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Kimberly Blessing

New music gear!

Having the right tools makes all the difference... Just wrote a song with my new Gretch Streamliner and Strymon Blue Sky.

Kimberly Blessing

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

My Nerd Story

8 min read

Rosie the Riveter reminds you that we can do it!These are cute totems. I have the Tesla doll.

A few days ago, I was directed to Crystal Beasley's Nerd Story post by Kirin Kalia, my Bryn Mawr College classmate. She asked me to share my own "nerd" story.

I hesitated. I hesitated because I saw that Crystal was prompted to write her story in response to one of the current sexism-in-tech spotlights. (I'm not trying to downplay whatever is going on currently -- I'm just not following it and can't speak much about it.) I hesitated because I know that my story is laden with the exact kind of privilege that is often attributed to white men in technology. I know that some women don't so much see me as a potential role model as part of the problem.

Still, I considered it. Then I went back to Crystal's post and read the comments that had been left and thought, "I don't need to deal with this shit." Crystal's post had brought out the trolls, haters, and real misogynists. While I've read my fair share of hate mail, I am past the point where I want to deal with online harassment because it wastes *my* time to have to handle it.

After thinking about it some more, I figure that if my story guides or inspires just one other person, or validates something going on in their brain (or heart), then any grief will be worth it. So, here goes.


I grew up in a middle class family that was extremely focused on education. My grandfather was an engineer in the midst of the CAD revolution; my dad and aunt were pharmacists dealing with the computerization of their field. Math, science, and tech geekiness ran in my family.

I started elementary school in 1980 and, from day one, got used to seeing a variety of TRS-80s in the building. Soon, I got used to using them on a regular basis, first through the gifted program, and later through a before and after school program, which I've written about before. BASIC was my first programming language. I wrote programs to make sounds, change the screen color, print text to screen, draw shapes -- all of which culminated in me programming a TRS-80 CoCo 2 to play the harmony to "Yesterday" by The Beatles, while I played the melody on the flute.

TRS-80 CoCo 1My TRS-80 CoCo 1, salvaged in 2008. I don't like getting rid of old tech.

Meanwhile, at home, we had Pong, then an Atari 2600. Playing games was fun, but I wanted to write programs. I got a Commodore 64; in the summer of 1983, after seeing War Games, I spent weeks trying to program my own "Joshua" artificial intelligence. Thankfully, no one ever discouraged me from working on that fruitless program. I don't think they even knew that building an AI wasn't possible. I sure as hell didn't.

The Commodore 64 eventually became a 128 and was a mainstay for everything from gaming to doing homework to getting online. In 1985 or 1986, my aunt purchased an Epson Equity PC (8088) and thus I was introduced to DOS (version 2.11, and all of the upgrades from there!). She was using it for basic word processing; I quickly figured out how to do mail merges for her, create spreadsheets, and other more "office-y" type things with it.

As I made my way into junior high and high school, my interaction with computers was limited to home and the library. Whereas every classroom in my elementary school had a TRS-80 or an Apple IIe, the only computers in the upper schools were in special computer rooms, which were mostly used by the "business prep" students. Honors/gifted students, apparently, didn't need to use computers. At home, with more and more homework to do, my computer use became much more practical -- checking math and typing papers. There wasn't time for programming.

In reality, I didn't make time for programming anymore. It wasn't in the classroom anymore, so I suppose I didn't see it as important anymore. Although I started seventh grade already knowing some trigonometry, I went back to algebra. Yawn. Science was still fun, at least, but my language and music teachers were much more encouraging of my work and progress. I turned my focus to where I got feedback and positive reinforcement. By the time I graduated high school, I had dropped out of calculus but took AP French. I had skipped the one and only programming class at my high school -- but when I saw the homework assignments, I yawned again. They would've been pretty repetitive for me.

Thanks to my grandfather, I started college with a brand-new Packard Bell 486/33, which came with 4 MB RAM, a 120 MB hard drive, a sound card, a 2400 baud modem, and Windows 3.1 -- better than my boyfriend's! In my single dorm room, I had plenty of time to noodle with my new tech. Word 6 and NCSA Mosaic had just been released. I had accounts on AOL, Prodigy, and Compuserve but also quickly learned how to dial in to my college's UNIX server. That computer lasted me one year; I built a new computer the following year and upgraded it consistently, until I got to grad school and bought a fancy Dell machine with a Pentium processor.

