Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Blog about to explode... in a good way...

In case you hadn't noticed yet, I'm in beautiful Tucson, AZ staying at the wonderful JW Marriot Starr Pass Resort for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. I'm an official blogger, plus I just like to use my blog as a way to take notes for sessions I'm not even the officially assigned blogger. What this means is that I'm about to have MANY posts over the next few days. The should all be under the GHC09 feed, and I'll try to start all the subjects with "GHC09" as well, in case you aren't interested. I should be back to irregularly scheduled and randomly themed blog posts by next week. :-)

GHC09: Jo Miller's Person of Influence: Another Perspective

I'm so glad I got here early! The tables filled up well before the 2:15 start time, a common theme at this year's sold out Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing! While I'm not the official blogger for this session, I want to take notes - so I figure I can type them into my blog edit window instead of a terminal window and share them with the world.

Jo Miller let us know from the top that unlike other presenters she's met, she's quite happy with people blogging and tweeting during her talk. Right on :)

Miller starts off strong: if you want to be a leader, you have to be a leader! Nobody will ever tap you on the shoulder and tell you they think you should be one - you have to take charge yourself.

She notes that power & influence can be used for evil manipulation, but it's obviously not her goal to send us out of here as her evil minions :)

Miller notes that if you want to become a person of influence, you need to make the impression from the get go that you are someone that has something to say and should be listened to. As an example, she says that at meetings you should arrive early, be prepared with talking points and sit near the main group. Your behaviour teaches people how to treat you.

We broke off into groups to discuss people we know who are influential and try to figure out why. Only one person at our table came up with a fully positive person of influence. The rest we came up with had negative aspects of their personality, but we knew they could get their way when they really wanted it. This is distressing. I like to think of myself as a growing person of influence, but I don't want to be disliked for it.

Elements of Influence:

  • Positional Influence
    • This is the influence you get out of the gate simply by your job title and role in an organization. What this tells me is that no matter what other people say, title really does matter, though Miller says title is not enough alone, you need a 30-second "commercial" for yourself:
      • Name, Job Title, "I am responsible for...a, b, c" and "Come directly to me when you need... x, y, z"
  • Expertise Influence
    • The influence that comes from you background, qualifications, experience and expertise.
    • Make sure you don't downplay yourself, don't defer questions to someone else not in the room if it's something you yourself can figure out, promote your accomplishments and set up presentations yourself to promote your expertise.
    • Miller quotes a Newsweek article that women underestimate their own intelligence and experience while men overestimate theirs, which may help explain the promotion disparity.
  • Resources Influence:
    • Having access to the resources you need to do your job well, knowing how to best use the ones you have and demonstrate that you can do so responsibly.
  • Informational Influence:
    • You've got to try to stay "on the pulse" of the business, both personnel and organizational issues, but you have to be able to filter out the noise and the gossip. Doing this will help you make better business decisions and be able to change directions sooner when necessary.
  • Direct Influence:
    • You've got to be firm, professional and direct when you've encountered behaviour is detrimental to the team or organization.
    • BUT: this can't be how you run your team or organization or you will just have people that are afraid of you, don't like you, don't respect you and are demotivated. Miller recommends doing this for only the 1% of the cases, doing it in private, being direct, giving specific examples and giving the individual a positive vision for how things will change for them if they change their behaviour.
  • Relationship Innfluence
    • Knowing who the key people are in your organization, profession and industry and building a network of them.

Jo Miller put the entire presentation on-line!

Grace Hopper: PhD Forum 4

Sitting in my second packed room of the Grace Hopper conference! Considering we're still before "official" launch time, I can't believe how many women are here and how packed every session is! Here in my first session in the PhD series, I'm excited to see three PhD students present their research.

An n-gram Based Approach to the Classification of Web Pages by Genre: Jane E Mason, Dalhousie University:

Mason is looking for a novel approach to doing classification of web sites by actual genre - not just keywords. For example, searching for a health condition and only showing you information pages instead of pages by drug manufacturers attempting to sell you something.

Mason chose to use n-grams, because they are relatively insensitive to spelling errors, are language independent, and relatively easy to program. She combines these and then processes them with the Keselj Distance Function, which is apparently "simple", but it has been awhile since I've been in Differential Equations :-)

Mason and her team have been looking at how to let some web pages have multiple genres, which means that some pages end up with no genre - noise! While it's easy for a human to identify a nonsense/useless web page, I think it's pretty cool to get a computer to do this for you, so you won't even see it in the search results!

