relational algebra talk last night was awesome

Quickly: James Terwilliger and Rafael J. Fernández-Moctezuma gave a fantastic talk about relational algebra operators (there are 9, arguably 8). They started with the set theory origins, dropped Codd’s name a few times and captivated the room. There was also mention of proof by intimidation, brandishing of duct tape, fabulous drinks mixed by Gabrielle Roth, and twenty-one people in attendance.

Before the talk, we had an impromptu “What is HOT?” (HOT stands for Heap-ONLY Tuple) from Jeff Davis. More details on that later. I think we need more 15-minute, what-is-this-new-feature-and-why-is-it-awesome talks.

xppdx – dipping a toe in the water

I had a great time at an XP Programming/Code Sprint this evening arranged via the XP Portland mailing list. Without a clue as to what to expect, I showed up with my battered laptop, listened to three people present their ideas for projects to work on and picked one that seemed kanban-related (turned out yes!) to help out with.

Going back to my entry about the women’s programming group – our groups tonight had 100% participation because of the pairings. And there was no where to hide!

I think there’s a relationship between XP, socratic seminars (at least the way our group operated) and “pair and share” discussion (which is used quite a bit in middle and high school education). And by pairing people up, you very quickly discover how to compliment (or not!) each others strengths and weaknesses. I haven’t read anything about XP other than short articles on the web, but I really did not expect that at all.

Maybe that doesn’t work out for everyone, but tonight was fabulous. Thanks Kevin, Aaron, Arlo and Kim for all your help. And especially Jeff, who encouraged several of us to attend in the first place! It was so fun working together.

In two hours we had a tiny working application, putting data into an SQLite database using a GUI toolkit on three different operating systems. Sure, we need tests and documentation, but great work for just two hours and 7-8 people who mostly didn’t know each other.

I think that the group will be meeting in another two weeks, and I hope I can make it!

PostgreSQL conference in Portland on October 20th

Joshua Drake, Josh Berkus and I are organizing PostgreSQL Conference Fall 2007 here in Portland, OR on October 20, 2007. We’ve got an incredible group of speakers lined up, and a great group of sponsors.

The conference is free to students, $60 for everyone else. We have a separate dinner everyone is welcome to for $10.

The whole thing is a bargain for a full day of highly-technical talks and the opportunity to meet contributors to the core of PostgreSQL, local Portland experts and a cadre of smarty pants database-lovers.

Plus, we’re raising money for PostgreSQL advocacy efforts with all money going to the non-profit organization Software in the Public Interest.

Today, we were working out the details for the schedule to add a talk from Neil Conway titled “Understanding Query Execution in PostgreSQL”, which will discuss the query planner and EXPLAIN. This will be great information for those of us who want to understand a bit more about query execution.

Speaker bios and talk abstracts should be up soon. This week, I’ll be working on getting some women-sized tshirts (woo!), A/V recording equipment and working on getting the word out at PSU that the event will be held there. I’d also like to drop some fliers off at Powells Technical, and maybe a few other user group events coming up. Let me know if you think I’ve missed a user group, or know of some other place I should drop fliers.

Plus, we’ve got our next PDXPUG meeting on Thursday, September 20th – Relational Algebra with a couple PSU PhD candidates. Rumor is that there will be mixed drinks.

being singled out – Tatiana Apandi interviewed by MacVoice

I just finished listening to a MacVoices interview with Tatiana Apandi about the Women In Tech series. Great interview, Tatiana!

One great point she made in the intervew was the distinction between being acknowledged or singled out for being different. They were discussing Nelly Yusupova’s article Be a Part of Influencing the Future. From the interview, around 12:30 in the audio file:

MacVoice: Do you think it’s really true that women experience fear in tech world?

Tatiana Apandi: Well.. you don’t take one person’s experience and say that’s all women. For her that was true, and I think that it can be true for a lot of people. When you go into a situation where you have to prove, not just yourself but an entire population… you are representative of something. That can be really a lot of pressure, and some people don’t mind it, but maybe don’t even notice it. But it’s there.

Personally, I do feel the Other a lot, just [from] people asking me questions [like] “So as an Asian what do you think of this…” I know what that’s like, that separation, and sometimes it does get uncomfortable to the point where I don’t want to participate anymore. So, I can relate to that, but I wouldn’t say that’s indicative of what women feel when they enter this field. Because its going to be different for every woman.

MV: That’s a very interesting statement. You take it out of the gender area and make it a bit more cultural. There are times when it is absolutely valid to ask a question from an Asian perspective, from a male perspective, from a female perspective… But there are times I guess [where it’s not.] Maybe a lot of us have never even really about that. Even by coming to you and asking “why now” about a series of articles about women in tech – is that a sexist question? Did I ask a sexist question?