At the same time, I was rocking my liberal arts education experience, with my intended romance languages major, until the reality of completing the quantitative (i.e. math) requirement reared its ugly head. I wanted to love calculus, but I struggled. Where to turn? Intro to computer science, of course. I figured it should be easier than suffering through more calculus. I didn't count on it changing my educational direction.

I wasn't a great student, that first CS class. Instead of really trying to learn something new, I relied on my existing knowledge and prior experience to get me through. But I guess it was clear that I "got" it enough to warrant the encouragement of the professor, my friend Deepak Kumar, to continue studying CS. So I did. It was as simple as someone saying, "Hey, you're good at this. Ever thought of majoring in it?"

Me in college with an X-TerminalIn the X-Term lab. I think Sarah and I were writing a program to play Konani.

Being a major in computer science at a women's liberal arts college with only one CS professor wasn't easy. I had to lobby the school to be a CS major, and I had to take classes at other colleges and universities in order to complete my CS requirements. I remember taking computer organization (my favorite subject) at Carnegie Mellon University, and being one of about four women in the hall of perhaps 200 people. It's only strikingly odd to me now; at the time, I knew I was a rarity, but it didn't really faze me. (Later, in grad school, the ratio was a bit better because the classes were smaller.)

I made friends with Sarah Hacker (yes, her real name) who had already decided on a CS major; she worked for campus IT services and helped me get a job. Because I knew UNIX, I made an extra 25 cents an hour! Sarah introduced me to HTML (and helped me fix my first markup bug) and I started cranking out websites on Deepak's server. Other members of the team taught me everything I know about software and hardware support. It was a perfect storm of interest, opportunity, and encouragement. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, after 20 years of experience in large internet/tech companies (AOL, PayPal, and Comcast) and other organizations, I head up the web development team and growing technology consulting practice at Think Brownstone. I've architected and built some of the coolest publishing systems and web sites in the history of the internet -- and I still get excited when I'm presented with a challenge that requires strategic thinking, technical know-how, and organizational savvy. I've been able to take my experience and turn it into book contributions, conference presentations, and a for-credit CS class at my alma mater. I'm still a technology junkie, but as a manager and leader, I get the biggest kick out of coaching younger talent and helping them grow their skills.


Disney's Kim Possible

The moral of my story is: discouraging a young mind can stop its progress, but encouragement can help get things moving again. If you're an adult, figure out who you can encourage today. If you're a young adult, avoid the discouragers (as much as you can) and find the encouragers.

Write your own Nerd Story -- don't let it be written for you.

Kimberly Blessing

Music you should be listening to

2 min read

Oh yes, it's another list! I've been listening to a lot of great music lately, and there's been lots of music news to report, so here goes!

  • My friend, Chris Connelly, has a new album out -- this one dedicated to his beloved Scotland. Pentland Firth Howl is available on CD and limited edition vinyl; it's something you don't want to miss.
  • Once a month, I visit Julian Cope's Head Heritage, and lo and behold, this month I met a site redesign! As always, there is plenty of new music in Unsung and W.S.Y.M., as well as a new album for Spring 2009. (Side bonus: Julian's wife, Dorian, has an awesome new blog, On this Deity -- highly recommended!)
  • Shoegazing is making a comeback and one of its original darlings, Mark Gardener of RIDE, is back with a lovely (and standards-compliant) website. He was recently interviewed about this genre's resurgence by Drowned in Sound and the Times Online. Be sure to get the shoegazing retrospective Sci-Fi Lo-Fi Vol. 3: Shoegazing 1985-2009.
  • Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, the documentary, is finally being released on DVD in the US on June 16, and it's going to have extra content (so I'm going to have to buy another copy!). Pre-order it now. Also check out music inspired by the film -- I can't decide which track I love the most!
  • Duran Duran has been recording with Mark Ronson and, apparently, the new album sounds like Rio and Planet Earth! While waiting for that to arrive (next year?) Duranies can enjoy (finally) a double-CD or vinyl set of Rio, featuring both the UK and US album mixes (the CDs also have studio demos, b-sides, and other mixes). Also generating excitement amongst fans is the DVD/CD/download release of the band's 1982 performance at Hammersmith Odeon! Full details

Plus NME has been reporting about forthcoming new releases from Yoko Ono and Sigur Ros, as well as North American tours in the fall by The Charlatans (UK) and Blur! Woo hoo!

