We Sinful Women by Kishwar Naheed

We Sinful Women by Kishwar Naheed, photo of Naheed

We Sinful Women by Kishwar Naheed

Cooking, cleaning, laundry and making a little music have eaten my weekend. I am exhausted from fighting off a winter sickness and cleaning my basement. Forgive me for not presenting a researched and original written piece this day. Instead I would like to present a poem, “We Sinful Women”,  from one of the “badass” feminist poets: Kishwar Naheed.  Naheed is an Urdu poet from Pakistan. She is the founder of the Hawwa Foundation that supports women who do not have an independent source of income. A copy of this poem in English and its original can be found in We Sinful Women: Contemporary Urdu Feminist Poetry by Rukhsana Ahmad.

We Sinful Women

It is we sinful women

who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our lives

who don’t bow our heads

who don’t fold our hands together.

It is we sinful women

while those who sell the harvests of our bodies

become exalted

become distinguished

become the just princes of the material world.

It is we sinful women

who come out raising the banner of truth

up against barricades of lies on the highways

who find stories of persecution piled on each threshold

who find that tongues which could speak have been severed.

It is we sinful women.

Now, even if the night gives chase

these eyes shall not be put out.

For the wall which has been razed

don’t insist now on raising it again.

It is we sinful women

who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our bodies

who don’t bow our heads

who don’t fold our hands together.

This Machine Kills Fascists

Woody Guthrie, This Machine Kills Fascists

This Machine Kills Fascists

Woody Guthrie wrote “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar. Steve Earl once said of Guthrie, “I don’t think of Woody Guthrie as a political writer. He was a writer who lived in very political times.”

This Land Is Your Land

“This Land is Your Land” was Guthrie’s answer to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”. He was so tired of hearing “God Bless America” constantly played on the radio, he wrote “This Land is Your Land”. I remember listening to a recording of this song when I was in elementary school. The song spoke of ribbons of highway, sparkling sands, and waving wheat fields. A land that was for you and me.

But Guthrie’s songs reflected what he saw around him. He signed the manuscript for “This Land is Your Land” with the comment, “All you can write is what you see, Woody G., N.Y., N.Y., N.Y.” The song originally included the following in the fourth and sixth verses:

As I went walking, I saw a sign there,
And on the sign there, It said “no trespassing”.
But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing!
That side was made for you and me.
In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

These verses were often omitted in subsequent recordings, sometimes by Guthrie.

Protest and Peace Songs

While in California during the Dust Bowl era, Guthrie was among the Okies who flooded into California. The Californians did not want these immigrants. Employed by a leftwing radio host, Guthrie identified himself as an “outsider”. He spoke and sang of the travails of immigrants with such songs as “I Ain’t Got No Home”, “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad”, “Talking Dust Bowl Blues”, “Tom Joad” and “Hard Travelin’”. All of these songs gave voice to those who had been disenfranchised.

When Guthrie moved to New York, he met Lead Belly, Cisco Houston, Burl Ives, Pete Seeger, Will Geer, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Josh White, Millard Lampell, Bess Hawes, Sis Cunningham, and others. This group became his close friends and musical collaborators, forming The Almanac Singers. They wrote songs for social causes such as union organizing, anti-Fascism, peace, and generally fighting for the things they believed in. They wrote songs of political protest and activism.

During World War II, Guthrie served in the merchant marines. At first he tried to argue he could serve better by staying in the US and singing to inspire people. Friends persuaded him to join the merchant marines where he composed and sang songs to bolster moral. He composed hundreds of anti-Hitler, pro-war, and historic ballads to rally the troops, such as “All You Fascists Bound To Lose”, “Talking Merchant Marine,” and “The Sinking of the Reuben James.”

Guthrie influenced the musicians of the American Folk Revival– people such as Bob Dylan, the Weavers, and Pete Seeger. His son Arlo Guthrie wrote and sang “Alice’s Restaurant” which protested the war in Vietnam.