[laughter from both]

TA: I don’t think so. I think it’s an interesting question… I think its more that when you’re in a group that you consider your peers, or you’re considered to be… all the same, and a question [comes up that] forces you realize that you’re not part of this community. [If that question] singles you out [by] saying “what do you think as *this* representative” you’re no longer laughing and joking with that community. Now you’re part of something else and that’s where the uncomfortability comes in for me. Where you’re suddenly [thinking] “oh yeah, I’m not one of you, I’m different somehow.”

There’s more before and after that excerpt about conferences and the discomfort people have when navigating being social (“Do I go out of my way to invite the one woman in the room to lunch with the group? Or will that be misinterpreted”). And Tatiana discusses her motivations and what she’s trying to do with the series.

During the part of the interview I quoted, I thought of a classroom management story my husband told me the other day about being singled out. He’s teaching a unit on borders – focusing on the Mexico/USA border.

An important lesson for the kids is how some borders are arbitrary – in both good and bad ways. Here’s the story he told: A student was asked to stay after class, and some of her peers immediately teased her for being in trouble. When confronted, the student who started the teasing acknowledged that he’d just been “drawing a line” between himself and others, and that the effect was to make the first student feel as though she was on the wrong side of the line. Students should be able to handle a little gentle ribbing, but I thought the confrontation was a good and harmless lesson about how teasing can work to marginalize people in groups.

I really enjoyed working with Tatiana on my essay. Her voice and editing are the glue sticking our work together. She has a great perspective, and I’m happy she’s out there, representing the group.

Editorial vs. News

Today’s article The Truth and Alberto Gonzales was another great public editor essay by Clark Hoyt. I love his reflections on the NY Times. This one is about the line between editorial and news, and how the Times responded to it.

I especially liked his response to the on the On The Media interview he recently gave – introspection.

He reviewed the paper’s coverage of the congressional hearings, and found that the Times had largely been neutral and factual. Except here:

Once, I felt The Times pulled a punch — in the front-page article reporting Goodling’s dramatic testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. The lead paragraph said her testimony “suggested” that earlier testimony by Gonzales “may have been flawed.” In fact, as the article made clear, her testimony that Gonzales asked her questions about her recollections of the firings contradicted his testimony that he had not spoken to his senior aides since the firings “to protect the integrity of this investigation.” More than a flaw was involved here; someone was telling the truth, and someone wasn’t.

Hoyt then goes on to describe the editorial response and early call for Gonzales’ resignation/removal.

Here’s another On The Media podcast about truth and memory.

science tattoos

I came across this photo set of science tattoos today (via The Loom science blog). The fibonacci sequence implemented in scheme was bizarre, and there was a poignant one about being a celiac. They reminded me of these rsa key tattoos (search for ‘tattoo’). And some guy that puts web ads on his body. He ended up on Conan, CNN, NBC and got interviewed by USA Today in 2005. He added three more tattoos this year.

I have this design idea rattling around in my head – that there’s partially an advertising design root-cause in of a generation of people compulsively tattooing themselves with weird shit. Like we’re seeing the results of extreme brand-consciousness, and the feeling that we all just need to be a little bit more unique than the next person, or that our ideas and interests need to be quickly externalized and etched into our skin.

There’s beauty in the photos of the web-banner tattoos – the saturated colors, the raised/bruised skin, the skin itself. Its hard not to feel a bit of the being-tattooed adrenaline rush when looking at the finished products, just moments after the needle stops. But, they’re still ugly.

Comments on “So What?”

I really like the idea of changing the nature of computer science degrees – pairing the theory and tools with a discipline. A friend of mine chose to basically do that. She started out in chemistry and biology, switched her degree to CS and wrote an classification application for botanists for her thesis.

Still, I think there is value in in the study of computer science in a concentrated and separate way (disclosure: I have a CS degree). For example, I think that, despite many obvious similarities, there are important and fundamental differences between programming and human communication languages. And there is enough difference that academic study of programming languages just doesn’t seem to fully fit in linguistics departments. I think you can argue the opposite – but academics have already separated the departments and degrees. An interim step may be to encourage more dual degree programs like this:

and in response to a call for research:

Here’s one place you can start for reading:

Another is:

Perhaps a bibliography is called for in this series to help educate readers about what research is out there. The research I’m aware of appears to conclude that there is systemic bias in the industry that specifically discourages women.

Certainly, more research is needed! I would love for this series to inspire further academic discovery.

Original article here.


We’ve got our first Haskell meeting tonight. Just a group of us getting together to learn. I have a few todos this morning – install Hugs, pick a tutorial to talk about and write a couple demo programs.

My plan is to write a bicycle wheel spoke calculator in Haskell. I may end up porting it to something else, but I thought it was a sufficiently complex problem to learn a new language with.