Girls and Science – the Hard Costs of Pushback

Recently there has been a stormy controversy about women and their abilities in math and the sciences, including astronomy and physics coming out of Harvard. Harvard’s President Summers, in an unguarded (or simply unthinking) moment, decided that the reason there are fewer women in science than men must have a “biological” component – in other words, women must be inferior to men in science. QED. Quite an intellectual tour-de-force, but since he’s a big guy I guess he could get away with it (I doubt any woman in academia could).

But a recent discussion on the astronomy lists caused me to actually put down in writing why a lot of girls abandon science and engineering – it’s simple clear nasty misogyny – that’s hatred of women, for those who don’t know. Yes, like other awful human vices like bigotry and racism and religious hatred, it cuts through all levels of society and cuts through it’s victim’s souls like a knife. But ordinarily in balanced civilized environments (that’s called “diversity”), people who try to indulge their private vices get pushback – from their coworkers, friends, and bosses – fast and hard. So going over the line has a price.

Fun Friday: Gopher Traps, Pet Rocks and Wozniak, Tsunami Science, and Women’s Video

Well, it seems fitting that we end the week, not with a bang but with the hard slam shut of a Macabee gopher trap. You heard me – gopher traps. Turns out at the Los Gatos History Museum roundtable last night we got to hear how Los Gatos was the leader in innovative gopher traps, and it’s rather humbling to learn that after one hundred years they still are selling them. This certainly contrasted with Gary Dahl’s Pet Rock (another Los Gatos invention), which didn’t last more than a year – but oh, what a year it was. I still remember all those silly rocks sold in stores and thinking how crazy adults were to buy them.

One of the more amusing moments of the roundtable occurred when the moderator carefully presented all of the other speakers, and then forgot to present their star speaker Steve Wozniak. But Steve more than made up for the lapse by talking nonstop about innovation, his time at HP, and why he loves building things. And I suppose that was the motivation for everyone sitting in that room – we all like to build things and make things better. Oh, and the free food behind the gopher trap display after the chatfest helped.

In other news, the scientific impact of the Indian Ocean tsumani is just beginning to be grasped – “NASA scientists using data from the Indonesian earthquake calculated it affected Earth’s rotation, decreased the length of day, slightly changed the planet’s shape, and shifted the North Pole by centimeters.” Simply incredible.

Finally, Internet video is finally making real inroads, especially among women. iVillage announced that it has redesigned its Web site and “visitors to the women-focused site now see video offerings on each Web page”. According to Peter Naylor, SVP Sales, “Demand is outstripping supply. I would love to get more video inventory”. Videos are preceded by a 15-second ad from the likes of Kraft, Microsoft and NBC.

Haven’t I always said “It’s the content”. And women, who are often viewed as less tech-saavy than men, seem to be leading the trend here. Not surprising – I’m a woman too. Have a great weekend.

Give Me That Old Homebrew Computer Club

Doug Millison of SiliconValleyWatcher reminisces about the HomeBrew Computer Club. Now, I wasn’t a member, but my husband William Jolitz used to show up now and then at SLAC for the meetings when he could get away from Berkeley and BSD work. So he added a little to the collective memory.

From William’s comments: “It’s great to see some of the Homebrew Computer Club Newsletters online – in fact, I’ve still got a coupon for the Byte Store that fell out of one when I was showing it to my kids. Think anyone will honor it?”

“Seriously, we’re also old DDJ (Dr. Dobbs Journal) fans – I remember the first issues of DDJ and the “running light” slogan well. That’s why a decade later had so many HCC and DDJ references, including Tiny 386BSD (see From 386BSD to OSPREY: The Evolution of an Operating System), an entire Berkeley Unix system on a single floppy that old-style Unix guys said “couldn’t be done” (just like how Tom Pittman’s Tiny BASIC from itty bitty machines tipped the old BASIC monopoly in the 1970’s).”

“The slogan Running Light with 386BSD appearing in DDJ after a 17-part series on “Porting Unix to the 386”, completing a project begun in 1989 with “386BSD: A Modest Proposal” for Berkeley and DDJ, and ending with the 386BSD 1.0 Reference CDROM from DDJ (1994-1997), along with books and videos running to this day.”

“386BSD was intentionally biased towards the DDJ hobbyist / reader – not the old-style Unix guru. We don’t regret it – we really had a blast, just like the old HCC days. William Jolitz.”

Is President Bush Good for Tech?

James Fallows of the NY Times served up a very interesting article analyzing the Bush administration’s impact on technology. I’m pleased to see someone apply a bit of intellectual rigor and careful reading of history to an article (so rare nowadays – most journalists seem to believe the Internet and press releases are accurate), and observe that technology initiatives are driven by many interests over time (industry, government, investment, military,…), and not usually a quick doc by a particular administration. It is well-worth reading.