Songs For Our Time

I am tired of songs about dysfunctional love, random sex and the cache of trivialities most rock and pop songs litter our air waves with. I remember the first time I heard Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”. And “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution”. They weren’t spun fluff. They felt solid and spoke from the heart. We are living in political times. I think we need songs that reflect the world around us. And we need a singer like Woody Guthrie who can see the world, sing about it in a real way, and give us our songs of peace and protest.

2017, Metaphors, Expectations, Fictions

2017, Metaphors, Expectations, Fictions happy new year

2017, Metaphors, Expectations, Fictions.

I have been thinking about these thought forms we live by. The planet has rotated on its axises and spun around our yellow sun, landing once more in this spot. An arbitrary place in its orbit that we have designated the start of… something… a new year.

This is a mutually agreed upon idea–like money. It holds meaning because we give it meaning. I could decide I like some day in spring better to be the start of a new year, but if I shouted “Happy New Year” from the mountain tops on that day, people would look at me like I was crazy. Just as if I took out my markers and made “money”, it wouldn’t pass for currency and might get me locked up.

We humans are social beasts. Not a very revolutionary statement. We as a collective, and more and more this collective is global, create these “notions”, “expectations”, and useful fictions that a huge proportion of us just go along with. And they continue.

Some of these useful fictions as collective agreements are useful– like money and the calendar. Others are not.

Let’s consider some of the metaphors, expectations, and fictions…

More is Better

First, the idea more is better. This idea is so embedded as a metaphor in the English language our brains are wired to think more is better. But is more better?

Can our planet handle more people? People wanting more and more stuff, eating more and more, and needing more and more water?

The Free Market Will Solve Everything

Secondly, how about the idea that free market capitalism is the magic solution to improve any situation?

Politicians and some economists frequently trot out free market capitalism as the way to improve everything from public education to healthcare to janitorial services in public institutions. As if competition along narrowly designated criteria always makes things better. While I think free market capitalism can improve some situations, I am not so certain I want healthcare or education decisions made without regulations.

I offer as an example the time when a local university switched its security personnel from being employed by the university and given a fair wage to outsourcing to a private company. All the computers in the library were stolen. Within a few weeks. I could elaborate on this one more, but I want to move on.

Party!

Further, what about the expectation that New Year’s Eve should be celebrated as a wild drunken party? Beyond far too many people who normally don’t drink much getting behind the wheel of their cars all on one night, maybe this expectation hurts folks in small ways? Like the poisonous cocktail of expectations that surrounds St. Valentine’s Day.

I can count on my hands the number of times I have gone out on New Year’s Eve for a party. Here are a few of those memories: 1. with a friend in college who proceeded to get uproariously drunk and puked everywhere; 2. with a former partner who took me to a party to “celebrate” the year 2000 coming in at his nutty friend’s house who wanted to have my preschool aged son sleep in a room with all of his guns; and 3. with a different partner at a botanical garden in Cape Town (lovely night, too bad the guy is an ass and this memory has turned to shit).

I sat last night and thought this one through. Being home and rejecting the expectation I “should” be out at a party was a much better way to spend the evening. A mini revolution. I am tired of the fictions.

Good People

Lastly, how about the notion “good people will have good things come to them”? When tragedy happens to good people, everyone is shocked. Why? We can certainly have empathy, but bad stuff happens and being a good person is no shield.

Conversely, when someone has horrible stuff happen to them we think somehow they deserved it. Why? Sometimes, stuff just happens.

Also wrapped into our notions of what makes a “good” person are weird things like attractiveness, race, religion, education, and economic class. Too often poor people are considered “low life” and hence deserving of horrible maladies. Why? Also, being a Christian does not automatically make someone better. Again, perhaps actions should determine if the title of “good person” should be bestowed. Nothing else.

Further, it’s great if we are good people, but this has nothing to do with what we might get. As I said at the start of this post, we are social animals. We are all interconnected. Each of us “needs” and each of us has skills we contribute to the whole of humanity. We get according to what we have to offer, what we do, what skills we have, etc. Turning up to a job interview and insisting you be hired because you are a good person won’t cut it. Showing up on a date and expecting the other person to fall in love because you are a good person won’t happen. Groundhog Day kind of springs to mind.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I am offering these thoughts as examples. There are many more possible examples that I could have used to illustrate our personal and societal thought forms. I am offering these because for me this is the year to cut through the collective notions getting in the way. So…

Do you want a better job? Develop your skills.