Ant Colony Optimization: Theory, Algorithms and Applications: Sameena Shah, Institute of Technology Delhi:

I've never heard of this type of optimization, so this was very interesting for me. Shah chose to study this area of optimization because ants don't have centralized coordination and they make great decisions based only on local information. She sees this as a great method to apply to distributed computing. Now, how do we get computers to leave pheromones on the path of least resistance?

Other than the lack of pheromones, another problem she had to solve is that ants don't always find the shortest path - if enough ants have taken a longer path before the short path is discovered, all of the ants in the colony will use the longer path and ignore the short path. Obviously, she doesn't want that short coming in her algorithm :-)

Shah does have a slide in her presentation which shows the statistical "solution", but it's a much more complicated formula than I ever saw in my intro to statistics course at Purdue. :)

Using Layout Information to Enhance Security on the Web: Terri Oda, Carlton Univeristy:

Ms Oda is a woman after my own heart, starting her presentation with a xkcd comic :-)

She starts her talk out talking about different types of security, like secure networks between companies. Oda tells us about how the threat models are no longer obvious: those seemingly innocuous applications in facebook that have access to your private chats on the site and private emails, websites that don't properly protect passwords, and malicious users on the same forums. Her talk moved onto the types of threats she's actually trying to protect you against: cross-site scripting and previously good sites that have gone bad.

She makes an excellent point that most (all?) web pages are done by web designers (aka artists), NOT web security experts and with all their deadlines and basic functionality bugs, there is no time to even think about security. Is it any wonder we have so many attacks and vulnerabilities out there?

but how can we solve this? Schedules will never have enough padding and most people designing web sites did not receive a BS degree from Purdue (where we were told over & over again that security must be designed in from the beginning, not as an add-on)

She's looking at using heuristics to correctly identify different elements on a page so that it's visually evident which components on the page are from the site you're visiting or being served from an external site (like an ad). I can't wait to see how her research turns out, and how much she can protect the user with a simple browser add-on!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Just can't stop reading the Sookie Stackhouse books....

Club Dead (Sookie Stackhouse, #3) Club Dead
by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Another wonderful fast read from Charlaine Harris. Sookie's adventures with the vampires continue in this book as she gains more exposure (although unwittingly) to other "supernatural" cultures - werewolves and shape shifters!

It is wonderful how Sookie's character evolves and changes - much as any of us would do - as she is now experiencing the downside of falling in love when the relationship has trouble. In this case, her boyfriend was kidnapped - but not before deciding he was going to end things with her.

Sookie finds herself in between a rock and a hard place, knowing she has the power (telepathy) to help find Vampire Bill, but having a broken heart makes her just want to stay home in bed.

She travels this time to Jackson and spends a lot of time with a werewolf, Alcied. Harris does a great job of developing his character and Sookie's conflicted feelings.

My only "nit" in this book is the lack of any historical fiction, which is an aspect I really enjoyed in the first book (and the TV show, TrueBlood, relies on heavily).

At this point, it seems that the book and the TV show no longer have much in common.

View all my reviews >>

Lots of Fun East Bay Activities

While I'm normally a San Francisco Peninsula or South Bay kind of girl, I've spent the last two weekends in the East Bay.

Last weekend, we went with our friends visiting from Seattle to Niles to hop on the steam powered Niles Canyon Railway train! What I loved about this train was that it made the *exact* noise that all trains make in cartoons... which, apparently, is unique to steam trains (and a sound guy was there recording it as it pulled into the station). And it had a great whistle, as well! It didn't go very fast, but that was all the better to enjoy the beautiful rolling hills and other quaint scenery from the open top rail car. The train took us to Sunol, where we had a picnic lunch in the park that is right across the street from the depot.

After lunch, we thought we'd get a cup of coffee in the Jazz Cafe. Unfortunately, a couple of lattes ended up being a complicated order. The barista had problems with the order... twice. The first time, she couldn't read her own hand writing, so we had to tell her the order again. After about 30 minutes with no coffee, we checked again, and she'd forgotten to make them. Fortunately for us, the train was running late so we had plenty of time to finish our coffees once we got them. The atmosphere was very cool, but not sure about the service.

We ran into some other women at the station that had such bad luck at the other restaurant in town that they'd missed their earlier return train. Apparently their waitress forgot that they ordered food, too. Strange little town, Sunol. I think when we do this again, we'll start out in Sunol and take our chances in Niles for lunch and coffees, as their looked like there was a lot more options there.

