Rediscovering a Lost Love

A Geek in High School

Me in high school…dig those glasses!

Way back in the stone ages when I was in high school, I took computer science in grade 11 and 12 because I loved computers and thought that it would be really neat and fun. In grade 11 I was one of five girls in a class of 30; in grade 12 I was the only girl in a class of five.  Unfortunately my teacher that year (who shall remain nameless) told me flat-out that he didn’t believe women should be in computer science, but vowed that he wouldn’t let that affect my mark in his class. And, to be fair, he didn’t.  I got a B+ in the class, and I think I deserved a B+ for the wonderful inventory system I created in Basic for my mom’s Mary Kay business (yeah, that project didn’t really endear me to the teacher).  I often wonder, though, had he’d been a bit more encouraging would I have looked at programming as a career?  Ah well, “shoulda woulda coulda” is never a good thing…

Anyway, I loved my computer science classes in high school, especially the grade 12 class – we were mostly left on our own to work on our programs and I used to spend hours at lunch and before and after school tweaking mine.  Once I got out of high school and into university I still did a little bit of programming on my Commodore 64 but since I wasn’t in computer science I didn’t really do anything serious.  Mostly I copied programs out of various computer magazines that had those “type this in your computer to ‘create’ your own program” columns and then tore my hair out when the program didn’t work and I had to go through umpteen lines of code to figure out where I made the typo.  I did recently find the notes for one of my own home-brewed programs – an NPC generator for a D&D campaign I was creating.  Told you I was a geek…

Once I graduated and got my first job, I didn’t really do much programming anymore.  My computer geekiness shifted to learning various software applications and, eventually, to the hardware and networking side of things.  Oh, I’d do some scripting and stuff with Lotus Notes, and I learned HTML and CSS so I could play around with websites but that was the extent of it. Until last Saturday…

Allow me to digress for a moment.  Last month I was channel-surfing and came across Inner Space on the Space channel.  I’m not a huge fan of the show – in fact, I rarely watch it – but in this case the fates must have been watching out for me.  I managed to hit it just as they were doing a promo for a segment on this not-for-profit group called Ladies Learning Code. What I saw from the promo was a room full of women (and a few men – despite the name, anyone who wants to learn is welcome) learning how to code in HTML and CSS in what looked to be a fun and interactive environment.

Needless to say I had to check it out.  I watched the segment, liked what I saw and proceeded to the website, only to find that I’d just missed the very interesting looking ‘Creating a Personalized Twitter or Website Background’ workshop. (Note to the LLC people – pleasepleaseplease offer this again!)  I decided to sign up for their newsletter and a few weeks later I got notification of a new workshop – ‘Intro to Python for Beginners’.

For those of you who don’t know, and I didn’t until I did some research, Python ( is a open-source (free) programming language.  According to the Ladies Learning Code people “…Python is a great language for beginners. Its beautiful and clean-looking syntax means you’ll spend less time being confused (it looks sort of like English!), and more time understanding and applying the fundamentals of programming…”  Based on that, I thought “gee, this sounds like fun!” and promptly signed up.  I then spent the next few weeks eagerly looking forward to my day of geekdom.

Which brings me to last Saturday.  I’ve got to say, the workshop certainly exceeded my expectations.  I haven’t had that much fun in ages!  We were at the Centre for Social Innovation, which was a great place to hold this (lack of air conditioning aside).  Essentially it’s a nice big basement with beautiful brick walls and lots of open space.  Great atmosphere for a day spent meeting new people and learning code, and easy to get to via public transit.

One of the really nice things about the Ladies Learning Code workshops is the volunteer mentors they manage to line up, which helps when you have about forty or fifty attendees. These are people who, in this case, work with Python on a day-to-day basis and who graciously volunteered their time to make sure our experience was both useful and fun. In this case, it worked out that there were two mentors per six-person table, which was a big help when I couldn’t figure out why my program wasn’t working!.  Chris and Al, our two mentors, were very knowledgeable as well as being very tactful – there’s nothing more embarrassing than finding out you’ve spelled a command using British/Canadian spelling instead of American (capitalise vs. capitalize) and that’s why your program is crashing in a blaze of not-so-awesom glory.

