helenic: (sappho with laptop)

At Women's Question Time last week the first question was about the lack of statues commemorating the achievements of women. The audience struggled to think of any. Boudicca, okay. Queen Victoria, yes, although the female figures around her representing abstract virtues don't really count. Queen Caroline. Florence Nightingale. Umm ... we ground to a halt as we realised how many of the commemorative statues in London, male or female, celebrate military achievement. The historical exclusion of women from this sphere (unless you're a Queen or Empress) obviously doesn't help the disproportionate lack of depictions of great women in our public streets and squares.

Many of those present felt that it would be more appropriate to celebrate non-military achievements. We started brainstorming female candidates. Ada Lovelace was one of the first; I had my hand up to name her when she was mentioned. She was the first computer programmer, a brilliant mind, one of the first female members of the Meteorological Society, and if you fangirl her as much as me, you'll love Sydney Padua's remarkable steamgeek webcomic The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage:

A gaping hole in your life of which you were hitherto unaware )



With a certain amount of irony, I don't have time to write a blogpost dedicated to a role model of women in tech, because this morning I was finishing an article about the role of online engagement and social media in the future of policing (please do read it, it took me nearly a week to write) and in about twenty minutes I am dashing out to the Stop Disconnection Demo against the Digital Economy Bill, in attempt to prove the Peer who allegedly said "it's not as if people will protest outside Parliament" wrong. My comment on the bill, The Chilling Effect, is rapidly becoming one of the most-read pieces on Police State, which feels weird when it was only my second piece of tech journalism - the first being Google Buzz opts out of privacy.

I'm a geek: I know XHTML, CSS and some Javascript; I spend my whole life online; I maintain three or four blogs, four twitter accounts, and I'm a partner in a web development company. I've been messing around with computers my entire life, thanks to a dad who encouraged me to do so and built my own machines out of parts. I'm still more nervous of hardware than software - I haven't put together a computer myself yet without help - but I'm rapidly filling in the gaps in my culturally-narrowed knowledge, catching up on my sci-fi reading and adding technology feeds to my ever-growing list. I still feel as if I'm blagging it half the time. I sat down with [livejournal.com profile] steerpikelet last Friday as she stressed about an article on the Digital Economy Bill she needed to write, and dredged my memory for a rundown of the biggest issues. I could only do this because I'd written about it myself the previous week, but I recognised myself in [livejournal.com profile] steerpikelet's (unjustified, I might add) lack of confidence when it comes to writing about tech.

I come across this all the time: smart, geeky women who live online and have lots to say about politics and equality and education and civil rights and gender and sexuality, but who quail when confronted with a topic they consider too techy. It's the result of centuries of rejection and brainwashing and it's bollocks, of course. Law is way more complicated and difficult than technology, and we all cheerfully opine about that. But I sympathise.

Yesterday morning I went to a web marketing seminar at the British Library, organised by She's Ingenious. Alison Rothwell and Cally Robson spoke to a group of twenty entrepreneurs (all female but one - guess who talked the most) about developing their businesses for the web. As a webdesigner I was there in a somewhat sneaky capacity - I didn't expect to learn much from the talk, but I hoped to learn a lot from the responses to it, in working out what my clients need to know and how best to communicate with them. I managed to hand out some cards, answer some questions, and it was fascinating being one of the three women in a room considered to be tech-literate by an audience who, for the most part, considered themselves dumb amateurs. Alison Rothwell delighted me by encouraging them to build their own sites on wordpress.org, and I suggested some sites for downloading themes and plugins. Of course sometimes you need to hire the services of an expert, but WP is fantastically easy to use, and if I could teach myself how to make websites, so could these brilliant, inspired women launching their own products and services. But I couldn't help wonder if the proportion of attendees stating a complete lack of knowledge or confidence would have been the same at a male-dominated event.

That confidence, though - to stand up as a someone who knows what they're talking about - still comes hard, in politics, business and tech. I am aware throughout my performance how easier it would be if I'd been taught these modes of interaction from a young age. I don't see people of my own gender as keynote speakers; women make up nowhere near half of panellists and our representation in Parliament is shockingly low. Ada Lovelace Day is specifically about tech, but for me the terrifying, alienating process of pretending to be self-assured and confident, speaking up and sharing valid knowledge and experience with people who want to silence me, has been the same within tech as within all other male-dominated spheres. I still need to pretend to be confident half the time, but it's growing on me; I'm starting to get used to the idea that my opinion on technology and politics might be valid, to learn to state it with more flair and confidence, rather than hiding behind self-deprecation or deflecting the conversation onto my personal life.

My ambition is for my daughters and granddaughters not to have to go through this process - to grow up feeling at ease with technology, curious about the new and confident of their role in it. And that means turning ourselves into role-models for the future.

