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Kimberly Blessing

The Girl Effect

1 min read

What happens when a girl gets a chance?

  • When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later, and has 2.2 fewer children.
  • Educated girls grow into educated women, who -- research shows -- have healthier babies and are more likely to educate their children.
  • When girls and women earn income, they reinvest 90% of it into their families, as compared to only 30-40% for a man.
  • An extra year of primary school boosts girls' future wages by 10-20%.
  • An extra year of secondary school boosts girl's future wages by 15-25%.

Start making a difference.

Send a girl to school. Help fight her legal case. Give her a microloan. There are many ways to help. Learn more from The Girl Effect.

Kimberly Blessing

Adventures in India

3 min read

Back in February, I traveled to India in order to do some Web development training for PayPal. In addition to having a wonderful time meeting and interacting with all of my coworkers, I got the opportunity to see some of the sights, including Mahabalipuram and DakshinaChitra in Tamil Nadu and the Taj Mahal in Agra. I did my best to document my experience in photos, and while it took some time, I've finally uploaded and tagged all of them. Go check them out!

Self Portrait

Prior to leaving for India, I made plans to visit Delhi and Agra with two of my co-workers, Jeremy Gillick and Reena Bansal. Reena lived in Delhi for some time and she made a great tour guide. Thanks to accidentally perfect timing, we saw the new Bollywood epic Jodhaa Akbar just prior to visiting North India, and this gave us history on the sites we were seeing and really helped to bring them alive.

As great as that trip was, I really loved spending time in South India. The culture was simultaneously alien and completely familiar. There were more people and there was more activity than I think I've ever seen before, foods were completely unfamiliar, the language was completely unknown to me -- yet I felt completely at home with the chaos and the people. For my free time in and around Chennai, the role of tour guide was filled by fellow team-member Guru Prasath. He did a great job of ensuring that I gained a greater understanding of the cultural, spiritual, and linguistic history and traditions of the region. And, with the help of Anitha, another co-worker, I gained some lovely Indian fashions, too.

I'll admit that I didn't know much about India -- but one of the few things I knew, I learned back elementary school. For nearly 25 years an image has been stuck in my brain: that of a woman drawing an intricate pattern on the ground outside a home. The accompanying description explained that women in South India would wake each morning to draw kolams, or "painted prayers", in order to bring prosperity to the home and family. Never did I think that I'd see one in real life! Now that I have, I've been inspired to learn more about the designs and to draw some myself (just on paper, so far).

Drawing a kolam is a wonderful meditative practice that I would suggest to anyone who needs to quiet one's thoughts or develop greater concentration and attention to detail. It's also a practice in generating mathematical patterns. In my further reading about kolams, I've seen them referred to as "spiritual mathematical patterns", the practice of drawing them as "geometrical acts of kindness", and the women that create them as "great female mathematicians who solve complicated line patterns every morning". Kolams are so intriguing, in fact, that computer scientists are studying them. How's that for ancient traditions mixing with technological advancements?

I guess that's what appeals to me about India -- the blending of old traditions with new technologies and outside influences to create something that is still uniquely Indian. As I see it, the people of India have one foot moving toward the future with the other rooted in the past, and I respect how they're working to reconcile the two. I can't wait until I return again, to learn more about what's been and where they're going. And next time I'll be sure to rise early to witness the kolam ritual, and maybe even try some of my own.

Kimberly Blessing

Inventing the Future at GHC07

1 min read

Another year, another Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing!

This year I'm attending both TechLeaders and GHC. Last night I even got to party with the Tapia folks!

If I have time to write more here, I will... but otherwise watch the GHC flickr group, twitter, and wiki to learn about what's going on!