Do you want your novel published? Write. Get critiqued. Keep writing. Saying you are an author, but showing no written work? This won’t cut it.

Are we going to oppose a potentially fascist regime? Take apart the propaganda. Lay bare the fictions. Be critical. Create a plan. Find doable today actions.

Do you want to get in shape? Take apart your actions– are you working hard enough? Are you sweating? What’s your heart rate?

Let’s make 2017 the year of clarity. A year we examine our collective fictions, the expectations upon us, and our personal stories we tell ourselves.

 

In my cells, water of the lakes

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In my cells, water of the lakes

In my bones, the minerals of the soil

My heart beats like a butterfly’s wings

Yesterday my daughter and I drove to Elderly instruments in Lansing, Michigan. We listened to Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellies, The California Feetwarmers, Dervish, and Blind Boy Jerome Paxton while we drove winding back roads to get there. The trees were green. Everything was lush. We saw a coyote.

I grew up predominantly on the western side of Michigan along Lake Michigan. As a high schooler, I walked the ecological progression from dune to scrub to pines to hard woods. When I walk in Michigan now there is an underlying expectation of what the plants and the landscape should look like. It is present in me. It is the most spiritual aspect of me.

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I remember when I first moved to Woody Creek, Colorado, seeing the shadows of clouds moving across the mountains startled me. The wide open views shocked me. The landscape was arid, sometimes rocky, sometimes the soil was red. The plants were different. I loved watching the animals from the bedroom windows that faced over a large field. I remember seeing coyotes, fox, deer, and even a mountain lion. The elk were majestic. I loved seeing the elk. They moved with such grace and elegance for an animal as tall as my car. I loved to see the vapor of an elk breathing in and out in the cold. And the edge of ice and frost over the grasses on a cold morning.

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It is so easy to forget what is everyday in the background. The explosion of green that happens in two weeks in Michigan sometime near the end of April or beginning of May. It is easy to forget from year to year the blooming of the orange ditch lilies that grow everywhere in Michigan so when you see them again it is like a surprise. It is so easy to forget the ash trees that died because of the ash borers because we still have the maples and box elders. It is easy to believe that the great lakes will never change, the Michigan snows will always come, the monarchs will return, the apples will grow, etc.

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When I take a moment to stop. Just stop. Sit in the screen house under the shade of the ever growing maple trees, under the climbing grape leaves, under the clouds… when I am still for a minute, it reminds I am not separate from the landscape. I love to go camping and just sit in the mornings with a cup of tea and watch the area around me. I love to see the deer walking through the ferns. I love to hear the birds. The sight of a heron overhead catches my breath because it is so primal. My heartbeat is reflected in the flutter of a butterfly on the dunes. I am at peace at the edge of Lake Michigan.

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How will climate change shift our sense of self? What will we trust if we cannot trust the air we breathe? Or the water we drink? What will happen to our sense of self, an underlying sense of ourselves that we are increasingly out of touch with?

In the midst

Einstein-chaos

In The Midst

It has been awhile since I wrote anything on this blog. I have been “in the midst”. I have been working to learn how to code in Java, C#, and PHP. And using some SQL, Linux and Git along the way. And learning about servers and protocols and networking and… I feel very much a novice with an ocean of information to learn. Each topic has an eight hundred page book and several hours of tutorials. At every turn sub-topics arise and spawn a dozen other topics with as much information to learn. Learning computer science and programming often means chaining subjects in an ever widening pool and then swimming back to the original subject. The more I know, the more I realize I know very little. Sometimes it feels invigorating and sometimes not so much. Sometimes it is overwhelming.

