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 (http://python.org) 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.

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.

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.