The train ride itself was very cool and unforgettable - hard to believe it is totally staffed and run by volunteers! Many paid employees at other establishments could learn a thing or two about customer service from these friendly folks! I can't believe I've lived in this area for so many years and had never taken that train ride before!

This weekend, we ventured to the East Bay again with a different set of friends - this time for an even more rugged experience - camping! Okay, it's car camping, and we ate like kings, but still, we were roughing it! We camped in Lake Chabot at a great campsite. The fire pit and picnic tables were well set up, bathrooms clean and well stocked and HOT showers! The big pluses of this campground: close to the bay area so we only had a short drive, and mountain bike friendly!

I've had a cold, been traveling or just generally busy lately - that's kept me out of the saddle for more than a month! This weekend, I thought what better way to get back into shape than doing a long mountain bike ride! The trails in this park were totally my style: wide, shaded, not very technical, lots of good climbs. I could ride them for hours - in fact, we did: 5 hours of riding! *whew* and that's when the nice, clean, hot showers came in very handy!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Just finished Living Dead in Dallas

Living Dead in Dallas (Sookie Stackhouse, #2) Living Dead in Dallas (Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book 2) by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book, which takes Sookie (the telepath) deeper into the vampire underground culture. Again, the book varies wildly from the television show in that it has fewer characters and fewer plot lines. As the book is written as Sookie, it only follows things that she actually sees, thinks or knows about. While Jason, Tara & Eggs have major parts in the TV show, they are practically nonexistent in this book. In fact, one person that is a major player in the show dies at the very beginning of this book, so I guess plot drift will be inevitable going forward. That's okay with me, as it means that even though I've watched most of season 2 of TrueBlood, I was still surprised by things in the book.

This was a quick and fun read. Sookie visits Dallas and the headquarters of the Fellowship of the Sun and learns that as much as they preach about loving God's light, they have a very dark side as well.

Harris has no problems exploring all subspecies of supposed fantasy creatures, figuring that if she can make telepaths and vampires real, why not throw in some maenads, shape shifters and werewolves while she's in there. :-)

View all my reviews >>

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Merger for Delta and NWA seems to be ... awkward

We recently traveled to the "south", giving my other half his first true exposure to the Bible belt and the United State's "interior". This was a fun trip, which will be written up later, but the flights were... complicated.

We booked what is known as an "open jaw" trip in the industry, or as "multi-city destination" by normal humans - flying from San Francisco to Memphis then from Memphis to Atlanta and home again to San Francisco. I do stuff like this all the time - it rarely costs extra, and in this case, cost way less than flying directly to Atlanta from San Francisco.

I am well aware of the NWA and Delta merger, as my brother-in-law is a Delta pilot, but I still booked my flight on the NWA website since I've been a long time frequent flyer with them and all of my information was already on their site.

Our first problem was encountered when our credit card was rejected. I tried multiple times, assuming I had done something silly like type in the wrong expiration date. No luck. Finally called our credit card company, CitiBank AAdvantage card, who claimed that buying airline tickets was an "unusual" purchase for us so they determined it was fraud and blocked the purchase. Hrm. I have racked up several hundred thousands of air miles with American, United, and Northwest. How is buying airline tickets suddenly an unusual activity for me? I think it was unusual for me to buy non American Airline tickets, so the company decided to make it awkward. Now, this was totally a weird problem with CitiBank and had nothing to do with Delta/NWA (except they weren't AA).

We were off a couple of weeks later - I reviewed both Delta and NWA's websites for information on the merger and where to check in at each airport, and everything started very well when we checked in with Delta in SFO. No problems.

Now, when it was time to go from Memphis, TN to Atlanta, GA, we hit a snag. First, I noticed the check-in reminder email came from Delta instead of NWA (unlike the first one), but figured they are actively merging more things each day so no red flags were raised. We arrived at the airport and went to the e-checkin kiosk, which made us choose if we wanted to check in with NWA or Delta. I chose NWA, because that's where I booked my tickets. The kiosk let me check in my bag, but reported an error about our boarding passes. The agent was ready to help us, but she could not find our itinerary in the computer under either Delta or NWA. Uh, oh.

She noticed my bookmark was my boarding pass from San Francisco to Memphis, so she asked to have it. With that she was able to pull up my itinerary, but not my husband's. So we dug through our bag until we found his old boarding pass and she was able to do the same thing. This took about 20 minutes and quite a line stacked up behind us. I'm glad we showed up with more than an hour 'til take off time.