In the Past

My former career was “special education teacher”. I like working with children very much. Teaching children to read is challenging and satisfying. I always cheer the underdogs because an inspired and motivated underdog will work harder and they know they have to get beyond the obstacles. When things come easy to people, they don’t learn the important lessons of working hard, failing is ok, and you always have a bit more in reserve. I went from a profession I worked in for twenty years, and was good at, to once again learning from the ground up. It is hard to let go of the past. Accepting past accomplishments mean little in the new endeavor stings. Holding a beginner’s framework of mind is a balancing act.  Persevering requires strategies.

While, I have written in the past about my decision to change careers. I don’t think I have talked about what it is like to be in the midst of changing careers.

Everyone is SO Smart

I work with many incredibly intelligent people. Their problem solving abilities frequently leave me in awe. Watching how they problem solve, I try to learn from them as much as I can. I have to stay on my toes. Sometimes this is exhausting. I often feel five years old trying to keep up with my teenage brothers. Typically, I am exhausted when I get home.

I optimize my time and work on learning every day for hours. Often feeling I have a lot of ground to cover, I scrounge for and find enough time. I spend about 20-30 hours per week, outside of work, working on learning new skills. I have reached the point where the things I want to learn and to code cannot always be done in an afternoon. Sometimes this desire to learn and swallow the ocean leaves me a tad burnt out. At those times, I have to recognize this when it creeps up and take some time to do other stuff,– go outside, play music, or actually make contact with other people.

Someone In Your Corner

Having at least one person in your corner who believes in you is crucial. There are always folks who will say you cannot do something. Or who act in such a way they let you know they don’t expect you to succeed. Or they pigeonhole you and they are certain their judgment is a correct fit. Staying tough of mind and focused on your goals against this when things are already challenging is tough. That one person who believes you can do stuff? They are… amazing. Beyond value. If there is one thing you can do for another person, it is this. Thank-you Colum.

Problem Solving

When I am working on a coding problem, it often takes my breath away at first. There is a brief moment at the onset of taking on the challenge where I have to make the decision to commit to solving it. Two years ago, it didn’t feel risky. This decision had no emotions tied to it. Then I went through enough cycles of coding/problem solving that the dimensions of this as a challenge began to form.

Coding, tracking a bug, or figuring out why some piece of networking isn’t working frequently starts out routine. Go through everything, look for obvious mistakes. Read the stack trace. Look at the error. Code in some outputs. Then systematically start changing things and see what impact these changes have. Sometimes this works, sometimes not.

And that is when things begin to get tough.

So you dig in and start googling. StackOverflow. All those people out there who have written questions about similar issues and the kind folks who responded are where you look for help. Along the way you swallow teaspoons of the ocean of computer science information. Sometimes, you swallow huge gulps that leave you gasping. You keep working through the problem and cheer when you get a different error message.

Woohoo– it doesn’t work but it did something!

You continue. Inevitably, you get to a point where throwing the laptop out the window is poking around in your mind as a viable choice. I once went for a walk at this frustrated point and yelled at the birds on my walk to keep problem solving. Over time you learn to not stop because you will get through this and there is this unbelievably awesome feeling when you solve the issue and get things to work.

What It All Feels Like

Sometimes, I am left absolutely giddy when I figure a problem out or code something and it works. I am often in a state of wonderment about just how cool some of the things I am learning are. I am also a bit blown away by how much I have learned since May 2014 when I started down this path.

So there are moments that are not feel good moments– like when I have to ask for help on something and wish I just knew how to do it. Or when a co-worker says something that hurts about my skill level and I wish I knew more. Or when I want to spend time and take on a new tutorial, but I am just too tired. And sometimes I get real self-conscious. At these times I don’t want to embarrass myself– I’d rather figure things out on my own.

Working on my own is so nobody can see that I am scrambling to figure things out.

And when I realize that I cannot do things on my own yet because I am still learning? All of these are just a different type of problem I have to solve. Sometimes the solution is remembering all the really cool folk who have taught me stuff– like Dan who taught me about MVC, David who I first worked out GIT with, Rachel and James who have both been patient with my popping up over the cubicle to ask questions, Gabby who pair programmed with me, Drew who helped me get through the first JSP training project, LeeAnn who has helped me understand how to test things, Jason who taught me Linux commands, and Colum who has taught me so much I cannot even approach listing everything.