I do believe Mr. Fallows has omitted two critical groups that have influenced inexpensive access to information more than all the others – the American taxpayer and the American free press.

Trading Places in Silicon Valley

I was feeling low on a rainy day, and then read Mike Cassidy’s story about a Santa Cruz family and their “reality” check on “trading spouses”. It really made me laugh. Check it out – it’ll chase those blues away.

Remember what the reality show biz did with the Amish last summer – “hey, let’s corrupt these Amish for a summer hit”? Well, we aren’t in Pennsylvania, so the best they could do was find a Taoist hippie bluegrass family and try to make them some kind of narrow control-freak isolated cult. But, hey, they got $50 grand, so what’s the big deal on a little video “license”, right? Ahh, the highs and lows of human nature – who could ask for anything more?

One of the reasons I developed was to allow people the ability to produce and create their own media inexpensively to frame their own images and memories, instead of relying on schlamazels with their own agenda. But I guess wave a few dollars and all good sense goes out the window. PT Barnum will always have a valued place in America.

When Marketing Fails, Technology Sails

This column is absolutely right about “clutter” on the Internet inhibiting effectiveness. And Cory Treffiletti is right in stating no one cleans up the “old methods” when introducing new ones. I suppose we all have that problem.

But when marketing fails, technology sails. The success of firefox is 1) security (e.g. block tracking), and 2) no pop ups (no ad clutter). Whenever I deal with a “creative” marketing group that thinks the world is one big contextless contentless commercial, I always see a failure in the making.

As anyone serious in this biz knows, “it’s the content, stupid”.

Bells are Ringing – Please Don’t Arrest the Bellringer

Is everyone getting tired of the “stress” excuse. You know, the “I can’t make the meeting because I’m stressed out” or “I didn’t finish the project because I’m too stressed” or “I forgot to take out the scapel after removing your appendix because of stress”… And all you’re really hearing is “I don’t want to do anything for anybody, so I’ll say I’m stressed and act pathetic and you’ll let me off the hook so I can go to Starbucks and gorge on mochas and pretend I’m working when I’m really looking at porn on the web”.

First we had during our “season of sharing” Christmas stores refusing to allow Salvation Army Bell Ringers (you know, they stand with a kettle and ring a bell for the poor) to stand on their properties because they present “too much stress” to their customers! Even the bell was too disturbing, because it rings and they hear it and look at the silent ringer and the kettle for the poor and that makes them feel bad because they don’t want to give the poor anything. And customers who are ashamed of themselves aren’t gluttonous store customers, right?

Now, doing it one better (and who wouldn’t), it’s “stomp on a Girl Scout” time, in which CW Nevius voices the complaint of the Silicon Valley upper-middle-class whiner who is standing up and refusing to talk to little girls in uniforms about whether they’d like to eat a thin mint or shortbread cookie because they are just “too stressed”. Aren’t we all just wracked with compassion for these pathetic souls?

Women are Scared of Search? Or Simply Pragmatic?

Of course, any survey analysis is as good as the people who construct it. I did quite a bit of it in my youth, and I was very good at it, so I’m very critical of sloppy work. And since most people aren’t very good at survey analysis, they certainly produce some incredible howlers – especially about women and technology.

I just finished reading a Just An Online Minute… Sponsored Results Naïveté article and I fell over laughing at the “results”. What do they conclude? Simply that women aren’t as “confident” of their search ability as men, despite being just as successful (or not) in their searches as men? And somehow this humility reflects on women badly?

Sure We’re Open Source – Not

Alas, apparently that silly press release last week has totally confused the writing fraternity into thinking the 1990’s were actually the 1980’s (see Fun Friday – Homer’s Illiad to be “Improved” for Silicon Valley). Aside from the fact that Clinton and Reagan were both absolutely adored by the American people, I don’t think the 1980’s were really enough like the 1990’s to easily confuse the two decades, do you?

In this piece in cnet, “Unix got its start at AT&T, but Sun co-founder Bill Joy was instrumental in an open-source variant developed at the University of California at Berkeley. For half the company’s history, Sun used this BSD version of Unix in a product called SunOS”. I wonder what they’ve been drinking today?

Back in the 1980’s, BSD required an AT&T source license to obtain source code – a considerable expense for a company. SunOS required an AT&T license as well. At Symmetric Computer Systems, to sell our BSD-based Symmetrix 375 computer required an AT&T license and we only used BSD – not System V! Afraid it was true for everyone. But that’s not all.