Bythe end of the day, I’d made some new friends, had a couple of small programs under my belt, and I had a new challenge to go home with – get my Hangman program up and running without cheating and looking at the answers.  No, I still don’t have it working, but I will.  I’ve found an interesting tutorial on Python that will hopefully build on what I’ve learned already, and I’m looking forward to playing and seeing what I can do on my own. I have another skill that I can put on my resume and, given that a lot of the jobs I’m looking at want a ‘techie type’, that could be very helpful.  More importantly, I rediscovered my love of something geeky – programming.  And spending a day rediscovering something you love is never a bad thing.


Today We Are At War

Two hundred years ago today the United States of America declared war on Upper Canada in what would become the conflict that defined Canada.  Technically neither side “won” the war; at the end of it the borders remained exactly the same as before the war started. What we got out of it, though, was a new sense of identity.  The Americans got a new national anthem to replace the original one, “Chester”, which I think was a much nicer one. All in all, I think we came out ahead.

I’m ashamed to admit that my knowledge of the War of 1812 is not what it should be, something I’m hoping to rectify through a lot of reading and attending 1812 events over the next few years.  As a historical re-enactor, I should know more about this war than I do, and the excuse of “well, it’s not my time period” – I re-enact the American Revolutionary War period – just doesn’t cut it.

What I do know is this.  Before the War of 1812, people who lived in Upper Canada didn’t refer to themselves as Canadians.  In fact, a lot of them called themselves Americans.  Others called them “Late Loyalists” as they were Americans who came to Upper Canada in the years following the Revolutionary War (or War of Independence, as the U.S. calls it) tempted by the promise of free land.  All they had to do was swear allegiance to the Crown.  When the War of 1812 started, a lot of them were on the fence about which side to support.  The U.S. was counting on this – they figured that they would be welcomed as liberators, and that the “Late Loyalists” would switch their allegiance back to the American side.

It might have worked, too, if it hadn’t been for the Battle of York.  In 1813, the Americans attacked York, now known as Toronto, with ships and men. They came off Lake Ontario and landed west of the town.  The Americans were successful in driving the British forces out of Fort York, but before they retreated the British blew up the powder magazine.  The resulting debris and shockwave killed 38 American soldiers including their leader, Brigadier General Zebulon Pike.  The Americans considered this to be a treacherous act, and retaliated by pillaging, looting and burning York without any care as to whose houses they were attacking.  This, more than anything else, turned the “Late Loyalists” against their former countrymen.  And, of course, we got some measure of revenge ourselves when we returned the favour and burned down the White House in 1814!

After the War of 1812 ended, Canadians had a new sense of pride in themselves.  It was after this war that they started calling themselves Canadians, and started looking at themselves as separate from the U.S.

A lot of the above comes from watching History Channel’s excellent show, Explosion 1812. I’m looking forward to being able to expand that knowledge as I read more.  If you’re interested in learning more, stick around for the ride – as I learn, so shall you!  In the meantime, though, if you’re interested in learning more about Canada’s history, check out my friend Michael’s blog, History’s Lessons. Michael’s been a re-enactor for 30+ years and knows more about history than possibly anyone I know. I’ve learned a lot about Canadian history just sitting around the campfire at re-enactments listening to him talk, which is also a wonderful way to learn.

I Am Geek, Hear Me Roar!

I recently discovered a cool site called The Mary Sue, which bills itself as “A Guide to Girl Geek Culture”. There’s a lot of neat stuff on there, and I end up checking it out almost every day. One of today’s articles, however, really hit home for me and I felt I had to share. The post, by Becky Chambers, is called What It Means To Be A Geek, and Ms. Chambers wrote it after her girlfriend’s sister pointedly denied being a geek, even though she obviously is.  Apparently there’s a certain stigma to being a geek…

I’ve always been proud of being a geek and that’s what I call myself both on the ‘net and in real life.  I have been known to wear my geek badge with a certain amount of militancy on occasion.  I got my first computer when I was 15 years old – a brand-new VIC-20, the two shows I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch were Star Trek and Monty Python (which probably explains a lot…), I still have my Grim Jack and Battlestar Galactica comic collection, and I know there are at least a couple of pictures out there of me in costume at various science fiction conventions and other events – no, I’m not going to provide links.  But I have friends who, like Ms. Chambers’ girlfriend’s sister, don’t want be labeled as ‘geeks’.  I have friends who won’t admit, outside of a very small circle of people, to any interests that might even be considered ‘geeky’.