Tonight myself and many other women will be outside Parliament demanding the right to use technology freely. I can't really say it better than Penny Red:

As a woman and a feminist, I am appalled that laws are being tabled that threaten many of these women with disconnection from the source of energy and inspiration that has given me, along with so many millions of others, a renewed political awareness and a visceral sense of sisterhood and solidarity. I have no doubt that if Ada Lovelace were living today, she would be appalled, too.

helenic: (little book)

A few weeks ago I joined my local library, the Marcus Gavey library in Tottenham Leisure Centre. It's a big building with a swimming pool (which I don't visit often enough) and gym classes (I keep meaning to investigate their beginners' yoga), and it also has a library which I'd managed to fail to visit in my two and a half years of living nearby. In the end it was Denny's good influence that persuaded me, with all his talk of having big piles of sci-fi books to read next to the bed in a tantalising, delicious stack. Like pancakes. Or sci-fi books.

I'm quite tired.

Anyway, I have a running list of sci-fi I want/need to read, which goes something like:

  • everything by Charlie Stross except Glasshouse and Singularity Sky, which I've already read. (Glasshouse is one of the best science fiction books I've ever come across. Beautiful, thrilling, awesome book - also the most intelligently feminist work of post-humanist fiction I've read by a male author.)

  • All the Culture books by Iain M Banks (which I haven't read any of, although I've read a couple of the Iain Banks novels)

  • The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold, about which I have heard great things from [livejournal.com profile] steerpikelet and [livejournal.com profile] cyrus_ii

  • Everything good by Neal Stephenson (including the non sci-fi ones like Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle), probably starting with Snow Crash.

The library is quite nice, but the fiction seemed to all be jumbled up together. I couldn't find most of the stuff I was looking for, although I picked up The Family Trade by Charlie Stross and Anathem by Neal Stephenson - the only book they had by each author. I also grabbed The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (because I love most of her stuff and I think apart from her new one that's the only novel I haven't read) and Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier (which looked like cheesy girly fantasy and I figured I'd want to give my brain a rest after Anathem). Then I found Denny in the sci-fi section, which consisted of two columns of shelves - not much, but better than nothing. Still couldn't find any of the Bujolds, but I did grab both of the Philip K Dicks they had in - A Scanner Darkly (which I need to read so I can watch the film) and Valis (in case I like A Scanner Darkly and want more Dick. As it were). Denny got one out for him - Air by Geoff Ryman - and then it was closing so we hastily checked them all out with my shiny new library card and their shiny new digital system (probably not that new, but new since I last used public libraries).

Now I have a big tantalising pile of sci-fi and fantasy books to read, and it makes me feel happy in my happy place.

reviews (and spoilers) so far - 'Air', 'The Family Trade' and 'Wildwood Dancing' )



One disadvantage of shiny digitised library systems: no datestamps in the front of the books. Instead there's a web address where you can login and check your account and renew books online. Which is pretty cool. I kept meaning to check the due date but didn't get round to it. Then I finished Wildwood Dancing today and it occurred to me I'd read nearly half of the books I'd got out, and I should probably find out before I started incurring fines. For some reason, it seemed easier to find the twitter I posted on the day I withdrew them and do some mental arithmetic than to actually find my card, register on the website and check there. Turns out they're due back Monday. Good job my subconscious is paying attention to the passing of time, even if I'm not organised enough to set reminders in my calendar.

helenic: (tales of gods and monsters)

Excerpt from last night's pillow talk:

me: Hell is a small, isolated, fluorescent-lit room where you're desperately trying to use the internet to send an urgent message but your connection speed is so weak it takes about 45 minutes to download a text-only email.

Chris: Oh god. I think I've been there.

me: And there are millions of tiny windowless identical rooms, all unaware of each other, and the air con vents over your keyboard so your hands are freezing and you're using a virus-riddled Windows machine -

Chris: One of the ones you get in public computer rooms running Windows 3.1.

me: Whereas in heaven, everything runs on Linux.

Chris: Apple Macs. Has to be Macintosh for heaven, nothing else has the graphics support.

me: With high-speed broadband and unlimited bandwidth. And Internet Explorer doesn't exist. Nor does MySpace. And you can have any domain name you want.

Chris: Yeah. Domain squatting is definitely illegal in heaven.

helenic: (100% acid free.)

These paintings fell out of my head on the Sunday just before New Year's Eve, when I was hanging out at the House of Fun with Denny, Chris and Jay. I was in a strange, solitary, focussed mood, although I'd been grounded very effectively by a beautiful massage from J.