Kimberly Blessing

Student Reaction to a Computer Science Course Using Robots

2 min read

Over at the Institute for Personal Robots in Education Blog Natasha Eilbert summarizes the feedback from the intro CS class taught with robots at Bryn Mawr and Georgia Tech:

The class consisted, in large part, of non-science students, many choosing to take the class incidentally. However, students felt that, through the course, they learned important, basic computer science concepts, such as breaking down a problem and planning out a solution. They got the impression that computer science involves logical thinking, problem-solving, and patience, and they left feeling that computer science was fun (how great!). Most students enjoyed using the interactive, hands-on Scribbler robots, and a number of them even became attached to the life-like creatures. The students did get frustrated with the robots at times, especially over the imprecision of the robots and over hardware issues that were out of the students’ control; at the same time, they learned that it is reasonable that, like humans, robots are not completely perfect. ... Happily, most of the students left the class with the feeling that computer programming was important and in some way relevant to their future life, whether in their field of study or in the every day world.

Awesome!

Kimberly Blessing

Where are all the women? (Revisited)

6 min read

Jason Kottke has kicked the ant hill over again. After reading criticism over the gender imbalance in the list of speakers at two recent conferences, he did some research on the numbers for other recent and upcoming conferences. The numbers vary drastically, as do the events, but still, none achieve parity. (Though one, BlogHer, makes it all the way to 100% female presenters.)

Yes, I find this upsetting and frustrating. But I know that the organizers of the conferences I attend are making efforts to achieve a greater balance and I appreciate that. Would I stay away from a conference or event that wasn't trying to achieve gender balance? No way! In the spirit of Bryn Mawr, I would go and be my brilliant female self and intimidate the men. And if I found the conference to be valuable and enjoyable, I'd try to engage the organizers in a conversation about including more women, and I'd haul along more people (both women and men) to try to change the culture, bit by bit.

That's about all I was going to say on this matter... until some other comments on the topic came up. Interestingly, out of the blogs I follow, only one woman has commented on the topic so far. Meanwhile, two men whose blogs I follow have also commented, and it is to their posts that I feel the need to reply.

First, to Eric Meyer. He's made himself loud and clear that, in planning a conference, diversity isn't important, but things like marketability are. My question to him is: How does one become marketable if one isn't given an opportunity to participate in the first place? I know that we all like to think that this blogosphere thing is an equalizer and puts men and women on a level playing field, but let's be honest: it doesn't. It may give everyone a voice, but not everyone is listening. Not everyone is in the "inner circle", and it seems like the only way in is to do something groundbreaking. Unfortunately this leaves out all of the folks working very hard, day in and day out, who still have valuable experience and knowledge to contribute.

This somewhat brings me to his concern of "brand appropriateness". I'm not entirely sure what he means, but I'm betting it has something to do with getting people who work for "big name" companies and organizations. AOL, the company that both Eric and I used to work for, is a pretty big brand. Yet the standards-compliant redesign of AOL.COM in 2004, which was built by two women (Annette Graber and me), and the mega-huge standards-compliant redesign in 2005, which enabled the opening-up of nearly all AOL content to the Web, the front-end for which was architected, managed, and about nearly 100% built by two women (Kate Chipman and me), went largely unnoticed. Why, because it was AOL? Or because the only people who were talking about it were the women involved in it? I know the answer isn't a simple one, but the issue of gender when it comes to recognizing technical achievement is one I could analyze for a long time....

But to get back to Eric's post, my final comment to him is this: You're a recognized leader in a field that's out to create change on a massive scale. Knowing what it takes to create such change, I can't believe that you would say that it's not important to have diversity in a group of speakers at an event which promotes and provides training around the change you want to realize! Diversity on stage is the key to including and engaging the broadest possible audience. Yes, women may attend AEA, but how many more attend when you have women presenting? How many more would attend if the number of female speakers increased? How much change would that then create in the industry?

And sure, if you want to be crass about it, how much more money would that make you?

So, enough with Eric. I'm disappointed that he's pandering to an audience instead of enlightening them, but I'm not brandishing a pitchfork. Everyone's entitled to their opinion and I'm glad he's made his known. Though, to be equally honest, it will affect decisions I make about attending AEA in the future.

Now, onto Tantek's question to those who are waiting for invites to speak somewhere: "Why are you being so passive?"

