would kick us out and close the doors leaving us entirely out of the proceedings.

From the outside of the room, it was nearly impossible to hear anything, as they provided absolutely no microphones for the speakers.

Both of these things should have been thought of beforehand. The university has both larger spaces (although they might have had to wait one more day so classes were done) and adequate AV equipment, and they knew this would be a popular meeting. As it was, I think quite a number of people turned away.

It felt like the room was arranged so that many CUSA supporters were in the most visible positions. This is likely because only insiders knew the full details of when to show up and get in. (I wouldn't have even known about the details of the meeting without the helpful computer science rep.) They acted like a pep squad, including waving and other hand gestures towards the councillors, which I felt were wholly inappropriate given the circumstances, especially since those of us at the edges of the room were getting constantly told to shut up or get kicked out. The security guards were just doing their jobs at the doors, but I did feel that things were disbalanced as no one shushed the inner circle.

I felt the crowd was about as well-behaved as could have been expected, and was dismayed to find that the shushing only began in earnest when the crowd wasn't all applauding.

I was carrying my camera and was allowed to squeeze to the edge of the door, so I was able to hear some of the meeting.

The proceedings

Two people resigned. Donnie Northrup because he had to -- he'd put forward the motion, and it was clear that he was out, so... well, I want to say he did the right thing, but that smirk on his face as he left the meeting made me think that he didn't have even the slightest idea of the hurt that he has caused. He remains an embarrassment to us all.

The second I think managed to leave with some dignity.

A CUSA rep resigns with dignity
Originally uploaded by Terriko.

They passed a motion to make another one of those "doublespeak" apologies that have annoyed people worldwide, making them feel like CUSA said "we're sorry you were offended" rather than "we're sorry we screwed up."

They defeated a motion to make a stronger statement. The rough wording was that "CUSA apologizes for the racist and sexist statements that were made, as well as the misinformation relayed about CF." The ensuing debate was an embarrassment to both sides, with the against side putting up irrelevant whining arguments about how they'd all been affected by discrimination and the for side going into an diatribe about discrimination that pretty much offended everyone in the room.

Very few student attendees were given an opportunity to speak. Obviously a lot of this was due to time constraints, but I they could have easily handled more people if the person in charge had taken a better hand in the debate, cutting off rambling and irrelevant statements. There were some good arguments, especially from the crowd. These were often overshadowed by the many bad arguments, many of which centred around the basic idea of "we didn't mean to be racist and sexist, so we don't need to apologize for that." And of course there were a lot of non-arguments of the "my dad has diabetes" or "I'm offended" variety. Colour me unimpressed.

The other motion they passed was that CUSA give at least $1000 to CF research, or up to $3000 to top up the fundraising already done so that we would hit a total of $40k for the year. While I applaud this in principle, I feel that it's inappropriate to ask the students to shoulder this cost entirely, and I sincerely hope that the CUSA reps take their colleagues' suggestions to heart and donate their own personal money or own personal time to help make restitution.


Overall, I do not feel like CUSA represents me, and they embarrass the whole university with their actions and lack of actions. I am happy that I was allowed to attend the meeting, and I feel they did make some important steps in the right direction, though stopping short of the goal. During the meeting, I often felt like the whole affair was a grudging nod to democracy and the media rather than a sincere apology from people who realised that they had made a very hurtful mistake and sincerely wanted to put things right. I am ashamed to be represented by people who were unwilling to swallow their pride and make the apology that the world deserved.

Monday, December 1, 2008

NCWIE: A Delegate's Perspective

One of our very own Officers, Katherine Knewcombe, also attended NCWIE. She wrote a guest post for our blog about what she experienced there.

The thing about conferences is you never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll end up talking about. Along with Gail, Barb and a handful of other Carleton girls I was at NCWIE this past weekend. And it was a blast! Yes, we talked about low enrollment numbers and challenges WISE and similar groups face at various universities, but I also got drafted to a Panel being started by PEO, started throwing joint trip ideas around with girls from Montreal, got to hear about the first female Areo Engineer who ran Canada’s engineering department overlooking the production of the Hurricane Warplanes in WWII, and challenged an Engineers’ Union representative (who happened to work on Obama’s campaign).

I’m by no means trying to downplay the Women In Engineering (and Science) part of the conference. I ended up at Barb and Gail’s presentation and was stunned by the eagerness of WISE members from university chapters across Canada to not just grow their own school’s involvement but to work with other school groups as well. Barb and Gail managed to wake everyone up after we’d been sitting just long enough to start falling asleep and as soon as they started asking about differences between other groups and how they do things, or what events they like to run, we were off. It wasn’t a madhouse full of chaos, but people were cutting each other off in their excitement to give or ask for suggestions and advice. This resulted in everyone in our session room getting pushed when it was time for the next event. We also ended up with the WIKI found at

If any of you are looking for some reading, I strongly recommend Her Daughter: the Engineer. Well, that’s not so true. I heard Richard speak at NCWIE about Elsie MacGill and the bio he’s written about not just her engineering achievements, but also her personal challenges about being a woman in engineering just before WWII. I was thrilled. I sat there thinking ‘you’re going too fast - I want to know more!’ But I truly would have missed out if he had spent longer on the different airplane designs she came up with like I was hoping he’d do, and consequently left out what came later. Elsie designed many planes and flying inventions such as a plane for winter landing and deicing. She became the first woman to earn an Electrical Engineering degree in Canada and went on to become the first aero engineer in the world. During WWII she was in charge of the engineering department in charge of the Hurricane airplanes. This may sound like I’m giving everything away, but there is so much more and it truly is so much better tied in with the personal bits that Richard has discovered. If anyone is interested in learning more let me know, I did order his book, and it arrived this morning! But we’re also deciding if we should have Richard as a speaker focusing on Elsie’s technical achievements or struggle as a woman in a male field or maybe just an overview and let the audience decide. Enough said, keep an ear out for when he’ll be coming to Carleton!

Conferences are a lot of fun in terms of networking. You get to meet people from so many different schools and if you start going even to one conference a year you’ll start seeing people you’ve met before. I managed to get into a discussion with a woman from PEO and by the time the keynote speaker started I had been drafted to a new panel set to try and recreate PEO’s image amongst university students. Which is awesome, because I’ve heard all about PEO and I know all the benefits to being licensed as well as all the ways PEO can help students. Especially in your upper years where the engineer in training program lets you work with a mentor and determine if your co-op or summer employment experience will count towards your license. I also met a member of the Energy workers Union and after getting over the shock that the first thing out of my mouth was ‘and how much money do the top execs pocket exactly?’ had a long discussion with him about not accepting things at face value and an invitation to meet him at Congress in January.