Kimberly Blessing

Honoring Ada, Inspiring Women

5 min read

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Ada Lovelace was a mathematician and, essentially, the first computer programmer (in an age where mechanical calculating machines were still ideas drawn on paper). Born in 1815, she envisioned machines which could not only compute calculations, but also compose music.

When computer science students are learning the history of the subject (assuming they get any historical teachings at all -- our history is "taught" via small anecdotes as footnotes in textbooks), Ada Lovelace is sometimes the only women ever mentioned. However the history of the field is strewn with the impactful and inspiring stories of women: Grace Hopper, Jean Bartik and the other ENIAC programmers, Milly Koss (why doesn't she have a Wikipedia page?), Fran Allen, Anita Borg, Telle Whitney, Wendy Hall, Ellen Spertus -- and those are just the high-profile women whose names are likely to be recognized. There are so many other women out there who have done, are doing, and will do great things for computing, technology, and the world -- and today's blogging event will expose all of us to a few more.

Although I've found many female role models in computing and technology, none were as important to me as the women I was surrounded by in college, when I was pursuing computer science as a major. Bryn Mawr's computer science department didn't exist yet -- in fact, we had only one full-time CS professor back then! But there were plenty of women on campus interested in technology and they were my primary motivators and supporters in those days.

Amy (Biermann) Hughes, PhD graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1995 and received her PhD in computer science from the University of Southern California in 2002. She is currently a member of the technical staff at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. I think I first met Amy when we were working together for Computing Services as student operators ("ops" for short) and she was an immediate inspiration. Amy seemed to know everything there was to know about networks, and she taught me a great deal. The fact that she'd decided to major in CS without there being an official major made the idea of me doing it seem feasible. Amy had done research as an undergrad -- another fact which amazed me -- in parallel computing! (That just flat out floored me.) On top of all of that, she loved Duran Duran. I'm not kidding when I say that there were times at which I'd say to myself, "Amy got through this somehow, I can too!" In fact, I'm still telling myself this, as every time I think about going back to school for my PhD, I wonder how I'll get over my fear of qualifying exams and I remember that Amy did it, so can I!

My compsci partner-in-crime from my own class was Sarah Hacker (yes, that's her real name). She graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1997 and went on to do graduate studies at SUNY Buffalo. She currently works in health care information systems at the University of Iowa. Sarah and I were in many classes together before we ever struck up a conversation. I was intimidated by her natural programming abilities -- to me, it seemed that she could pick up any language syntax and any programming concept so easily! -- but I came to greatly appreciate and sometimes rely on them. We also worked for Computing Services and frequently worked the night shifts together, drinking soda, eating candy, and making bizarre photo montages (such as Sarah's brilliant Child of the Moon series). In fact, it was Sarah who first showed me how to create a web page, so I really owe her quite a bit! Sarah introduced me to Pulp (the band), reintroduced me to Real Genius, and taught me LISP for an AI assignment. We started the Computer Science Culture Series together and were featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer for our robots, Jimmy and Timmy. Generally, she just kept me company and in good spirits, and I can only hope that I did the same for her.

Fortunately Amy and Sarah are still friends, so I continue to draw inspiration from their current lives and achievements as well. Of course, they weren't the only women who helped me make it through my undergraduate experience and early career -- Elysa Weiss, Helen Horton Peterson '79, and Jennifer Harper '96 (all Bryn Mawr Computing Services staff) were instrumental as well. And I have to give props to the men who were able to put up with supported a community of such strong women: Deepak Kumar, John King, Rodney Battle, and David Bertagni.

Those of us interested in computer science and technology are constantly looking forward, but today gives all of us a great opportunity to look back and highlight our common history and all of the people -- both men and women -- who've made today possible. Thank you, to all of them!