I blame, in part, the media for this.  By that I mean the way television, movies, and the news media portray what they call ‘geeks’ – usually guys who are fixated on computers and Star Trek and have absolutely no social skills. The Big Bang Theory is a great example of this (yes, I know that two of the characters have had “meaningful relationships with the opposite sex”, but even then their complete dorkiness is played for laughs). Most non-fiction shows about science fiction or fantasy fans are limited to the ones who take their interests to the extreme – can we say Trekkies and Trekkies 2 by Denise Crosby, anyone?  If anyone out there can name a series or documentary that portrays geeks in a good light, please leave me a comment – I’d love know if my perception on this is skewed.

Even TV shows that are not about geeks fall prey to this – look at NCIS and Criminal Minds for example.  On both, the ‘girl geeks’ (Abby on NCIS and Penelope on CM) are caricatures of real people – fun, quirky, and strong, but caricatures nevertheless.  The ‘guy geeks’ (McGee on NCIS and Reid on CM) have fared a little better; they started out as stereotypes but have managed to grow a bit beyond their geeky boundaries, although the dork factor is still trotted out when they need a joke.

Back to the The Mary Sue article… The whole article is really worth taking the time to read, but what that resonated with me was this:

“The thing that all geeks have in common (other than carbon) is not what we are interested in, but how we go about consuming our interests. “Consuming” is the perfect word for it, because geeks are rarely a passive audience. We devour our interests. We are driven to know how things work. It isn’t enough for us just to enjoy something. When something piques our interest or elicits an emotional response from us, we have to know why.”

I love this description and, more importantly, I identify with it.  I recently spent hours (when I probably should have been job hunting…) going from website to website to website reading about Theodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa because it played a crucial part in a mystery story I had read and I wanted to know more about the painting and the story behind it.  Along those lines, another part of the article that really drew a visceral reaction from me was this:

“If you like something so much that a casual mention of it makes your whole being light up like a halogen lamp, if hearing a stranger fondly mention your favorite book or game is instant grounds for friendship, if you have ever found yourself bouncing out of your chair because something you learned blew your mind so hard that you physically could not contain yourself — you are a geek.”

Yup, that’s me.  I am a geek, hear me roar.

Indie Rock, Writing, and Blues – Oh My!

I had a busy day yesterday, but it turned out to be a lot of fun.  I headed off bright and early (well, early, at least…) to my monthly Writers’ Community of Durham Region breakfast meeting.  The WCDR is a 370+-strong writer’s organisation that I’ve been a member of, on and off, for years.  The speaker yesterday was David Bidini, who is a musician, writer, and hockey enthusiast.  David’s a member of the Canadian indie band, The Rheostatics, and On A Cold Road – his 1998 book about their cross-country trip opening for The Tragically Hip – won the 2006 F.G. Bressani award and was a finalist in this year’s Canada Reads competition.  His talk was great – funny, self-deprecating and studded with nuggets of wisdom.

The thing that stuck with me, and got me really thinking, was when David was talking about his writing process.  He said that, when he was writing surrounded by his band mates in their Delta 88 driving across Canada, he “was forced to write anytime, anywhere”.  That got me thinking  and I realised that I used to be a heck of a lot more productive with my writing when I stopped thinking of it as “I have to go up to my writing room, turn on my computer, and write”.  Back when I used to just hand-write on a pad of yellow foolscap (anyone remember that stuff?) I could crank out a lot more in half an hour than I ever do now.  Granted, most of it was crap, but at least it was crap that was on the page, not bottled up inside me.