Another choice is to remember I get to decide how I will respond to things– fold or keep learning. Sometimes the solution is to remember tomorrow is another day.

I have learnt I have to accept there is no way to know everything within computer science. It is just too large of a subject. It means there is always going to be something new to learn. I will never master the totality of it. There is no way. And that is very cool.

Aspects of Programming Beyond Code

There are so many aspects to programming– political, creative, and humanitarian. When I first started, I didn’t see all these aspects. Now they are among the things that keep me learning. There is an entire community of hackers/programmers/developers all over the world. Many want to keep the internet free. Thousands want intellectual freedom. Many write code in their spare time and post it to be used for free on places like GitHub. Linux is an open source operating system. The political ramifications of this are staggering. People like Linus Torvalds, Edward Snowden and Cory Doctorow are among my heroes.

Programs Can be Written to do Anything One Can Think of

I didn’t really consider this when I started down this path. Math is a love of mine and I began the career change because it involved analytical thinking. However, I have an arts background and have done creative writing for many years. The creative aspect of coding gives me incentive to keep learning. My skill level at this time is not where I can create some of the programs I am envisioning. Combining my design, art and communication abilities with coding skills is my ambition.

I have ideas for simulation games– games to illustrate ecological/permaculture principles, to show the impact of rising populations interacting with a food distribution system that isn’t designed to feed everyone, to reframe math concepts, etc. Ideas for programs to help people to learn, to help schools to track progress and write individual education plans, to help people with autism to expand their activities, etc are also collected in a moleskin notebook where I write ideas to possibly pursue.

A handful of years ago I learned about an academic in Newcastle, UK named Sugata Mitra. He did work putting computer kiosks in slums in India. People said the kiosks would be destroyed, but that wasn’t what happened. People taught themselves how to use the browsers and began using the computers for all sorts of things.

He also recruited 200 British grandmothers and had them teach children across the globe English via skype. The results were impressive. A few years ago I applied to two different Phd programs in information sciences with an emphasis on social change because I believed then, I as do now, that the UN Millennium Development Goals around literacy could be addressed using a combination of online education and cellular phone applications. Computers and the internet offer some unique opportunities to solve issues by making information available. This very much excites me.

Being in the midst of a career change is… humbling, exhilarating, difficult, terrifying, exhausting, and so much more. I am proud of how much I have learned to date. Not letting this go to my head, I can see I have much more to learn. I am excited about learning more– even knowing there are going to obstacles as well as accomplishments. This has continued to be a risky endeavor for many reasons, not the least of which is financial. I have learned a good deal about many things including myself, how to problem solve, how to persevere, and about programming.

Javaing on the first day of 2016!

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Javaing on the first day of 2016! For the last week I have been spending about 4-6 hours a day going through and reviewing some of the java programming I’ve learned in the last year. Serialization, recursion, interfaces and inner classes, arraylists and generics, hash tables, sets, trees, linked lists, collections, maps, iterators, jsp’s and servlets, etc.

This morning as I was putting laundry into the washing machine, I was thinking about programming. Right now, I am off work and class is not in session. I have done freelance writing and art at various points in my life. I love to write fiction and poetry when I have time. I like to draw and paint. I have so many ideas for web applications I would like to create. Programming is another creative tool to make things. On top of that it also has a challenging element of figuring out how things work.

While there are a number of resources to learn how to code, I am thinking of posting some basic tutorials in the nearish future. I am also hoping that at sometime in the relatively nearish future I can add one of my own web applications to this website. Working on it. 🙂

Happy New Year’s Eve Day!

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Happy New Year’s Eve Day!

It is the day of New Year’s Eve. Happy New Year’s Eve Day! I almost posted yesterday when it was the day before the day before New Year’s Eve. Maybe I will post on the day after New Year’s Eve day.

The point is humans love to make meaning and we as human beings need to keep track of time. It makes it easier to plant crops, force the populace to pay annual taxes, to tally up birthdays, and more when we know when the earth has traveled around the sun one whole time. Marking the solar return is better than counting those pesky moon cycles. Look at how random Easter and Ramadan are.

