Category Archives: Technology

photo of a lone woman developer at HDC

Where the Women Are

I was on the road last week, and found myself with three burning questions: Why do hotel pillows have the relative density of year-old Melba toast? Why are conference rooms super-chilled to 283 Kelvin? And, most importantly, where are all the women?

photo of a lone woman developer at HDC

Can you spot me? I’m one of only two women in this fun-filled seminar on Building the Next Generation of MVC Applications on ASP.NET 5.0

I can tell you where they aren’t: at the AIM Heartland Developer’s Conference in Omaha, Nebraska. Call it the Burning Man for geeks, except nothing radical happens, and the debauchery is generally limited to wearing cargo shorts to the workshops: Look dude, I left my khakis at home!

The AIM HDC is an annual event where software developers gather to exchange ideas and learn about emerging technologies. As such, I would have predicted it as a representative sampling of developers in the Midwest.

What I found in terms of the ratio of men to women was distressing. At best it was 8:1 and sometimes as bad as 40:1. Even more disturbing was number of young women (in this case I mean women under thirty). In my time at the seminar, I spotted only three twenty-something women out of six-hundred participants.


In the department where I work—a department largely populated with seasoned IT professionals—I’d guesstimate the ratio is around 5:1. They don’t hire fresh college grads there, but I wrongly assumed the number of women entering the field had remained steady.

How wrong I was.

In 1984, 37% of the students pursuing a Computer Science degree were women. However, since 1985, the number of women pursuing Computer Science degrees has declined. Post-2007, that number has been flat at around 17%.

Why the gender gap? I found plenty of hypotheses online, but I decided to find out what the women in IT thought. So between seminars, I walked around and asked female developers why there weren’t more women in technology.

The answers I got ranged from a mystified shrug, to a woman who evangelized on the importance of early outreach in elementary school.

Other reasons I heard:

  • Women are hesitant to pursue a career in a male-dominated field.
  • Women choose to pursue more social careers, like medicine/nursing.
  • Technology is perceived as an isolated career, where women prefer more ‘social’ jobs.
  • Women don’t want to be nerds. It’s unattractive.
  • Technology is just not a woman’s first choice when considering a career

All of which made me go back to the participant who said, “By the time girls reach high school and are making career decisions, it’s too late. They’ve been shunted out of math and sciences.”

Barbie says: I can be a computer programmer. Or at least design a game and make coffee for the real programmers.

Barbie says: I can be a computer programmer. Or at least design a game and make coffee for the real programmers.

Well that’s silly, right? We all know girls are just as smart at math and science. And even Barbie can be a Computer Programmer, or so said Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer by Susan Marenco. Well, actually, that book said that Barbie can only be a designer, and that she needed Steven and Brian to actually do the coding. Marenco faced a lot of wrath over that book and it was subsequently withdrawn. But this was released in 2013. It’s 2013 and this is the message that still gets out to our girls?

Not exactly, according to the State of Girls and Women in STEM According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, more girls are taking pre-calculus and algebra II than boys, and females enroll in science course at similar rates to their male peers.

But it is in engineering, physics and computer science where the gap shows up. Boys were six times more likely to have taken engineering classes.

It’s perplexing. For one thing, an engineering degree affords the opportunity to earn a better than average salary. While the median starting salary for an Arts and Humanities graduate is $36,237, those in Engineering degree start out at $64,367. And Computer Science graduates can expect a starting salary around $58,500. Is the salary higher because it’s a male-dominated field? I can’t help but wonder. But I say–let’s find out. Let’s break the gender gap in computer science and engineering by encouraging our girls to pursue technology.

The guys at the HDC in Omaha would approve. Because frankly, their odds weren’t good.

Ashley Madison and the Coming Information Storm

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Generally, I’m inclined to keep my opinions to myself, or to veil them in metaphors wrapped in allegories that are woven into a plotlines. But I have to confess this whole Ashley Madison thing pulls my ripcord.

As a writer whose favorite hobby is turning technology loose on hapless characters, recent events have given me a chance to watch idle conjecture unfold in real-time. And it’s been sad. And scary. And unsurprising.

For anyone not familiar with the story, Ashley Madison is a dating website that caters to those seeking extramarital affairs. Call it the Facebook of infidelity. Ashley Madison members paid upwards of $400 in fees pursuing adulterous liaisons on the site.

In July of this year, a person or persons calling themselves The Impact Team threatened to reveal Ashley Madison member information unless Avid Life Media took the site down. True to their word, in mid-August The Impact Team began releasing user data, including customer names, addresses and sexual preferences.

Since that first data leak, the breach has been linked to firings, resignations, blackmail, identity theft, and most tragic of all, suicide. Avid Live CEO Noel Biderman stepped down on August 28, and all over the world people were rightly (and sometimes wrongly) revealed as cheaters. Marriages fell apart, kids got confused, in-laws got irate, and divorce lawyers everywhere put down hefty deposits on next year’s BMW.

“Too bad for those men, they’re cheating dirtbags and deserve no such discretion,” the Impact Team said, and many echoed this righteous sentiment.

But as Glenn Greenwald put it: “[I]t’s worth remembering that the reality is often far more complex than the smug moralizers suggest.”

Every victim of the hacking has a story, a reason. A family. We’re talking about real people, real families, living real consequences. As one who has spent most of their life in the shadow of a family suicide, I can say that no family deserves this.

But I bring this up not because it’s wrong to extort, blackmail or bully (although I could write a book on it), or to tell you that hackers are scary and that the internet is a dangerous place filled with hackers and trolls and lies–but instead to talk about a larger phenomenon that’s happening before our very eyes, something too big for us to fully comprehend yet.