Earlier on in the day I'd been playing with a set of wooden building blocks which [livejournal.com profile] skorpionuk and [livejournal.com profile] dakeyras had given me for my birthday the year before last. The little blocks were of London buildings, including generic skyscrapers and icons from the London skyline - the Eye, Big Ben etc. I was setting up skylines along the stripes of J's zebra-print rug as if the white and black pattern represented the Thames and its banks. Along the top of the skylines, I lined up the tiny wooden cars that came with the set, and the buses, which looked to me as if they were elephants.

The image of elephants making their way in a long line along the London skyline hooked my imagination. I moved my game to Denny's glass desk, where the blue light of his binary LED clock cast strange, futuristic light along the little wooden streets I was creating, reflecting from the glass and back up on the pale wood as if the city was floating in a black lake. We had Mirrormask playing soundlessly on the big flatscreen monitor (with psytrance providing a weirdly appropriate soundtrack), and as the images on the screen changed so did the light bathing my little apolocalyptic landscape in beautiful, otherworldly hues. I tried to capture the effect by borrowing J's camera, but I'm not sure if any of them came out well. I'll get the photos off him this weekend and go through them. Later that evening, though, after a pleasingly zen game of Sac Noir, I had a strong urge to play with paints, so Denny set me up on the floor with the carpet protected by a old duvet. I painted for several hours straight - I'm not sure how long exactly. I've never worked in watercolours before, unless you count the foamy water-based tempura block acrylics we used at secondary school. I'd only brought some with me on a whim - I think the little carry case originated in a bag of unwanted art stuff I inherited from [livejournal.com profile] mostly_a_cat and [livejournal.com profile] mirabehn.

These are completely new, for me, in terms of style and medium. They fell out of my head without thinking about what I was doing at all. I don't know if I could recreate this style or if I'm going to try and develop it. But I love it.



I of V: March of the Elephants
Watercolour on primed paper
14" x 10"

This version of the image is sketchy and imperfect, but I'm still in love with the idea. There's a germ of children's book here, I think. In my head there's something very powerfully emotive about the image of the elephants picking their way, one by one, across the rooftops of the sinking city at the world's end. I'm not sure where they're going, but I can almost hear their trumpeting.






II of V: Indian Elephant
Watercolour on primed paper
14" x 10"

Expanding on the elephant theme. What's the name of those Indian ceremonial robes, the heavily embroidered textiles with mirrored sequins and things? Chris thought it was called jhaldi or jaldi, but Wikipedia hasn't heard of it. Is it Punjabi? Urdu? Anyway, this elephant appears to be wearing some. I don't know where this image came from, but I wish the inside of my head looked like this all the time.






III of V: Pipe Dreams
Watercolour on primed paper
14" x 10"

At this point I started making my companions pose for me. They're very long-suffering and patient, my friends are. This is [livejournal.com profile] romauld, for anyone who doesn't recognise him. I love the minimalist, stylised face, but it all went a bit wrong when I added the pipe, it came out far too heavy. I really wanted to do a hookah pipe, but I didn't know what one looked like. Never mind eh. I like the absinthe-chartreuse green, it's very bohemian.






IV of V: Two Headed Dragon
Watercolour on primed paper
14" x 10"

I think this my favourite of the lot. It's a portrait of [livejournal.com profile] mr_magicfingers and the conflict I perceive in his personality. I wanted to paint him as a Chinese dragon, and this is what came out. The two heads were an accident - I started with the one on the left, wasn't happy with it, started again on the right and ended up using both.






V of V: Ubuntu Wrangling
Watercolour on primed paper
10" x 14"

[livejournal.com profile] dennyd was installing Ubuntu on his computer (apparently he was getting bored with Debian), so I took advantage of the fact that he was sitting still for more than two minutes to paint him. This tends to happen when you leave people in the room with me for any length of time. At least I didn't paint on him.













Click on the images to view bigger versions. All of these are for sale, and I'm going to be turning at least the second one into prints/greetings cards. Not sure about the others, it depends on interest. If no-one buys them they'll probably end up on the walls of the Pembury along with everything else I'm producing at the moment :)

helenic: (cycling)

Following my lovely boyfriend's recent promotion (to management! Mmmm. Power is h0tt) his company is hiring. This now being his problem, I thought I'd help out and propagate the job advert to the geeks on my friendslist:

"If anyone knows anyone who is looking for a Perl Developer role,working on a fairly large-scale website project and related odds and ends, then please put them in touch with me - denny at online galleriesdotcom. We're based in Hoxton Square, have slight flexitime (you can come in at half nine and leave at six, if you don't like mornings), and we're a very small company so it's friendly here. We are however working in the art and antiques industry, so we have adequate backing capital and are not about to go out of business under your nose :)Salary range is 30-35k, applicant's ability is expected to be in a suitably matching range. Usual skillset - perl, linux, apache, blah, blah. Experience of the Metadot CMS would be an advantage, but really isn't expected or needed - I'd never heard of it before I started, and it's pretty easy to pick up."

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