A new beginning starts…

Reality? A new beginning starts when any one of us decides a new beginning starts. It could be right now to coincide with the new year. Every year I see the gym fill up in January with new folks committed to getting thinner and more in shape. It could be that moment when you finish the most inspiring book you have ever read and it is time to do whatever you are inspired to do. Or it could be some Thursday morning in April.

It is not the pledge of New Year’s that holds magic. It is the commitment to do whatever. Change is hard. Sometimes brutally hard. It might mean slogging through hours and hours of reading websites for a solution to a programming problem. Or commenting out a line or two of code at a time until you find the bug. Sometimes it means writing every morsel of food down, going to the gym every day, and drinking gallons of water just to see the scale edge down ever so slowly. Sometimes it means writing 500 really crappy words per day with the leap of faith that if you just keep doing it, the daily 500 words per day will get better. Look for those things that are king pins. What one or two changes will make the biggest differences and motivate more changes?

So will today or tomorrow be a new beginning beyond the beginning of the new year?

Learning to program…

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Learning to program…

Learning to program…

Maybe you have played video games for forever and have a really great idea for a video game. Maybe you have an idea for an app or a business proposal for an online business.

Not Your Typical Programmer

This is my story of how I began programming. I am not your typical programmer and have not been programming for very long. First off, I am woman. Secondly, I am a career-changer. Admittedly, I am kind of geeky. I write and read fantasy and science fiction, have been known to wear 14 th century garb, watch Dr. Who, and can quote from the original Star Wars movies (yes, I mean a “New Hope”, not those bug-awful prequels).

I took a programming class to learn C++ several years ago. I did well with it then and enjoyed learning about inheritance, polymorphism, and arrays. It was a challenge.  I did not think too much more of it. Teachers have to take classes to keep their teaching certificates current. Despite that I have predominantly worked with young children, the state of Michigan never accepted my coursework in art and psychology as “counting” towards the renewal of my teaching certificate. The state did deem the calculus I took for fun as being worthy of allowing me to renew my teaching certificate to work with young children and children with disabilities.

Anyway, after taking the course I took a job in Aspen, Colorado as a Child Find Coordinator (I have a masters degree in Education and I have worked as a special education teacher) and I moved on.

Life

A few years ago, I found out my mother had lung cancer that had metastasized to her bones, liver and brain. I hastily took a job with a charter school in Michigan to move back to be closer to my mother.

Perhaps, if you are reading this your experience with charter schools has been positive, for me it was not. The for-profit charter school company did not plan appropriately, did not buy curriculum supplies, did not staff the school appropriately, did not understand the at-risk population they had been given the duty to provide an education to, did not provide the full set of meals they were supposed to provide to the children, and made many more mistakes.

I found myself working 80 hour weeks. I bought all the materials and snacks to supply the 27 child Kindergarten classroom I was the teacher of on a salary that had been 2/3 of what I had made in Colorado. Watching co-workers take on what looked like PTSD symptoms while the charter school administration told everyone it was the teachers’ faults if the children did not pass the standardized tests began to take on tragicomedy overtones. We had weekly visits from the Detroit police department to break up fights, sometimes between parents. We had parents threatening staff. Staff had items stolen from classrooms as the charter company cut back on security guards for the school. Not to mention that this school needed security.

Death

My aunt called me near Halloween and told me my mother was dying. I sat with my mother for 4 days while she died. It was a profound and sad experience.

It gave me a new appreciation of life and a sense of my mortality. I soon quit working for the charter school.

After floundering around with another teaching position and not knowing what to do as a career, (because I have worked with children for so long, enjoy working with families and children, and the state of public education in Michigan is currently a travesty) I spent a couple months in bed. Devastated. I spent the time thinking.

Suggestion from a Friend

A friend suggested I take up computer science and programming because I like maths and I was good at the one class I took in programming. Registering for 19 credits in maths and computer science at the local community college, I had no idea what I was getting myself into…

Like writing and art, I don’t think you need to go to school to learn to program. Mostly, you just have to do it. Encounter road blocks and problems and then figure out how to solve them. It can be very frustrating and very rewarding when you do figure out how to make a program work.