Paper, you had a good run

Five hundred years ago, if you were wealthy enough to have servants and fortunate enough to be able to read and write, you might have been able to send and receive messages cross-country. Just a smidge more than 100 years ago, the first tentative radio signals reached across the Atlantic. Contrast this with today, where information travels to the furthest reaches of the world in a nanosecond.

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Our amazing internet is faster than the telephone, more powerful than print, able to reach remote locations with a single click. And it’s not just for personal communication or entertainment. A giant information cloud rains down on us 24/7.

None of us ever has to wonder how many movies Wes Craven produced or if the local theater is doing a revival this weekend. We don’t need to read maps or know phone numbers or remember appointments—or spend one unoccupied moment, thanks to our smartphones and the rapidly growing market of devices being developed to satisfy our information itch.

It’s a small exchange too: devices are cheap, and apps and web tools generally have one small price: we tell them about us, and they tell us everything. Give us everything. We happily oblige though, because we need it. Last week a friend of mine was hurrying through Manhattan to catch a flight at LaGuardia when his Moto X bricked. “Worst thing ever,” he said. “I can’t believe I made it.”

Indeed. How did we manage? A question we often ask ourselves when we’re standing around during the intermission of Washington Middle School’s production of Our Town, while dialing up the current score on the Vikings game.

And so each of us willingly carries around what amounts to personal surveillance device: complete with camera and GPS, containing our personal information: our hopes, our dreams, our lives. A social media dossier is now attached to everything we do, from applying to a job to meeting and attracting a mate.

And we’re only now beginning to realize: What happens in Vegas stays on Instagram. Forever, and ever and ever.

Once something becomes data, getting rid of it is difficult, if not impossible. Data can be duplicated, screenshotted, archived or spidered and cataloged forever. The Library of Congress has started saving tweets as part of America’s historical record. And I don’t even want to think about what the NSA is up to these days. And here’s something else to consider: how many of those Terms of Service do you actually read?

Yet all of us are willing subscribers, eager to trade our personal slice of data for any convenience. Meanwhile, webbots and screen scrapers mine the cloud, looking for vulnerabilities. Eager for something to use.

And while you might find it hard to sympathize with Lothario McCheaterson and the Ashley Madison debacle, this breach illustrates again the ease with which data can be high-jacked by anyone determined to obtain it.

There are no shortage of information breaches on the news. Nearly 2 billion accounts have been compromised since 2004. And you don’t need to be a victim of identity theft to know it won’t be long before simmering privacy and security issues go full boil.

But still, wouldn’t it be cool to have your needed groceries automatically delivered to your door without you even having to crack a list? And to have them remember to include balsamic vinaigrette, which you only just mentioned to your spouse in passing? And isn’t that creepy? But so worth it, because it makes our lives better and easier. Up until the point our identities are stolen or our health insurer removes all references to Ben & Jerry’s from our grocery lists, in the name of “improving our lives.”

So what happens when your medical record is compromised and you’re turned down for the job you’re after because of that 2012 prescription for Prozac? What happens when your mortgage loan is rejected because of your flip remark about running off to Bimini on Facebook? And what about when you can’t get life insurance because there is just way too much Lana Del Ray on your Spotify?

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No, the risk isn’t just from hackers wearing black hats, breaching networks in the dark of night. We face just as much peril from the boardroom deal between your bank and your health insurer.

The right to individual privacy has always ground against the needs of society. If some nutjob was plotting to incinerate the Ben & Jerry’s freezer at your local market, it’d be good to know about it, right? If someone means to harm us and we could stop them by knowing their plan, it’s a good thing, no? But the waters quickly muddy when you realize the endless number of scenarios and realize there is no gold standard in the war between privacy and right to know.

And when the prize is as vast and valuable as our collective information, expect things only to get more complicated. And the only thing certain is that we are all at risk.

Mira! Mira la tormenta.

Which reminds me, I wonder if Netflix still has Terminator 1 and 2.

HitList by K. Rawson

HitList by K. Rawson What happens when a teenage hacker takes revenge on cyberbullies. Available on Amazon


I’m a Dog’s Ass and Other Things my Phone Thinks

My phone hates me. Or maybe it’s not hate so much as sneering disrespect.

IMG_1476Case in point: I manage my calendar on my phone. That’s the wonderful thing with smartphones: everyone trots around with their own personal assistant at the ready. Start my coffee! Turn up the heat! Add four boxes Barefoot wine to the grocery list!

It’s really astounding if you think about it. So there I was, putting my week together  and on Tuesdays I take my dog to agility class. So I said: “Emma dog class”

I’m a dog’s ass

Seriously? I repeat it three times. Each time, my phone smirks back at me: I’m a dog’s ass.

Do I argue with that?

I walk a lot. Gets the wheels turning when I’m writing and part of the appeal of my particular phone was the thought that I could march along and dictate all my profound musings as they occurred to me. Because God forbid I have a deep thought that isn’t saved for posterity.

But my phone is a churlish, inattentive, gum-chewing idiot.

Consider this mystifying entry from my notes:

Voted up for good measure. And it stays that way.

Or this:

Feel the shiver's ink to the base of yours. Bye.

Or this:

Sleep frayed at both ends.

Well I actually sort of like that last one.

But it’s 2015. Haven’t we perfected this technology by now? Maybe it’s me. Maybe after all these years I haven’t mastered the English language. And there are those that read my blog that might argue such. Or maybe my phone thinks I sound like I have a dog’s ass squished against my face. Who knows. But the whole thing is a daily source of frustration.

Play music: the Handsome Family.

Which member of your family do you want to call?

OH MY GOD. It’s moments like this I feel like such a dog’s ass.

What does your phone think of you?