Four Ways Women Made It Easy for You to Code

This is one of the essays I delivered to my patrons last month. If you want to support more work like this, and see it earlier, you can sign up here.

Computer programming is one of those fascinating fields in which we got to watch work become less pink collar over time. It started as women’s work because the prestige was thought to be in hardware engineering, not “computing”, which was really just dressed-up math. (Yes, World War II required governments to recognize the math skills of their female citizens, just like they required the U.S. to recognize the skills of its black citizens.)

Then, as women developed the field of programming, the private sector started to understand just how much work it would be possible to get computers to do. Programmers gained status and pay and–over the course of a couple of decades–the idea that the work should be done by men. Women have always continued to program, particularly in government service, but they came to be seen as anomalies instead of the people who defined the field.

Before that could happen, however, women led the way to making programming practical and accessible. In honor of Ada Lovelace Day, here are four ways they did it. And no, Ada Lovelace isn’t even on the list, as awesome as she was, because it’s easy these days to find out more about her. [Read more…]

The Reading List, 10/11/2015

I share a lot of links on Twitter and Facebook that I don’t blog about because I don’t have much to add. The reading list is a periodic feature where I share those links with my blog audience too. Of course, you’re still welcome to follow me on Twitter.

  • “Bistline wrote that FLDS bishop Lyle Jeffs would use ‘the FLDS Church’s voicemail system to alert families that the harvest would begin.’ A 15-year-old girl wrote that she worked the farm for three years, beginning when she was 10. She testified she was not paid for any of her work.” Read more.
  • “Atheism can motivate terrible crimes, just like religion can. This is a thing we have to get used to.  Atheists are so used to being exceptional, to being smarter and less criminal than other Americans, that the fact that someone was an atheist and did a bad thing seems to be exceedingly difficult for us to understand.” Read more.
  • “The general plot is the playwright’s own, but his characters are the historical figures I unearthed, and snippets of the dialogue they speak appear in the archival evidence presented in my book.” Read more.
  • “Bad reviews of businesses have typically gone viral because those businesses have acted in discriminatory or otherwise unfair ways, but people have gone viral for things as innocuous (and irrelevant to normal people who have shit to do besides stalking people they don’t like) as speaking at a feminist rally, being a bad date, or simply existing.” Read more.
  • “Skepticon strives to create a yearly event that is accessible for as many attendees as possible. This year, we’re hoping to take that mission a step further” Read more.
  • “Charamsa, flanked by his Catalan boyfriend Eduardo and wearing his priest’s collar, told a news conference in Rome he had been compelled to speak out against what he said was the hypocrisy and paranoia that shapes the Church’s attitude to sexual minorities.” Read more.

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Saturday Storytime: The Sisters’ Line

If you’ve known me for a while, you have some idea of my love for nonsense. I have an inordinate fondness for things that make no sense whatsoever and refuse to justify themselves but still, somehow, work. This story from Liz Argall and Kenneth Schneyer is a delightful bit of nonsense.

Becky squats and gets both her hands underneath the overhead rack in a perfect weight lifter position. She frowns, her tiny biceps bulge (I feel a moment of envy at how ripped she is) and she lifts the rack to the height of her armpits and pushes it up against the driver’s controls. The rack shifts and bends under her pressure and then slides easily, perfectly marrying to the control panel and turning into a series of buttons and one long lever.


“I’m building,” says Becky, primly.

I press my hand against my head. If the parts are malleable and contain as many hidden pockets as the letters, the variables are infinite. How will I piece it together if even the pieces lie to me? I brace myself against the console and try not to throw up. How much of my train is a lie?

“Bulgaria,” says Becky. “Belarus. Beirut. Boston. Beijing. Birmingham. Berlin.”

“Do you know what this train is for, Becky?” My voice is unpleasantly shrill. “Are you guessing at the places my sister might be?”

“Bora–Bora,” she continues, oblivious. “Bristol, but that’s an extra twenty dollars.”

“Can you take me to my sister?”

Becky’s patter suddenly stops. “Take?”

“Drive? Transport? Navigate? Operate this train?”

Becky shakes her head, bewildered.

“Becky! Are you bothering your friend?” Stacy’s playtime–is–over voice winds up through the metal housing.

“No, mummy,” pipes up Becky. “I’m boggling her.”

I squeeze my head between both hands, trying to think of a B word that means travel.

“It’s all right, Stacy.” I say, “Becky’s just showing me where she thinks some of the parts go.”

“She’s not breaking anything, is she?”

“No, it’s perfectly fine.” What can I do to buy more time, what do parents like? “Would you like to come up and see? I think you’d enjoy some of the new additions. Could I get you some tea?”