Passive, me? In the past year, I've submitted proposals to all of the conferences I've planned to attend and I've contacted individuals who are planning various events that don't seek proposals to express my interested in participating. But that's about all I have time to do. After all of that proposal-writing and networking (and don't forget the day job and volunteering in between!), if you're not accepted or invited then it's not because you didn't try.

Tantek also asked why we accept having this conversation of diversity with specific criteria, like gender. I'd say the simple answer there is that you need some context in which to start the conversation. But I agree with your sentiment, that there has to be more to the discussion. I know that gender mix alone does not diversity make -- and keep in mind, I attended Bryn Mawr, a women's liberal arts college with an excellent track record in socio-economic diversity and a good-and-continually-improving one in racial diversity, where there's even a club for "lesbian left-handed eskimo midget albinos"! (Just kidding, that was a Dead Milkmen joke. But at Bryn Mawr, it could happen.)

To wrap up this post (my longest ever), let me say that along the path to achieving equality and diversity, I think some segregation is good. Let those who don't want to include women do their own thing. The women have started to organize and are kicking off their own initiatives, like BlogHer and Women2.0. If you don't know the names of many prominent women now, I'm very sure that, as time progresses, you will...

Kimberly Blessing

Camp $tart-Up

2 min read

Via a friend at the Johnson School at Cornell...

Do you wonder why there are not more women in business school and in business professions? Please help us spread the word about Camp $tart-Up.

Camp $tart-Up

  • Teaches young women 13-19 about business skills and professions in business in a week-long summer program
  • Differentiates the Johnson School: the only top business school reaching out to women at a younger age, to increase the number of female business school applicants
  • Provides an opportunity for sponsors and donors to differentiate themselves from their competitors in the eyes of young women, future leaders, other sponsors and donors and both the Cornell and Johnson School communities

About Camp $tart-Up

Camp $tart-Up is a week-long business and leadership training program in Ithaca, June 23-30, 2007, to expose young women aged 13-19 to business. During the program, campers learn about marketing, operations, finance, planning, research, technology and entrepreneurship.

Camp $tart-Up is part of a larger initiative at the Johnson School to increase the number of women interested in applying to business school, by building business and leadership skills in young women.

Sound like something you care about? You can learn more or complete an application on the Camp $tart-Up website.

Kimberly Blessing

Held Hostage By Allergies

1 min read

Now that the Labor Day Weekend is coming to a close, I look back over the past three days and see that I accomplished... nearly nothing. It's been a record year for pollen counts in North Dakota, and this weekend has been especially bad for me. Because I've been trying to cut my sugar and caffeine intake, I didn't resort to any of my home remedies (like large quantities of Smarties and Coke, which, yes, actually works for me). However, this meant that, on what looked like a very nice weekend, I locked myself inside the house, with the air conditioner blasting, alternately ingesting antihistimines and decongestants and sleeping. Ugh.

Assuming pollen levels are lower at home, I can't wait to get back to Philly this week for the launch of the Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center. Assuming my friends in Computing Services will give me wifi access for those two days, I'll blog what I can from the panel sessions.

I did (almost) finish one thing this weekend... I finally got WordPress up and running on Meridian Afterburn. So future car-related posts will appear there instead of here.

Kimberly Blessing

Nominate Elektro for the Hall of Fame!

3 min read

A while back, I made mentioned that was going to be on display at the Mansfield Memorial Museum in Mansfield, Ohio, as part of their Mechanical Men of Westinghouse 1924-1940 exhibit. I'm happy to report that I finally made the trip to see the exhibit and Elektro!

I must thank and commend Scott Schaut, director of the museum, for putting together a world-class exhibit and for doing so much to preserve both Westinghouse history and robotic history. Scott, a palentologist, has done an excellent job of educating himself on these topics, and he's now doing an incredible job educating the public and advocating for Elektro.

