The Comfort of Spammers

Photo Credit: Stacie Brew

As part of our Women in Technology (WIT) group at Yahoo!, heart we invited a group of sixth graders last winter to our Burbank campus to learn about technology and the different roles that women have here.  Our goal was to expose them to technology and hope they would leave unafraid of entering a male-dominated field.

During one of the sessions, I taught the girls basic HTML, CSS, and some JavaScript. What impressed me most was their determination to understand and absorb everything. There was no, “I don’t think I can do this” and no, “I think this is hard” (even when looking at and using complex JavaScript libraries).  Instead, there was amazement of how much they could do with a few lines of text on a computer screen.  At the end of the session, a few of them started to grasp the window of possibilities and begin asking how to do more complex interactions.

These girls, most of them with very little exposure to computers in their day-to-day lives, were daring, brave, and eager to try new things. Programming did not daunt them at all. Self-doubt wasn’t an issue.

The WIT group holds leadership and career discussions among ourselves in order to provide support and networking opportunities. Self-doubt is a big theme that comes up in these discussions. I have heard so many women say, “I could never do what you do”, “I want to learn, but I am scared to try programming”.   I, too, have similar feelings when trying new things.

What causes these insecurities?  How did they come about? Are we really incapable of doing what I could teach eleven and twelve year olds to do in an hour? Is it a generational difference?  I think most of us feel men and women are equally adept at executing their tasks at work. So if these doubts are truly only in our heads, what put them there?  Passing comments by our mothers, fathers, and brothers?  The tendency for computer games to be boy focused? Is it cultural, where we were inundated with a stereotype of  what a cool girl is and not exposed to technology at an early age?

Do men have the same issues in significant numbers or are they shielded from this internal torment by social constructs?

I hope the sixth graders we taught that day remember the excitement they felt when writing a piece of code and visually seeing its effects on their browsers. I hope at least some of them decide to come into technology and that they don’t have to experience the self-doubts and fears that some of us face today.
Email, plague
blogs, herpes
social media, podcasts, print-on-demand, etc. Thanks to Internet, never have so many people been able to make their thoughts available to such a large number of listeners. But isn’t it that much painful when this potential audience of billions fails to connect with your message, leaving you feeling foolish and ignored?

Are you despairing to see your Twitter followers stuck at a ridiculously low number? Who will post a comment on your latest blog post, proving that you touched someone and brought value to the world? Who will write you an email and bring words of comfort in times of hardship?

Know my lonely friend that when all else fails, spam is always there for you. The obsession with money-making schemes of this nice-looking twitter follower with an unpronounceable name may seem suspicious, but she’s also your long-awaited 50th follower and it would be a shame to block such a sexy avatar from your list. Maybe she’ll even notice the wry comment you just posted about the Flash vs HTML5 controversy? She may even chuckle at your “bon mot” as she builds her vast pyramidal empire…

You may wonder why concerned people feel the need to send you kindly email messages about how herbal remedies can help you make your partner so much happier. Thankfully, an unexpected love letter from a lonesome Russian lady soon restores your feelings of adequacy by her earnest request for companionship. Sure, her spelling can be very approximate, but love may be just around the corner! If only you could send some money to resolve those pesky visa issues…

You may wonder why bother posting to your website, exposing the beauty and degradation of humanity in 500 words installments, when your comments section lay bare, exposing the indifference of the world for, apparently, no-one to see. Thank you, mister Chinese World of Warcraft gold farmer, for keeping my forum alive with dreams of massive virtual wealth and power, bringing with you a taste of the Orient with your exotic typography.

The futuristic vision of alienated and forlorn people being comforted by robotic custodians is now a reality. Thank you, mister spambot, for keeping me company in cyberspace with your eternal vigilance. Your bountiful email and forum messages keep letting me know that something, somewhere, knows I exist and wants to connect!

Links

I Love You.

I am a person. I am interested in technology. I have a website at http://csarven.ca/. I know the person at http://tobyinkster.co.uk/#i.

We rely on a shared agreement of the vocabulary above i.e., audiologist what it means to be a type of thing, to have an interest, a website, and knowing some other thing that’s a person. It allows us to have an absolute frame of reference to things in order to make sense of our world.

This framework is pretty close to how we explain our world to machines.

Enter Resource Description Framework (RDF).

RDF is a general-purpose language for representing information in the Web. Uniform Resource Identifier (URI)s provide a generic way to identify the things we talk about, as well as for the relationship between them, at different sources. The relationships are conveyed using precise vocabularies. We can reuse, create, or mix any vocabulary to make statements about things. The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is used as the retrieval mechanism.

For example, “the thing at this URI is a type of person” can be stated like this in RDF, using the Friend of a Friend (FOAF) vocabulary:

<div about="http://csarven.ca/#i" typeof="foaf:Person"/>

Not only does this let any entity to make a statement about something else, all sorts of data can be discovered and used in various ways. By creating structured statements about our world and linking to global data, we essentially create a scalable Web of Data.

Hence, semantically Linked Data leads the Web to its full potential.

Photo Credit: Zhao !

In matters of technology, medical
I’m pragmatic. I’m not about to jump on bandwagons. I’m not a fanboy. Yet, walk through my home and you’d think that I’d given my first born for the latest fix from a particular company: Apple.

It all started with the iPhone. I didn’t rush out for the original. I was patient. I waited. Then came the MacBook Pro. Then the Time Capsule. Oh, and let’s not forget the Apple keyboard and Mighty Mouse (later replaced with the Magic Mouse).

Nothing too crazy. Yet. Then came the Apple display and the AppleTV, the iPod Touch, and most recently, the iPad.

Suddenly, I’m immersed in Apple. I now listen to keynotes and drool over the latest hardware. I look forward to getting my hands on that beautiful, delicious iPhone 4. Rumours of a new AppleTV have me excited.

How did this happen?

I’m not sure I can sum it up in a single word. Easy. Seamless. Integration. Design. They all come to mind. Everything works well together. It works well because Apple owns the experience from software to hardware and across product lines. It shows.

I love you, Apple. Here is my first born.