Programming is a practical art. It is like poetry in that the simplest solutions are the most elegant. And incidentally often easiest to maintain. Taking classes can move your programming abilities forward and give structure to what can be a difficult enterprise. There are also many online resources to learn programming such as code academy, PluralSight, lynda.com, udemy, and more. Most people I know use stackoverflow on a regular basis to try to help with coding problems. (Hint, look at the second solution to any question posted on stackoverflow.)

Supportive People Are Good

Also, just in general, look for supportive people who can help you. A good friend is a C programmer. He helped me immensely. Sometimes, the “help” has been just in the form of listening to me whine. Sometimes the help is in explaining things to me when the textbooks were obtuse. Sometimes it was just because he made things cool and fun by showing me stuff you could do over networks and more. His help was the extra that made this all more doable.

When I first walked into my computer science classes one of the things that struck me was how predominantly male the classes were. In my introductory classes, we started with 25 -30 people and maybe 3-5 were female. By the end of the semester often a third to half the class had dropped and only myself and maybe one other woman remained.

Girl Develop It

I found myself going to the local Girl Develop It meetup group for moral support. They were amazing. I doubt they always appreciated me turning up and complaining about how I was the only woman in my classes, how I had instructors saying really weird stuff that showed their low expectations for a not twenty-year old woman in their class, etc. However, despite what they might have thought of me, the local Girl Develop It group was fantastic to me and I highly recommend to any woman thinking of getting into computer science they check out their local group.

I have worked most of my life in settings that employed predominantly women. I am going to say the obvious, guys operate differently. There is a good deal of chest thumping and competitiveness. Just like guys won’t often ask for directions, guys won’t say when they cannot do something or don’t know something.

I have helped male classmates with homework and take home exams, only to have them pull hierarchy stuff the next week. I have watched guys who did not know how to approach a programming problem never ask a single question and crash and burn as a result. It kind of boggles my mind. I also have more than once had a male classmate tell me that he was glad I was in the class and asked questions because he had not understood the material either.

Swallowing the Ocean

Learning about computers, computer science and programming has been like swallowing the ocean. It is hard to compartmentalize. When you start learning about one thing it is tied to other things which are tied to other things. The result is that one google search can lead to 20 open windows on 6 different topics.

Learning computer science and programming is simply not linear. It involves learning to think abstractly on multiple layers. You cannot just copy and paste code. That will bite you in the butt eventually because if you cannot understand how the code interacts with other code, errors will arise that are hard to fix. Learning to code and learning computer science takes persistence, time, practice, and being willing to take on challenges. It can be seen as a big risk.

Persisting

Often in computer science fellow students and co-workers are very bright, there is competitiveness, and taking these risks is scarier than it needs to be. No one wants their intelligence and ability to learn to have a negative light cast on it. No one wants to be found wanting. Most of this is poppy-cock that is not worth getting caught up in. I know this from experience and have seen it. Still, it is hard to stay the course and remind myself of this. Learning computer science for me has meant continually re-committing myself, brushing away doubts about my abilities and intelligence, and just putting one foot in front of the other despite set backs (a B in relational databases and watching co-workers assigned to projects while I keep working on training material most recently).

I still have about 50- 60 credit hours to complete to obtain my bachelors degree in computer engineering. I have 3 more classes to complete and I will have completed my associates degree in Java programming. It has been hard. But is anything worth doing ever easy?

And now I have a new book titled “Java EE Design Patterns” by Murat Yener and Alex Theedom to read. For fun. More on another day.

Today

Just Checking In…

Today. It has been most of a month since I last posted. This post is mostly just a “state of things” post. I have homework to do for my relational database course and for my C++ data structures course, so I’ll keep things brief. This semester is almost done– woohoo. I also have tutorials I want to watch for work so I can keep working on learning how to develop web applications using Java, Spring and Maven– learning never ends. While they may be a tad outdated, I am learning Java server pages.