“Thanks, but we have to get dinner ready. Becky! Come down. I need you to help me with the beef and broccoli.”

“Broccoli?” says Becky. “Yay!

“Can you bus the train, Becky?” I whisper urgently as she twirls around in preparation to leave. “Broom, broom?”

Becky jumps down the ladder, ignoring me.

“Broccoli is a brassica!” she chants as she bounces into the house.

Once she is gone, the engine room feels empty and drained of color. I wonder what sort of kids my sister would have had if she’d had the chance. I would have made a good auntie. I wonder if I will ever get the chance.

I sit hunched against the wall of the engine room for a long time, trying to see what Becky saw.

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The Problem Is That I’m Not in an Institution

Well, well. This is something new. I’m used to people blaming mass shootings on mental illness because “Obviously there’s something wrong with those people.” I’m used to gross, proud ignorance of what constitutes mental illness and indignation over being asked to get it right before classing a large group as a menace to society.

What I’m not used to is a bunch of gun nuts telling us we can’t talk about gun control because we liberals were all in favor of deinstitutionalization. That’s the problem, you see. We no longer take away people’s freedom because their brains don’t work right all the time, so of course people are dying.

Nothing to do with the proliferation of guns and entitled attitudes toward them and incorrect beliefs about how they end up used. Nah, it’s because we don’t lock up all those crazies.

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“Model Patient’s Right to Know Act”, Amanda Knief on Atheists Talk

In the United States many citizens have access to regulated and safe healthcare (though expensive!). Unfortunately, more and more Americans are finding their access to vital and available services limited by the religious beliefs of their providers. We may ostensibly live in a secular society, but we’re finding that our healthcare system is become less and less so. From

Today, nearly 1 in 6 Americans is treated by a health care provider who is affiliated with more than 645 Catholic hospitals in the United States, according to the Catholic Health Association of the United States. All Catholic health care providers are encouraged to abide by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives, which affects the types and direction of treatment that men and women receive for everything from birth control to vasectomies to cancer to end-of-life care.

American Atheists is working to secure a legal right for patients to know what limits are being placed on us by our providers. By introducing the Model Patient’s Right to Know Act, they are hoping to create an environment in which we might be able to better understand our options when we’re choosing healthcare. From the American Atheist press release of the proposed legislation:

The proposed legislation would require health care providers to simply provide a list of services they will not perform for religious reason to patients, potential patients, health insurers, and state and federal grant or subsidy programs. The health care providers and insurance issues would them be requied to make that information available online for potential patients.

Join us this Sunday as we speak with Amanda Knief, National Legal and Public Policy director of American Atheists and author of the Model Patient’s Right to Know Act.

Related Links:

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The Reading List, 10/8/2015

I share a lot of links on Twitter and Facebook that I don’t blog about because I don’t have much to add. The reading list is a periodic feature where I share those links with my blog audience too. Of course, you’re still welcome to follow me on Twitter.

