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Kimberly Blessing

2015 Year in Review

5 min read

TL;DR: I turned 40 but felt like I was 16.

This is my first post on my new Known-driven site. I'll be aggregating all of my various web content here going forward. I've posted a few year-in-review type things on Facebook in the past, but I can't find them to figure out what format I used,.. and honestly, that platform is crap. Anything where you're not in control of your data is crap. Self-publishing is where it's at. Still. Let's get back to it.

Anyway... this was a year of ups and downs, as I expected. Turning 40 wasn't that big a deal, although it's fun to toss around that number and get wide-eyed looks from people. ("You can't be 40!" was the typical response.) Learning to be single again... ugh. Nursing a broken heart was painful, remembering how much I hate to cook caused me to eat out far too often, and dating introduced me to all sorts of interesting characters. Music, books, Crossfit, and good friends made all of it better, though.

At the start of 2015, I knew that I'd be seeing Ride seven times this year... but their comeback was so massive -- they were better than ever! -- that they kept on adding tour dates and I kept on buying tickets. In the end, I went to 17 Ride shows, thus making up for a good bit of lost time. I'm surprised my ears aren't still ringing after: Swervedriver, Ride (their warm-up show, in their hometown of Oxford!), They Might Be Giants, Ride (Atlanta), Primal Screen, Ride (Glasgow), Ride (London), Ride (Amsterdam), Ride (Paris), Ride (Brooklyn), Ride (Toronto), Ride (Terminal 5 NYC), Morrissey, Paul McCartney, The Dead Milkmen, The Containment Unit (Stratford ON), Elle King (NYC), Dick Dale, Popup Opera performing L'Italiana in Algeri (London), Ride (at home in Philadelphia!), Ride (Irving Plaza NYC), The Jesus and Mary Chain, Ride (Asbury Park), Ride (Chicago), Severed Heads and Cocksure (Cold Waves IV in Chicago), Kraftwerk, Ride (Boston), Ride (Bristol UK), Blur (MSG NYC), The Dead Milkmen, Ride (Portland), Ride (Seattle - my last show of the tour!), and The Ocean Blue. (And probably one tonight!)

With all of those shows, it might seem like there wasn't much time for new music, but oh, there was. I'm obsessed with TVAM's Porsche Majeure, Besnard Lakes (who opened for Ride), Cocksure's sophomore release "Corporate Sting" as well as Chris Connelly's twelfth solo release "Decibels from Heart", Ruby's "Waiting for Light", Most Non-Heinous, Boxed In, Rodriguez... and I'm sure I'm forgetting many other tracks and albums. (And Rdio, I will miss you.)

More importantly, I made my own new music this year -- for the first time since... well, since my grandfather died 21 years ago. That requires a lot of unpacking and will have to wait for a separate post, although, again, Ride gets a lot of credit here.

In May, I was excited to see Neil Gaiman read from his latest book, Trigger Warning, and answer questions. He answered my question, which I was thrilled by! (And still have yet to write about.) I was less thrilled when I returned home that night to find that I had been robbed. (Another fucking growth experience.) Due to the association between book and robbery, I still haven't read his new book. But I re-read American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and followed Sandman Overture to its end. I finally picked up Phonogram, after being introduced to The Wicked and The Divine. I eagerly read Ernie Cline's new book, Armada, and slogged through the entire Outlander series, after years of many friends recommending it to me. I read The Martian before the movie came out (and loved both). I read The Phoenix Project, A Line of Blood (by Ben McPherson), and Canary (by Duane Swierczynski) on recommendations from friends and loved them all. (A Line of Blood particularly creeped me out. I highly recommend it.) And for self-help, I read Brene Brown, Pema Chodron, and most of the School of Life series.

I kicked ass at Crossfit this year. I finally made it into the 200 Club, backsquatting 203 pounds and deadlifting 232 pounds at our last Total. I've built enough upper body strength to be able to snatch more than an empty training bar and I can even overhead squat 75 pounds! I still can't do a bodyweight pull up, but I can hang from a bar for 60 seconds, and I can even kick up into a handstand and hold it for 30 seconds.