Convinced I did not want to go through this same thing again at the airport when leaving Atlanta, I clicked on the email from Delta to check in the day we were flying home. My husband's seat was the same one on our reservation, but I was not able to get a boarding pass - only a "Seat Request Card". That's right - Delta had moved me to standby! Bumped me right off the flight! Now, why would you split a party? Also, I didn't think they could do this without making requests for passengers to volunteer off of the flight. This was a disaster. Fortunately, a call to a very wonderful kind soul in Delta Reservations got this worked out, but even he could not figure out why I had been bumped.

The actual flight experiences were very nice, and I really enjoyed the DirecTV on the flight from Atlanta to San Francisco. Just a heads up to any of you that might be traveling on an itinerary that crosses combined routes from these merging airlines, that you'll want to check in in advance if at all possible. I'm sure once the kinks get worked out, things will be great - but in the meantime, beware.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Just finished the first Sookie Stackhouse novel!

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, #1) Dead Until Dark: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Continuing on the theme of vampires (thanks, Jen!), I've started reading the Sookie Stackhouse books. Having watched a few episodes of True Blood, I was worried that the books would've already been spoiled - not the case at all! The show, while true in character to the books, has different characters and doesn't follow the exact same story line, either.

I enjoyed Charlaine Harris's writing style and the way she could keep the suspense going all the way to the end of the book. The characters were very interesting, and so far none of them falling into strictly black or white. They all have subtle nuances, and even our heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, is not perfect in thoughts, actions or deeds.

This book does what every good vampire book, in my opinion, should do - gives you a glimpse into the past. I love historical fiction and feel that Harris did a great job of weaving in Bill's (the vampire) past into the book.

So far, I'm enjoying this series a lot more than the Twilight series and have already started the second book.

View all my reviews >>

Friday, September 11, 2009

Preparing for my panel at Grace Hopper!

I'm moderating my first panel at a large conference at the upcoming Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing. I've been on panels before. I've done entire hour long presentations before. But I've never moderated a panel.

Now, in just a couple of weeks, I will be moderating "Open Source Community Development" where we'll be tackling issues about how Open Source communities grow, thrive, and possibly die or wither away. Interesting topics I hope we can explore will be about building trust and encouraging women to participate. All of these things I think will be helpful for the OpenSolaris community.

The question remains: how best to moderate? I know from personal experience that I appreciate a moderator who keeps the flow moving, knows when to take a discussion "off line", and keeps up a slide of all of the speakers' names so the audience doesn't have to remember. So, it's a given I'll do those things (and hopefully do them well).

But after reading several great "how to moderate a panel" blogs (thanks, Stormy, for the intitial link that got me started on this), I've gotten a lot of conflicting information, so I'm going to have to make some decisions myself. For example, several folks who have moderated other panels argue that the moderator must always introduce the panelists, while others suggest letting the panelists themselves do it. Personally, I've always introduced myself, either while presenting alone or on a panel.

Some recommend assigning a few questions to certain panelists in advance and making sure you all meet as a complete group before the panel, while others say that doing so will ruin the spontaneity of the panel. I believe that at least a short meeting before hand is warranted so we will at least have the name to face thing down.

All the advice is clear, though, I need to make sure I am personally familiar with all of the panelists' backgrounds and areas of expertise so I can direct questions appropriately. While I know a few of these women personally, or follow them on twitter, and clearly learned about them when we were proposing the panel, I still need to make sure I do all the appropriate research.

Do any of you have any advice in this area? After all, as the audience, you will be my customer!

Here are links to the advice I've been reading:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Why I'm glad I went to the Grace Hopper Conference in '08 and can't wait for this year

Last year's Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing was such an amazing experience for me, that I can't wait to attend again this year!

There is something almost magical about being surrounded by technical women. I didn't have to worry for one second about sounding too nerdy or about asking questions about something I didn't understand. At this conference I felt an unparalleled sense of belonging.

I spent some time working at the Sun Microsystems' informational booth, which was an incredible way to connect with students and other women in the industry who were interested in the technologies I've worked so closely with over the last decade. I'll be around there again this year, so please stop by and hear about the work I've been doing in the field of computer security over the last year.

This conference has such a great balance of technical content and soft skills that I don't feel overwhelmed by either aspect at the end of the day. In fact, I can't wait to get together with other attendees in the evening to hear about sessions I missed and share my own experiences from the day.

Last year's conference was intense, educational and life changing, that I cannot imagine for one second missing this year's event. Hope to see you all there! I'll be the woman with the laptop...

oh, wait, unlike other conferences, that won't be enough to identify me by. :-)