Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day: Joanna Rutkowska

(This post is for Ada Lovelace day, a new media event for raising awareness about women in technology. You can find a list of the many other posts here.)

Happy Ada Lovelace Day, everyone! Today, I'd like to talk about the woman who, more than anyone else inspired me to go into computer science, Joanna Rutkowska. Joanna Rutkowska is a computer security researcher. Simply put, she tries to find new ways to break into a computer, so that the bugs which allowed the break-in can be fixed. And she is very good at it. Her original claim to fame was the Blue Pill, a virtualization rootkit. Basically, it uses hardware present in newer processors to take over a computer. (If you want to know more, read her blog post, but be warned - it's very complicated!) The Blue Pill sparked a bit of a media frenzy - not to mention controversy (over whether is was really undetectable). Now, she is the CEO of Invisible Things Lab, a computer security research company.

At the time the blue pill was released, I was fascinated by the whole situation, and by Joanna. If you think about is, most of the really well known people in technology are teachers, especially for women. And yet, here was a woman who essentially, A: wrote some brilliant code, and B: gave a little presentation about it. And it was a big deal. More than that, and despite all the media craziness, I got the distinct impression that Joanna didn't really care about the whole circus, not really - she just wanted to hack computers!

Now, there's certainly nothing wrong with teaching - but I personally don't like it, and have no desire to teach. It felt strange to me that almost all of the women in technology I read about were teachers. And so, Joanna has become a tremendous role model for me. She's a programmer, a researcher, she's brilliant, and she's just really, really... cool! (After all, that's what technology is in the end - finding cool new things to do!)

So thank you, Joanna, and all of the other women we're honoring for Ada Lovelace Day. Thanks for being an inspiration and for simply doing what you do best!

(Crossposted at Constant Thoughts)

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Pre-Ada Day #2: Kim Polese

(This post is for Ada Lovelace day, a new media event for raising awareness about women in technology.)

If you've been anywhere near a computer in the last 10 years, you've probably heard of something called Java. It's a programming language and run-time environment, which, over the last 14 years, has gone from being non-existent to being the most popular programming language in the world. Much of Java's popularity can be attributed to a woman named Kim Polese. Often described as a 'one woman marketing team', she insisted that Sun release Java technology without charging royalties: according to this interview, she said, "...it became pretty obvious to me that's[royalties] a good way to kill a new language. People just won't pay royalties. I was very insistent about that, and also about getting the source code out there."

It's no understatement to say that releasing Java in this way has revolutionized the software industry.

If you'd like to read more about Kim Polese, some other good interviews are here, here, and here. She is currently CEO of SpikeSource, an open source software company.

(Crossposted at Constant Thoughts)

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pre-Ada Day #1: Limor Fried

(This post is for Ada Lovelace day, a new media event about raising awareness about women in technology.)

One of the hazards of being an aspiring woman in technology (and I speak from personal experience here!) is that you spend a great deal of time on related websites, forums, chat rooms, and other 'geek related' sites. And women in most of these places are non-existent. Not vastly outnumbered, not ignored, but non-existent. Try posting something, anything on, say, Slashdot with a female user name. Here are the responses you'll get (unless things have greatly changed in the last 2 years - which I doubt). If you're lucky: "OMG! A girl" or "It's the only girl on /." If unlucky? "Pix pls!" or "Wanna Cyber?".

Lovely, isn't it? You quickly learn to use a male pseudonym.

Given that a million tech-interested teenagers are spending their formative years at these sorts of places, I wouldn't be surprised if this "women don't exist on the Internet" attitude wasn't primarily responsible for the overall lack of women in technology. You see, everyone's heard of Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper, and a dozen women Google and Microsoft employees, but they're just not... cool. They don't have much geek cred., if you will.

Enter Limor Fried, geek goddess extraordinarie!

Her biography page says, "Hello, my name is Limor & I'm an engineer," She's an EE (electrical engineer), she has a masters from MIT, and she has one of the most interesting tech websites anywhere.

Her site contains an immense number of original, useful, and fascinating projects, from SIM card readers to a universal TV power button. She has a company, adafruit industries, which sells kits for electronic projects, and she operates one of the most intelligent (high SNR!) electronics forums I've ever seen. Her pages on multimeter use and PIC vs. AVR microntrollers are currently the most popular on the Internet.

Her original claim to fame was the wave bubble, a portable cell phone jammer. She wrote an amazing thesis for MIT about the jammer (she calls it 'electrical engineering art') It basically posits that technology is taking over our lives, and we need to be able to control it. Thus, the jammer (and a pair of TV darkening glasses). I highly recommend reading the thesis - it's excellent, and not boring at all.

In short, Limor Fried is one of the coolest people on the Internet. Oh - and she happens to be a woman!

(Crossposted at Constant Thoughts)

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Feminist Flashback #29

For this week's Feminist Flashback and, again, in honor of women's history month, I present two of the many poems included in Alice Duer Miller's 1915 book Are Women People?: A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times, the full text of which is available over at The Gutenberg Project. Enjoy!
Such Nonsense

"Where on earth did the idea come from that the ballot is a boon, a privilege and an honor? From men."—Mrs. Prestonia Mann Martin.

Who is it thinks the vote some use?
Man. (Man is often such a goose!)
Indeed it makes me laugh to see
How men have struggled to be free.

Poor Washington, who meant so well,
And Nathan Hale and William Tell,
Hampden and Bolivar and Pym,
And L'Ouverture—remember him?

And Garibaldi and Kossuth,
And some who threw away their youth,
All bitten by the stupid notion
That liberty was worth emotion.

They could not get it through their heads
That if they stayed tucked up in beds,
Avoiding politics and strife,
They'd lead a pleasant, peaceful life.

Let us, dear sisters, never make
Such a ridiculous mistake;
But teach our children o'er and o'er
That liberty is just a chore.

The Protected Sex

With apologies to James Whitcomb Riley.

"The result of taking second place to girls at school is that the boy feels a sense of inferiority that he is never afterward able entirely to shake off."—Editorial in London Globe against co-education

There, little girl, don't read,
You're fond of your books, I know,
But Brother might mope
If he had no hope
Of getting ahead of you.
It's dull for a boy who cannot lead.
There, little girl, don't read.

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Share your links (travel edition)

Very sorry about the lack of posting. I promise the hiatus is very, very temporary. I've been out of town all week and haven't had oodles of time; however, I will be on a train pretty much all day tomorrow, so I'll look forward to stockpiling a few posts for the next week or so.

In the meantime, what's up in your world? Share links below!

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