I also realised something else.  I’ve been talking about writing this blog for months now, and had been agonising over my first post.  Last week I was stuck at the auto shop waiting for the brakes on my car to be fixed and instead of my netbook, I’d brought along a pad of paper and one of my favourite pens.  Well, I had that first post banged out in about forty-five minutes.  That was a real revelation to me and something I’m going to try in the next few weeks, doing first drafts on paper, not computer.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

(Right - Danny B, Left - Brian Gauci)

Energised and inspired, I headed to the other side of the city for a different type of inspiration.  Hubby and I met up with friends and had the pleasure of listening to the incomparable Danny B and Brian Gauci at the Fox and Fiddle in Etobicoke, where they’ll be playing for the next few weeks.  Danny’s a blues man I was introduced to several years back by dear friends of mine, and I love to listen to him sing.  He’s got that gravelly “blues voice” that sounds like he’s been gargling with rocks, and he never fails to bring me to tears with his version of Mr. Bojangles.  Brian, who accompanies Danny, is an amazing guitarist.  I have one of his CDs and I sometimes having it going in the background when I’m writing, especially when I’m toying around with my “hard-boiled PI” idea – it just strikes me as that kind of music.

While we were there, we ran into the lovely Tracy Shreve, who played Beverly Jackson on the Pax TV series Doc (yes, the one with Billy Ray Cyrus).  I love that series, and watching reruns recently on Vision TV has been my guilty escape from job hunting and other things I should be doing, so meeting her was a real pleasure.  She mentioned that she’s be doing some auditioning, so hopefully we’ll see her in something soon.

Welcome To The Madness

Hello, and welcome to the ubiquitous first blog post.  I guess this is where I’m supposed to tell you about myself and what I’m going to be blogging about, hopefully to entice you to come back and visit again (and again and again).

Let’s start off with a bit about me.  I’m female and according to some studies I’m a baby boomer, others peg me as a Gen X-er.  Me, I’ve always believed that age is just a number and, as a certain Prisoner I used to know once said, I am not a number.  I live on the outskirts of Toronto (yup, I’m a Canuckian) and am currently job searching after six years as an HR computer geek.

The title of this blog comes from a Stephen Leacock novel (Google it, ya damn kids!) and really does reflect me and my interests.  I’m hoping this blog will too.

Which brings us to the burning question – why am I doing this?  Well first and foremost I’m a writer and writers write, so this is a way for me to express my creativity and practice my craft at the same time.  Second, I like talking to people about the things I do, the things I’ve seen, and the things that interest me, and this seems like a logical extension of that.

So, you’re probably asking yourself, what’s she going to write about?  The simple answer is “whatever strikes my fancy”.  I can tell you some of the things you might, and likely will, see here.  I’ve travelled quite a bit, mostly to Portugal, and I’m already planning some posts around the amazing things I’ve seen and the amazing places I’ve stayed (think imperial palaces, monasteries and convents, to name a few).  I’m a living history re-enactor and, with this being the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, there are a number of events I’m hoping to attend and share with you.  As mentioned above, I’m a writer so I’ll probably share some of what I’m working on, events I attend, and any success I might have getting stuff published. Oh yeah, and I was geek before it was chic – still am, for that matter – so expect to see posts on geek stuff and events (can we say science fiction con, anyone?).

On thing I can say this blog probably won’t be is super-controversial.  I can’t see myself writing about politics, religion, or what’s going on in [insert latest hotspot here], so if you’re looking for that sort of blog you’re probably in the wrong place.  I’m aiming for a good ol’ “kitchen party” type of atmosphere. I’ve been told that I have a strange sense of humour, “eclectic” tastes and interests, and  – by more than a few people – that I’m downright weird.  That last one, by the way, I consider a compliment, thus proving the point.  I suspect my writing just might reflect that.

In terms of how often and when I plan to post new articles, as the great Ambassador G’Kar once said – “Expect me…when you see me.”  I’m going to try to post on Thursdays and Sundays, but I make no absolute guarantees.

I guess the only thing left to say is welcome to the madness!  Hope you enjoy the ride.

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