If I mention one friend, I'll have to mention them all... and I'm sure to forget someone, so let's not go there. Suffice it to say that if we had a heart-to-heart over coffee, a drink, a meal, Twitter, email, crayons, standing in line for a concert, standing against the barrier at a show, hanging around backstage at a show... you had an impact on me this year.

Love and hugs and all the best wishes for 2016. Let's kick it in the balls.

Kimberly Blessing

Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day 2010

8 min read

My Ada Lovelace Day post is a two-parter: the first part, recognizing two women who inspired me in math and computing; the second, recognizing Milly Koss, an inspirational and accomplished female computer scientist.

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science. Learn more

Mrs. Smarkola, Miss Herrick, and the Dawn Patrol

Article about The Dawn Patrol From the Grace Park Mini News, an article about Dawn Patrol by yours truly, circa 1985.

I am so fortunate to have been raised in the 80s, during the emergence of the personal computer. My school, Grace Park Elementary, and my teachers were excited about the TRS-80s and Apple IIes in the classroom, and many kids had Commodore 64s at home. Our teachers saw us get excited about learning; we were having fun playing with new toys our parents never had.

Our librarian, Mrs. Smarkola, was one of my most favorite people at school. When I think of her, I always imagine her with a large book in hand, head down, adjusting her glasses, focused on her reading. But I also remember her running the classroom full of typewriters and computers which was across the hall from the library. She'd walk from computer to computer, typing commands, turning them on or off, inserting tapes or disks, making sure each computer had an instruction sheet or book for the next activity. Around the time of fourth grade, a few of those computers moved into the library itself, and the whole school used them to check out and return books -- under Mrs. Smarkola's watchful eye, of course.

My fourth grade teacher, Miss Herrick, was one of those teachers that all of the kids in school were afraid of. Kids talked about her being "hard" and "mean" -- but when I got in to her classroom, I was in heaven. You see, Miss Herrick loved math. I loved math. We were a perfect match! She frequently gave us math quizzes with long division problems, which I always aimed to complete first -- because the first to finish got to "play" on the computer we had in the classroom. I'd guess that I spent more time on that computer than anyone else, and I think I was also the classroom "computer aide," to help other students with it. (BTW, to this day, I love doing long division in my head when I'm bored.)

So many of us kids at Grace Park were interested in computers and learning, that our awesome principal, Dr. Joseph Fleischut, authorized a program called "Dawn Patrol" which was run by Mrs. Smarkola and Miss Herrick. For kids who signed up and got to school about 30 minutes before the opening bell, it was a time to use the computers, typewriters, and library. As you may have guessed, I signed up nearly every day. It may have been during Dawn Patrol that I programmed a TRS-80 CoCo 2 to play the harmony to "Yesterday" by The Beatles, so that it could accompany me as I played the melody on the flute. (When I got to perform at the district concert with the computer, it choked under the hot lights of the stage, sadly.) It also may have been there that I first attempted to program a Joshua-like AI from WarGames. I definitely spent time playing the Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego games there, as well as being questioned by Eliza. But what I remember with the greatest certainty (and the utmost thanks!) were the ways in which Mrs. Smarkola and Miss Herrick (and Dr. Fly, too) encouraged me, nurtured my passion for math, computers, reading, and learning, and always praised me for my accomplishments -- key factors which recent studies say are crucial to getting more women in to STEM.

Adele Mildred (Milly) Koss

Milly Koss and Me I was introduced to Milly Koss in September 2006 when a historical marker was placed at the site of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation.

Milly Koss "had a distinguished career of more than 47 years in all phases of computer technology, implementation and management, including applications design and development, software/hardware selection, database technologies and computer security." Her name is known to some -- but not enough, in my opinion.

Milly was raised in Philadelphia and attended the selective Philadelphia High School for Girls. She earned a scholarship to attend the University of Pennsylvania in 1946, at a time when schools were primarily giving spots to veterans. She graduated in 1950 with a degree in mathematics. In the early days of computing, women were seen as ideal computer programmers due to their "patience, persistence, and a capacity for detail." Of course, in order for a woman to get one of these jobs, she had to have a degree in math and not be married. Milly Koss qualified on the first point, but not on the second: she was engaged. The first company she interviewed with rejected her for this reason.