  • “With more and more women brought up to believe that sports can be their space, too, it’s natural for them to expect a seat at the table when sports come up in conversation. And yet, 40 years after Robin Herman became the first female reporter to enter an NFL locker room, women are still fighting a war against rampant sexism in the industry, with Twitter and Facebook serving as the new frontlines.” Read more.
  • “Particularly on television, reporters used visual as well as verbal content to shape the meaning of feminism for public consumption. Negative coverage used extreme close-ups to make radical feminists appear wild-eyed and eccentric, and other stories featured multiple images of women protesting while never interviewing them on camera, making feminism into a kind of visual spectacle.” Read more.
  • “But alongside that genetic understanding, an old and pernicious assumption has crept back into the American conversation, in which aptitudes are supposedly inherited by race: certain peoples are thought to have rhythm, or intellect, or speed or charm. That’s a fast track toward the old 19th- and early 20th-century problem of ‘scientific’ racism.” Read more.
  • “Georgina sat on the bed and sang a song about being kidnapped and the home and family she feared she would never see again.  Across the hall George laid on bed his listening to her sing, and he hummed along because he couldn’t understand the words.” Read more.
  • “I voted to authorize a strike because our employers in the games industry refuse to negotiate with us at all about some very, very important issues surrounding our working conditions.” Read more.
  • “This has led some people to regard [Justice Kennedy] as a ‘moderate’ or ‘swing vote’ on these matters. Since then, however, he has yet to come across an abortion restriction he finds unconstitutional, and his opinions drip with paternalism and moral condemnation of a pregnant person in need of an abortion.” Read more.
  • “There is allegedly another employee still working at DC who allegedly assaulted a woman multiple times in his office. The woman concerned reported him multiple times to management at DC and the person who hired her, but didn’t receive the support she needed and eventually left DC altogether.” Read more.
  • “And of course, as a feminist atheist, the reproductive war against women is one of our biggest challenges. FFRF began right after Roe v. Wade, and we’ve lost so much ground since then.” Read more.
  • “So while CBO estimates that cutting off federal funds to Planned Parenthood would reduce spending by $520 million 10 ten years, it would also increase spending by $650 million over that period. The net effect is an increase in spending of $130 million. ” Read more.
  • “And you need to put time and effort into your culture, and into making sure that everyone feels someone has their back, they have someone they can go to. I think startups gloss over that. They think, ‘We can do that later, that’s a big-company kind of thing.’ And what I’ve learned is we should have done that from the very beginning.” Read more.
  • “‘Patients must be able to make fully informed decisions about their health care,’ said Amanda Knief, national legal and public policy director for American Atheists, and author of the bill. ‘This legislation would help patients get the information they need to navigate the increasingly complicated—and increasingly religious—health care marketplace.'” Read more.
  • “There are a lot of other factors that can be overlaid here to add some gray space: preventability, trends, definitions. Regardless, it’s clear that terrorism holds an outsized role in political debate for the demonstrated threat it poses to American citizens.” Read more.
  • “Joking about ‘Bitey the Clown’ internally, however, does not seem to follow these guidelines. A company culture where someone’s ongoing misbehavior and sexual harassment habits becomes a joke is not one where employers have made the seriousness of harassment obvious, despite their statement.” Read more.
  • “But put these two things together — Voter ID and 28 counties without a place where you can get a driver’s license — and Voter ID becomes what the Democrats always said it was. A civil rights lawsuit isn’t a probability. It’s a certainty.” Read more.
  • “Amidst conservative outrage over abortion practices and the distribution of fetal tissue at Planned Parenthood clinics — and an aggressive Congressional hearing with the organization’s president Cecile Richards this week — an alleged act of arson took place at the Thousand Oaks, California location Wednesday night.” Read more.

Advice for Lonely Potential Mass Murderers

Another college campus, another mass shooting, another bunch of people dead–including the shooter–because a young man was angry the world wasn’t giving him what he thought he deserved. As has frequently been the case, this included a romantic/sexual relationship and the admiration of his peers.

The gunman who killed nine people at an Oregon community college said in writings he left behind that everyone else was “crazy” and ranted about not having a girlfriend, a law enforcement official said Monday.

He “complained in writings about not having a girlfriend, and he seemed to feel like he was very rational while others around him were not”. In other words, he was single and felt unappreciated. He was lonely. So he shot up a college and killed himself.

I’ve been there. [Read more…]

Mock the Movie: The Price of Rights Edition

Oh, the things a studio will do to prevent the rights for a superhero movie from reverting to the comics studio that owns the characters. Like making a movie they never intend to release so they can make a different one a decade later. Like hiring Roger Corman to produce that movie.

This Wednesday, we’re watching the 1994 version of The Fantastic Four. It feels a bit unfair, because everyone was trying to make the best movie they could with the resources they hadn’t been given. It’s okay, though. We’ll still mock it.

This one is available on Dailymotion. [Read more…]

The Reading List, 10/4/2015

I share a lot of links on Twitter and Facebook that I don’t blog about because I don’t have much to add. The reading list is a periodic feature where I share those links with my blog audience too. Of course, you’re still welcome to follow me on Twitter.

