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Ada Lovelace Day 2010

Elizabeth on MacBook

It's difficult for me to pick a woman to write about for Ada Lovelace Day. While, as I grow older, I continue to meet and discover women in technology who are naturally, admiringly wonderful at what they do, they were so lacking in my immediate environment when my impressions were being formed that no particular one stands out as someone who impressed upon me such a thing was possible. No one heroine, no one woman to thank.

However, there is one individual I think about a lot when I think about cultural expectations, pressures and possibilities for women in STEM fields. She's not a woman, not quite yet. But she will be. And considering what her life and opportunities will be when this is the case is why the inspiration I have to offer for Ada Lovelace Day is my four-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.

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Ada Lovelace Day

I’ve mainly stayed away from the discussion of gender issues in technology. I didn’t think that I had any real expertise to share. But over the last six months, after many conversations, it has become clear that many of my female friends in tech really do feel disempowered. They feel invisible, lacking in confidence, and unsure how to compete for attention with the men around them.

- Suw Charman-Anderson

Blogger Suw Charman-Anderson has just begun a tradition: Ada Lovelace Day, a day - March 24 - where bloggers write about an inspirational woman in technology. She hoped to get 600 people to pledge to participate, but after the story hit BoingBoing yesterday, 600 was achieved pretty quickly and now the goal is 1000.

Sign my pledge at PledgeBank

I was going to donate one of my Ada t-shirts to certain pledge numbers, but since it looks like the pledge doesn't really need the incentive anymore, I'm going to offer it to my readers instead. Pledge to participate in Ada Lovelace Day and let me know about it by leaving a comment on this post, pinging me on Twitter or sending me an email. I'll randomly pick one from the responses and send her or him a free Ada Lovelace t-shirt.

Bettie Mae Page

Bettie Page

With the recent passing of Bettie Page, the kitschy 1950's-era pinup model, a lot of folks have felt compelled to explain the exact nature of her appeal. I'm no exception. While I recognize the fact that what appeals to one does not necessarily appeal to another, and that there are plenty who never saw Bettie's appeal at all, I think her importance goes beyond the issue of simple appeal.

It's a definite overstatement to assign her any sort of feminist ground-laying, even accidentally so - I think she would have been rather appalled by the thought, frankly. But, to me, the thing that makes her photographs so, well, appealing is the obvious fresh, unstudied joy in being who she was, naked and unashamed, as well as the innocent devilishness of playing with taboo sexual mores. She didn't appear to have an agenda, and when the men and women photographing her did, she seemed to be able to twist that agenda into something harmlessly fun by the sheer force of her ebullient personality. I think that it's overreaching to claim her as the foundation for the sixties' sexual revolution, especially since her work was largely underground until the 80's, and I can't imagine she had any thought at all about inspiring a generation of third-wave feminists who would attempt to embrace sexual archetypes on their own terms. But it's undeniable that she became a lovely icon for these movements, and, retroactively, the perfect representation of the sincerity and love of freedom they were trying to popularize.

Throughout the latter years of her life, through mental disorders, divorces, and born-again religion, she refused to be photographed, insisting that she remain in her fans' minds as she was then - proof that she understood the power in her images, and the power in people's identification and attraction to her images. With this she also insured that, come seclusion or death, she would never really go away. For which many of us are endlessly grateful.

Smart Girls at the Party

Meet my new favorite person, Ruby:

Another person I've liked more and more lately, Amy Poehler, is heading up this new online show, Smart Girls at the Party, celebrating young girls doing some cool things. Pass it on if you know one in your own life.

But, of course, I have to say: sponsored by Barbie? Really? Sigh.

The 'Joke' Class: Rowling's Harvard Speech

What's with the hating on the fact J.K. Rowling gave Harvard University's commencement address?

"It's definitely the 'A' list, and I wouldn't ever associate J.K. Rowling with the people on that list," says senior Andy Vaz. "From the moment we walk through the gates of Harvard Yard, they constantly emphasize that we are the leaders of tomorrow. They should have picked a leader to speak at commencement. Not a children's writer. What does that say to the class of 2008? Are we the joke class?"

Sure, makes sense. Except for the fact that J.K. Rowling, a former single mother who didn't have the privilege of a Harvard education, used little more than her own wits to build a media empire and can now buy and sell your 22-year-old ass ten times over because she's one of the richest women in the world. Maybe you don't feel you can look to her as a leader. But surprise - the world has more types of people in it than male Harvard grads. To less-privileged women in particular, Rowling's example is a powerful one, and the fact she was invited to give Harvard's commencement speech sends a message beyond campus boundaries - it says that women like her can not only be honored, but their opinions can be listened to. Dismissing her accomplishments, and claiming that being addressed by her is beneath you, is showing a profound and embarrassing ignorance about the realities of modern life and society.

Yeah, there's a joke here. And it's not Rowling.

Kate @ 101


Today, the twelfth of May, would have been Katharine Hepburn's 101st birthday.

So, starting today, blogger Aerien will be posting an image and quote from Miss Kate until she hits 101 of them. Interesting project, and one I'll keep checking in on.

(Hat tip: The Film Experience.)

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'We're going to have an expedition of our own!'