Why would Elektro need advocating, you ask? Apparently, there are robotics experts that dismiss Elektro and say he's not a true robot. I can't understand this. The word was coined long before digital computers existed, and the term was applied to Elektro at the time of his creation and popularity. Certainly, when you compare Elektro to modern robots, you're looking at apples and oranges -- however, that doesn't dismiss the aim that Elektro's creators had in mind when they constructed him. It also cannot dismiss the fact that hundreds of thousands of people saw a fully-functional robot in the 1930's, and that it changed people's perceptions of the future and of technology.

While he may have been touted as the "ultimate appliance" at the time of his creation, he was a true scientific (or engineering) marvel that inspired many notions in science fiction. (Or did science fiction inspire his creation? Does art imitate life or life imitate art? In any case...) My great aunt, at the age of 85, can recall seeing Elektro at the 1939 and 1940 World's Fairs and thinking of what it would be like to have a robot in the house. Sixty-some years later, we have robots that can do specific tasks on command and autonomously, but none has ever reached the level of robotic maid or butler. (Take that Rosie the Robot and C3P0!)

Elektro, and his creators, deserve to be celebrated -- not ignored. If you agree with me, please help! Nominate Elektro for the Robot Hall of Fame! And be sure to make the trip to Mansfield to see Elektro for yourself.

PS: Keep an eye out for his book on the Westinghouse mechanical men, due later this year -- he tells me there's a secret about Elektro in there, which currently only three people in the world are privy to!

Kimberly Blessing

The Buzz about WaSP

2 min read

There was lots of buzz about the Web Standards Project during SxSW Interactive, and for good reason! After a panel on WaSP Task Forces, an open meeting, and the (slightly troubled but finally debugged) redesign launch, it's clear that people see WaSP as alive and well, and ready to start stinging again. Woo hoo!

I'll toot my own horn a bit and admit to my role in the redesign, which was the porting of the design created by Andy Clarke to WordPress. A proud moment for me just yesterday was in describing how I accomplished some of the content presentation objectives to Matt Mullenweg; he told me that I'd figured out some pretty cool stuff (which I fully intend to write about in the future)! But projects like this aren't accomplished single-handedly, so I have to give big virtual hugs to Chris Casciano for porting tons of content to WP, Chris Kaminski for doing the scripting, and Holly Marie Koltz for doing lots of QA and content tweaking.

Meanwhile, the response to the Education Task Force has been overwhelming. I've probably got 30+ business cards and notes in my suitcase from folks wanting to know how they can help in our mission, as well as wanting to know how they can help affect change in their schools. And the contacts and ideas keep coming in via e-mail too... now to get some plans together! You can be sure that you'll be hearing more from the eduTF soon.

Kimberly Blessing

IEEE fails again!

2 min read

Fer cryin' out loud!The IEEE has failed again... this time it's the newly redesigned IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology Web site.

Clearly the IEEE's on a mission to update all of their Web content. Assuming they're using the same (lack of) standards for all of their projects, we'll probably see more of these failed redesign posts in the future. Which, in my opinion, is really sad... I just can't understand how a standards body could choose to ignore Web standards.

In the case of SSIT, it looks like Macromedia Dreamweaver was used to generate code (hello MM JavaScript functions!). However someone clearly updated the HTML 4.01 Transitional template by hand, to add the various META elements (all closed, Ă  la XHTML) in the document header. (The IEEE site, on the other hand, appears to be entirely hand-coded and does use some CSS, yet still lacks semantic markup, uses nested tables for layout, and lacks a DOCTYPE.)

Why am I so upset by this? The IEEE is a technical society and standards body. Its members brand themselves as professionals, seeking to advance technology by fostering technological innovation. (Does this look like technology advancement or technological innovation to you?) The IEEE mission states:

The IEEE promotes the engineering process of creating, developing, integrating, sharing, and applying knowledge about electro and information technologies and sciences for the benefit of humanity and the profession.

These recent IEEE Web site redesign fail to live up to the IEEE mission. In light of this, how can any IEEE member be proud of their membership in such an organization? I'm sure as heck not... and that's why I'm speaking up. Answers and code changes are what I want to see.