Kimberly Blessing

The Seventh Grade

3 min read

While reading another story about the lack of diversity in STEM I was newly struck by the following statement, which I've heard in various forms over the years (emphasis mine):

"I think science is seen as a man's world by a lot of people," said Candy DeBerry, associate professor of biology at Washington & Jefferson College. "All the studies show that somewhere around sixth or seventh grade, girls start losing their interest in science but might be equally interested in it in the third or fourth grade."

For me, sixth grade was spent in elementary school. I had one teacher, unless you counted the music, art, or gym teachers. We almost always had one computer (a TRS-80 or an Apple II/IIe) in our classroom, which the teacher actually knew something about and which we kids would typically fight over using. Even the few kids who had computers at home (like me) wanted to use the computer at school, and we'd rush to finish an assignment so we could get in some computer time.

Seventh grade was the start of junior high school for me, and thus began the hourly switching of subjects, teachers, and classrooms. In none of these classrooms did we have a computer, and I don't ever remember my teachers mentioning computers. In junior high, the only computers I can recall were in the library, and they weren't the sort that you "played" with. In addition, all of the extra-curricular activities I was starting took away from potential computer time at home.

So when I keep hearing about this crucial sixth/seventh grade time period for young girls, I can't help but think back to my own experience around these grades. I didn't lose interest in computers (or science or math) in seventh grade, but I was certainly separated from them. As time went on, I had less time to pursue those interests myself, and in some cases I was discouraged from pursuing them.

Sure, times have changed, but as the old saying goes, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Thus I'm inclined to assume that my experience may not really be that different from what kids experience today. Kids can't stay in the elementary school environment forever, but with middle schools now starting at fifth and sixth grade, are we pushing change -- not just academic and environmental, but social! -- on them too soon, thus potentially losing more future scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians?

Kimberly Blessing

Extraordinary World

2 min read

The past 13 months have been a mixed bag of successes, failures, changes, growing pains, and learning opportunities. This time showed me who my real friends are and helped me realize what's truly important to me. Silly as it may sound, the eleven Duran Duran concerts I was able to attend during this helped greatly with the process of finding and re-centering myself.

Duran Duran aftershow bracelets

Now the tour is over and life must return to normal. I've come to learn that normal for me isn't what it is for others -- the expectations I have of myself leading an extraordinary life constantly drive me to seek out unique opportunities. For a while, there were people in my life who made me feel as though this was an odd way to live, and I was always apologizing for doing the things that I loved to do. But the events and activities of the past year -- and the love and support of friends -- have helped me find myself again, and have shown me that an extraordinary life isn't wrong. In fact, it's what my whole life has been preparing me for.

2009 is going to be a very interesting and exciting year!

My collection of photos and videos from Duran Duran's Red Carpet Massacre tour on Flickr

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

Books I'm looking forward to reading

2 min read

Lately I've been on a steady diet of technical books and management/leadership books, but my required reading for an upcoming meeting at Bryn Mawr has gotten me back in the swing of reading other subject matter. This is a good thing, since I've got some very interesting reads coming up...

First up is a book by my friend, Chris Connelly. He's written Concrete, Bulletproof, Invisible and Fried: My Life As a Revolting Cock, about his life in the music industry. His career has spanned nearly three decades and has included stints with industrial groups such as Fini Tribe, Ministry, Pigface, and the Revolting Cocks (duh!), just to name a few (seriously). I'm hoping that some of the stories that I've heard over the years -- like the time he disassembled every piece of furniture in a Four Seasons hotel room with William Tucker -- appear in this book... and I'm sure there will be plenty of other crazy anecdotes, too. Chris is still making music, though of a much calmer, more esoteric variety. He has a new album titled Forgiveness and Exile coming out this spring that I'm also looking forward to.

Today I pre-ordered Hubert's Freaks: The Rare-Book Dealer, the Times Square Talker, and the Lost Photos of Diane Arbus by Gregory Gibson. The book tells the true story of Bob Langmuir, a rare books dealer in Philadelphia who discovered a treasure trove of never-before-seen prints by the legendary Diane Arbus. The photographs were taken in the 1950's at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus, a Times Square basement phantasmagoria -- an odd piece of Americana deserving of such documentation. The New York Times has an interesting article which piqued my interest... though I'll be honest and disclose that my mom went to high school with Bob, which is how I learned about all of this in the first place.

The next thing I need to work on re-integrating to my reading queue is some fiction... any suggestions?