Fifty years ago three English housewives set off on a remarkable adventure. Anne Davies, 35, Eve Sims, 25, and Antonia Deacock, 26, who had no previous experience of overland expeditions, embarked on a journey everyone said could not be done by women: a 16,000-mile drive to India and back, and a 300-mile trek on foot into Zanskar, the remote Tibetan Buddhist kingdom.

The housewife explorers who climbed the Himalayas.

Major News, You Guys ...

Bea Arthur is to be inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame!

She's become a bit of a campy icon, but, seriously, she portrayed one of the first vocal feminists on television as Maude (Dorothy Zbornak wasn't any slouch in that department, either), and deserves all the credit for that she can get.

(Hat tip: Women and Hollywood.)

"I'm a Lady."

I have occasionally shared with people my strategy of appearing nice and pliable, because it's so much easier to get away with things. If they don't see it coming, they can't stop it, you know? Apparently, Marjane Satrapi ascribes to a similar philosophy:

"It is better not to look like what you are; it is better to look like a bourgeois woman because then all the doors are open for you and then you can just go and make hell. That is much more exciting."

(Via Bookslut.)

Our New Heroine - Lynn Hershman Leeson

Wow, if there ever were a piece to be featured here on my blog, this one from io9 is it: Bio-Art Is Not a Crime, an interview with director Lynn Hershman Leeson about her new film, Strange Culture, her old films (all with heavy doses of technology and art exploration), the role of women in technological innovation, and the challenges of female filmmakers. It's all my favorite discussion topics rolled up into one.

I have yet to become familiar with much of her work: Lynn's first film, 1997's Conceiving Ada, has been on my list to see for a long time, but tracking down a copy wasn't easy (finally have it in my GreenCine queue). But it's a scientific time-travel story involving Ada Lovelace (Lord Byron's daughter, and the first computer programmer) and actress Tilda Swinton, so I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy it. Time to bump it up in the queue, I think.

Lynn's official site is at

Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins, who lived in the early part of the Twentieth century, wanted nothing more than to become a singer. No matter that her voice was, to put it mildly, weak. She used the fortune she came into halfway through her life to fund a series of concerts. The comedic value of her shows proved so great that by the time she gave her final performance, she sold out Carnegie Hall.

Moral of the story? In her own words: "They can say that I couldn’t sing, but they can never say that I didn’t sing!

The Modern Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew, Girl DetectiveThe movie re-imagining of the classic Nancy Drew was pretty lackluster here in the States, but is now seeing its release over in Britain. Diane Shipley, on the Guardian Film blog, has a few things to say about it and its cinematic themes:

So why has Hollywood stripped Miss Drew of her healthy self-esteem? I believe this points to one of Tinseltown's biggest blind spots: single women. Single women on film, especially if they are young, must always be a bit sad - unsure of their own worth and looking to a man for validation.

I haven't seen the new Nancy Drew movie, but I was unimpressed with the previews and reviews. And I'm completely disheartened to think the movie sapped the character of all the poise and confidence I loved her for in the first place.

What makes it even worse is that Shipley is absolutely correct when it comes to Hollywood trends - you don't see women like that on movie screen often. Nancy Drew would have been the perfect opportunity to put one up there. Now, it appears, we'll still have to wait.

Tina Fey, Geek

Speaking on the brighter side of women working in show business today, Tina Fey recently graced the cover of Geek Monthly magazine.

I've encountered this magazine before, but since it's very much targeted to male geeks, I'll admit it didn't really grab my interest. I like that they covered Tina Fey, though, in an apparently quite classy way.

Via GeekSugar (which is targeted to super-girly geeks - I guess a happy medium is hard to find), I also found a clip of Tina discussing the magazine and her own geekiness on Conan:

This Is What She's Invented

Science GirlsOne of the top stories on Digg the other day was Google search results: "'She invented' ... did you mean 'He invented?'" It was the result of an argument between a boyfriend and girlfriend about how women had not invented anything significant, and it would appear that Google is on the boyfriend's side. But the internet itself says otherwise. So I took the opportunity to write an article about exactly what she has invented.

  • Grace Hopper: You may refer to her as "Admiral." She developed the very first compiler for computer programming languages, and was a recognized pioneer in the computing field, with extensive military accomplishments. More here, and here.
  • Ida Henrietta Hyde: She invented the microelectrode, which "electrically (or chemically) stimulates a living cell and records the electrical activity within that cell" (source). More here.
  • Isabella Karle: She developed new methods of x-ray crystallography, using electron diffraction and then x-ray diffraction to study molecule structure. More here.
  • Stephanie Kwolek: She invented Kevlar, which has been used in a range of products from bicycles to body armor. More here.
  • Rosalyn Sussman Yalow: She was one of two scientists who created the radioimmunoassay (RIA) technique, which helps detect diseases such as diabetes. More here.
  • Mary Anderson: She invented the windshield wiper. Not as glamorous, perhaps, but I bet you'd have a hard time without it. More here.
  • Hedy Lamarr: The classic Hollywood actress who also co-created a significant method of frequency hopping, an early form of spread-spectrum technology, which is the basis for much of modern wireless communication. More here.

More links:

Hope that helps. Repost as much as necessary to teach Google the new lesson.

(Photo credit: Dan MacDonald.)