Fortunately, she was in the right place -- Philadelphia was home to the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation and, from the way Milly describes it, I imagine it to be a workplace much like any modern internet company -- except that 40% of their programmers were women. Milly interviewed with Dr. John Mauchly, who she described as being very nice, flexible, and open. He gave her a wonderful, exciting, creative job -- working with the UNIVAC.

Milly worked with Grace Hopper and was responsible for developing Editing Generator, a problem-oriented language for computer-generated reports, in 1952. Milly was interested in what "computers could do for programmers... how it could help programmers program." She also worked on sort routines for years, which she calls "the quintessential program for machines." She reminds us that today we should be grateful for that early work in automated programming, interpreters, assemblers, and compilers.

By the way, much of this she did while working part-time and remotely! According to Milly, when informed about her pregnancy, Grace Hopper told her to "take it home" -- meaning, the work. Milly would go in to the office one or two days a week, otherwise working from her dining room table. In an interview with Kathy Kleiman (who is the driving force behind the ENIAC Programmers Project), Milly said:

"What’s funny about that period, I’m not sure who my boss was. This was such an unstructured environment… Once I had a child they let me continue to work the way I wanted to. I inferred from that I was of value to them. Nobody lets you work that way unless they are getting value. I got increases. I got paid fairly well. Eckert & Mauchly was pretty good that way… There were no models, they didn’t care how you worked. There were no preconceived notions as to the way you could contribute. You did not have to be in the office…. We did not have huge management teams. We did incredibly new and exciting things and nobody had a problem.”

Milly later went to work for Burroughs Corporation, Philco, and Control Data Corporation, and Raytheon. At Burroughs and Philco she continued her flexible work schedule and would send her work in by mail! At CDC, she worked with early graphics algorithms and interfaces including light pens. Then Milly moved to Harvard University, where says she finally started feeling the hierarchy and loss of flexibility. She spent 27 years at Harvard, in multiple roles. She applied data management expertise to applications for the school and led an R&D effort to develop one of the first data warehouses, the Information Utility. She served as Associate Director of the Office for Information Technology and as the Information Security Officer for the university.

Milly retired in 1994. In 1997, she received a Pioneer Award at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. In 2000, she received the Ada August Lovelace Award from the Association for Women in Computing. With her many years of contributions to the field, I'm sure she also inspired many people -- women and men alike.

Additional Resources

Kimberly Blessing

Rhythm is the Power

2 min read

I'm sitting in the airport waiting for my flight to Las Vegas. Am I on my way to a conference or convention? Nope. I am on my way to see Duran Duran on their Red Carpet Massacre tour!

They're playing two shows in Vegas, which will be my fourth and fifth on the tour. So far, I've seen them in Concord (where I had a front-row view, a woman made it on stage and grabbed Simon's butt, and I got backstage to meet Simon, John, Nick, and Roger), Santa Barbara (to which I brought a different camera and also got to hang out backstage), and Los Angeles (where I got to do some celeb sightseeing and took some video).

I realize I say this a lot, but it seems that few people listen to me -- if the Durans are performing near you, go see them! This show incorporates the costumes and electronica set from their Broadway run, both of which were great. The set and lighting is all new. The band is well-rehearsed and they're clearly having fun every night -- you will too! Just go already! (I'm tired of hearing that you wish that'd you'd gone!)

And for yet another teaser, here's the U.S. tour promotion video:

Photos and videos from Friday and Saturday nights in Vegas now online, too!

Kimberly Blessing

I just love that post-concert feeling

1 min read

You know... you can't hear anything, so you shout when you talk... your throat's so sore from screaming that not even a box of luden's and some milk can help... the sense that if you can stay at the venue just a few minutes longer, the moment will last just a little longer...

Man, I hate living in the middle of nowhere, and not going to shows often enough to feel like this.

Thanks to Jason Falkner and his band for making me feel this way again! Photos will be up in the gallery on this site (or on Flickr -- or both!) soon.