Learning About Relational Databases

“In a third normal form relation, every non-key attribute must depend on the key, the whole key, and nothing but the key, so help me Codd.”  If you understand this,… well you know what I am talking about. I have been trying to relate aspects of relational databases to everyday things and experiences. For instance, an update anomaly is an update of a single data value that ends up requiring multiple rows of data to be updated. To my mind it is kind of like buying a whole new wardrobe after too much pie. The whole point of normalizing data is to reduce redundancy and deal with the various anomalies that could happen.

C++ Pointers

In C++, pointers are a programmer’s best friend. Being able to keep track of the pointers without a scorecard is a handy skill. I have been practicing. It is like doing drills.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is over. I have a strange relationship to Thanksgiving, so I will focus on the gratitude part. I don’t understand a holiday celebrated by eating to excess and then spending excessively the day after. When overconsumption is killing people and the planet, Thanksgiving as it is celebrated in my opinion feels off.

Also, I am vegetarian.

Thanksgiving equates with turkey and no sculpted pseudo-turkey from whatever protein substitute quite cuts it. It is ok to let the notion of turkey go if you are vegetarian. I think Thanksgiving lasagna might be a good new tradition to start. Or just have pumpkin pie. The absurdity of those massive inflated balloons bouncing down the streets in the parades make me giggle.

Gratitude

I am grateful for many things, people, situations, opportunities, etc. in my life. Things are off and on again very challenging. I am tired often. That is just the way of things. But all of this is good because it means I am learning.

Practicing violin is magnificent because I love the feel of the violin in my hands. I like the sense of accomplishment when I move through the scales and hit the notes with precision. I am working on songs.

When my classes are over, I will do some sewing. I bought fabric earlier today. I am grateful to have money to buy fabric. The textures of the fabric and the colors please me greatly. Booker, who keeps me company while I work on homework, daily makes me smile.

Christmas is coming

We put up the Christmas tree yesterday. I am not Christian so I have a very uneasy relationship with Christmas too. Yup, most holidays I annually spend trying to figure out how I relate to them. Examined life and all that. Giving things to people I adore, please me. I like the lights. And cookies. I usually give myself a 12 cookie limit for the whole season and then spend my cookie allotment wisely.

Next time, I’ll post something with more substance. Maybe Java naming conventions because that stuff really isn’t trivial. Or how to set up a Java programming environment and just get started. Time to put my head down and work through the next few weeks. If you can spare the positive vibes, send them my way to help me get through finals.

Happy Day of the Dead

Happy Day of the Dead!

Happy Day of the Dead

Remembering the Dead

It is November 1, 2015. I remember back to November 5, 2012 when my mother died. And my grandmother passed in the fall several years ago. While not being of Mexican descent, I appreciate a holiday that is about remembering and celebrating the people in one’s life who have died.

My great grandparents took care of me when I was little. I remember pretending Christmas with my great grandmother. She would wrap empty boxes with paper and I would pretend to sleep until “morning”. I think this was a way to get me to take a nap in the afternoons. Her molasses cookies I have never been able to replicate.

My grandmother was a business woman. She was never allowed to go to college, but she managed five restaurants on her own. Her intelligence and strength still inspire me.

My mother wrestled her own demons. She lived fully, but in the end she succumbed to lung cancer.

An Ordinary Day

I am one small being in a vast universe and my time on this planet is very limited. Humbled by this notion, death at moments existentially flattens me. And other times, it focuses me and makes life sweeter.

Today, I am up early because the clocks were set back an hour and instead of being 7:30 am, it is 6:30 am. It is ok. I have work to do. Always work to do. I’ll make some coffee and get busy on learning how to design a relational database, how to program a java web application, and how various binary search trees look based on which logical sequence is used. I worked on all of this yesterday. Last night while my youngest played video games rather than go trick or treating, I read through my notes on creating databases. Maybe later I’ll go outside and put away the hoses, the lawn furniture cushions, and the gardening tools that are still out. Maybe I will plant some daffodil bulbs and drain the gasoline from the rototiller.

Happy Day of the Dead!