  • “Other people’s opinions can act as a reality check. And that doesn’t just happen through the exchange of information and analysis. It also happens by emotional demonstration. In fact, a show of anger, insult, revulsion, is an exchange of information — the information that the idea being expressed is considered morally bankrupt.” Read more.
  • “Sexual activity probably doesn’t trigger many heart attacks, scientists report September 21 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. In fact, the study’s authors say, the benefits seem to outweigh the risk.” Read more.
  • “And, best of all, a science fact fulfills that need to respond without engaging, and sends a message that trolling is neither affective nor acceptable (especially if others get involved) without you having to expend much effort or use up precious emotional bandwith.” Read more.
  • “There are no standards for law enforcement officials or judges to follow: Is the presence of drugs in the mother’s body cause for charges if the baby tests clean? What test results are appropriate for medical providers to report and when? Should a mother face charges even when she was using a prescription drug under a doctor’s supervision? Local prosecutors and courts have wide discretion.” Read more.
  • “It was a big room — did I mention that this was a plenary session? — but managed to achieve pretty good coverage before a staffer noticed what was happening. We discreetly tucked away our remaining bingo cards and sat down to watch the panel.” Read more.
  • Everything we want to talk about in terms of the rampant violence and insidious mechanics of subjugation and control in Muslim communities is obscured and blocked off the most by our progressive allies.Read more.
  • “Beyond the ways in which personal-experience-as-the-road-to-empathy can dangerously reinforce the myths of shared experience, it also places a disproportionate burden on survivors to do the work of support, care, and advocacy.” Read more.
  • Person B: ‘Wait, I understood you. I just disagree‘” Read more.
  • “But the social media battles have shown that Sanders’s supporters also have become a major hurdle for the candidate in building a positive image with the black electorate.” Read more.
  • “Some people (mostly young white men) get really grumpy when their precious identity is besmirched in some way by the presence of somebody whom they find unworthy. But last weekend while I was in Portland, I ran into a sort of gatekeeping I never expected.” Read more.
  • “Yes, there are people who regret having abortions, and whose hearts will always be a little broken by their decisions. There are also people- although it’s even harder for them to share their story- who know that the decision to have children was a mistake.” Read more.
  • “Lo and behold, a year or so later she got pregnant. She asked me again what I wanted to do.” Read more.
  • He wrote it, but he didn’t realise it was offensive. (So why are you taking offence?)Read more.
  • “The ability to produce sperm and ova is simply that, but the political and social ramifications of having one’s person socially associated with certain modes of gametes production go far beyond any medical considerations.” Read more.
  • “They found absolutely nothing. But they found nothing in a useful way.” Read more.
  • “Even after the luncheon was over and the news spread like wildfire that Kitt had ‘made the First Lady cry,’ the pinnacle of class and grace that was Madame Eartha was not sorry.” Read more.
  • “In the case of the L’Oréal Foundation survey, both the questions and the interpretation seemed geared to making the problem of sexist attitudes look impossibly bad.” Read more.

Saturday Storytime: The Star Maiden

io9 is helpfully making sure we don’t miss great stories from the last few months. There are plenty of good ones to choose from, but as I’m a sucker for good riffs on fairy tales and folks tales, this story from Roshani Chokshi particularly grabbed me.

I already knew what she would say. To anyone who would listen, she would tell them the tale of how she had floated down from the heavens to a secluded forest pool and how, there, my grandfather had fallen in love, captured her, and wedded her shortly thereafter.

“Your Lolo stole my dress when I was bathing,” she said matter-of-factly. “I could never fly back home. Without her dress, it is the star maiden’s curse to live out a mortal life.”

She crooned a little song before looking at my grandfather’s picture on the wall. “Salbahe,” she said, scolding the picture affectionately. “Your grandfather was very mischievous.”

When I was younger, I believed everything she said. I believed that a tikbalang slunk through coastal shantytowns, its ghost hooves crusted with sea-salt, its body twitching and hungry for virgins. I believed that a shadow in a tree meant a wakwak was preening and that its smooth-skinned witch familiar was nearby. I believed my Lola was a star-maiden who once wore a constellation in her hair and yearned to press her feet in the warm loam of the Philippines. Later, my parents would tell me that Lola had lived through the war and had lost everyone. If she chose to mask slain family members with a myth, then that was her business.

At the time, however, the one thing I couldn’t believe about my grandmother was why she stayed on Earth.

“He stole from you! Why did you stay?”

Lola shrugged. “I do not know. Perhaps I was curious. I was a foreigner, after all. The first day he saw me, he gave me a mango. I had never had a mango…it was masarap. Like eating a sun. He was a good man. And he had the most beautiful singing voice.”

Later, I would discover that things less powerful than sweet mangoes and lovely voices could grasp your heart. But at the time, I was quietly outraged. How could my grandmother—who knew a thousand ways to lull someone to sleep, who knew that the moon wore a coronet of solar flares, who knew what a star looked liked without its husk—fall for a song? Then again, perhaps I could understand. I remembered Lolo’s voice. He sang to me once when I was eight and had fallen off a bike. My head against his chest, his voice—exquisite and velvety—wrapped around us like gauze, soothing my bruised knee and scuffed elbow until I was bobbing my head with the rhythm, garbling the lyrics and trying to sing with him.

“Did you ever find it?” I pressed. “The dress?”

“Oh yes,” she said with a nonchalant wave of her hand. “He was so messy. He could not find his own nose without my help.”

“But you stayed.”

“I loved him. I still do. Mahal ko siya.”

“But he cursed you by taking your dress,” I pointed out.

“Oh anak, that is not the curse,” she said, taking my hand in hers. “The curse is to love, to be loved in return, and still have to leave.”

Keep reading.