Why Gossip Girl needs better faux techspeak.

It’s been my experience that when TV shows and movies get software development and web development wrong, they get it REALLY wrong.

A week ago, I rewatched The Dark Knight with two of my gaming buddies, both of whom are skilled developers. While we loved the movie, popcorn was thrown when Christian Bale rasped that a certain database was null-key encrypted. NKE is total fiction. It turns “Hello World” into “Hello World”, in case you were wondering. At least in the movies, they bother to invent some techno-jargon.

Now for the painful admission: I watch Gossip Girl. It is a vapid soap opera that I positively adore, and part of the major season story arc is the loss of control over the Gossip Girl website by the original (anonymous) owner, voiced by Kristen Bell of Veronica Mars fame. [See? I have legitimate geeky reasons for watching GG!] Any developer can see that there’s some sort of CMS that is used to post information; it’s likely the TV equivalent of WordPress. In a moment of brainmeat-deadness, Serena is IMed by Gossip Girl, and asked to return “the password to my site.”

Now, this is totally imbecilic on several fronts. First, if you’re the person who set up the CMS, you have administrator rights on an account that is different than your posting account. All GG would have to do is login using the alternate CMS admin account and change the password herself. Second, if she’s lost the admin account, she can tunnel to the server and change the authentication for any account through either the MySQL (or whatever DB) admin prompt or PHPMyAdmin if you’re as lazy as me. Third, if she’s the one who set up the
site, all she has to do is nuke the site at the server level after copying or exporting the DB and template files, and rebuild it (or talk to the hosting company). Fourth, and the worst-case scenario, if her hosting account or cloud server itself has been hacked, she can simply build another server and redirect the DNS to that location. In none of these cases does she ever lose control of the URL itself.

I am irritated here because I see Gossip Girl as a show that is primarily targeted to women and young people; I know I’m stirring up a tempest in a teapot, but I would like to see the same level of effort put in to creating fake technobabble in shows directed at young women as when they’re pointed towards a male demographic. I guess that may be unreasonable, but the truth is that we all absorb messages from pop culture, and the lack of care taken in shows like these betray a feeling amongst the show writers that no femmes would notice the difference anyway.

Well, I did. So there.

To Gossip Girl; I can hook a sister up with RSA-encryption and a 4096-bit key. That would keep nosy socialites out of your site. Also, more Bass, please.

XOXO, Cowgirl Coder.

One woman’s continuing mission to make you love Star Trek, too.

I recently attended the Seattle Symphony’s ‘Scifi at the Pops‘, a collection of great science fiction scores and themes. I bought a ticket even before I knew that Jonathan Frakes would be directing. I was thrilled to find out, of course; I had the hugest crush on Commander Riker when I was thirteen, just like every self-respecting girl. Oh. Wait. Weren’t all the other girls in love with someone called Johnny Dupe, or something? (Don’t ask about the life-size Captain Picard cardboard cutout at my 15th birthday party…wearing a floral hat)

I listened with pleasure to the Superman theme, to some music from Avatar, and heard some great stuff from Battlestar Galactica. All excellent shows.

Then, after a long day of dealing with the unfairness of life, I heard Jonathan Frakes conduct the original
Alexander Courage theme to Star Trek, and I burst into tears.

Life isn’t fair, and we know it. People die of misunderstandings based around the color of their skin, the garments they’re wearing, the message they’re sending. In the name of business, we fail to promote hard working people because their skin color or gender or sexual preferences “might not contribute to team fit and cohesiveness.” Those born to privilege misuse it while those born to poverty rage against the machine that grinds them.

But there is still hope, as Arwen likes to breathe elfinly at us. In a country with the most volunteers in the world by far (56% of us volunteer regularly, and we volunteer 3.5 hours a week on average), we have a nation of people who are generally aware of social discord and inequality, and work genuinely to improve ourselves and our neighbors. Change will come from here, and it will come from our example, both good and bad.

nSimply seeing a world on screen where a person’s competence isn’t judged by the number of probosces and ocular implants they may possess–much less anything so irrelevant as skin color and secondary sexual characteristics–gives us hope. In that symphony audience of bluehairs, I may have been the only person who grew up in the world that Star Trek improved upon by its existence.

Not only does Star Trek itself inspire us, but the actors who participated in it serve as fine examples of people and artists. Frakes is an excellent musician as anyone who’s heard him play the trombone knows. Wil Wheaton‘s volunteer work for Child’s Play and mentorship to the gamer community make him a genuinely decent human as well as a terribly funny writer. John DeLancie is an innovative opera director, and I don’t need to tell you about Sir Patrick Stewart’s and Robert Picardo’s acting chops both on- and off-stage. George
Takei may be the best example of all; his perpetually humorous messages of tolerance to the fan community and his leadership in social media communications for LGBT teens add to all our lives. I am so Takei for him. Plus, that brokering of Star Peace is one of the most priceless moments in sci-fi fandom history.

**** Trek, **** Wars, Battle**** Galactica, ****blazers, **** Cops, ****gate. It doesn’t matter which Star show you love the best; they all show us something about our future. I choose to believe that some serve as a warning, and some serve as a goal. I want to live in a world where universal ethics about the value and quality of human life trump individual morality while still respecting it. I want to be evaluated on my performance, not my appearance. Finally, I want to live in a world where great achievement is rewarded not with security, but with
even greater responsibility.  Sign me up for the world where we live long and prosper.

PS: It’s The Next Generation, in case you were wondering. Argue if you want, but I will stomp on you.

SDCC Just Didn’t Think About The Ladies This Time.

I normally never critique a company for not hiring female devs or DBAs; I tend to think it’s the responsibility of women to be good enough to deserve employment. This time, however, I think it’s quite appropriate for a system that seriously screwed with women who have two last names after marriage.

I’ll start by saying I got my San Diego Comic-Con badges just fine. Two 4-day with preview night badges successfully purchased for myself and my husband…but it nearly didn’t happen, and it certainly didn’t happen because I followed instructions.

You may all remember the giant cluster that was last year’s registration process. Comic-Con spent an extra five months trying to fix their problems concerning server balancing and site overload. They set up a system using preregistration for member IDs that had to be verified in advance. I applaud the effort; it seems that with a few hitches, this year went much better than last. There were two
serious issues, however.

In a predictable moment, the link included in the Comic-Con registration email (http://www.comic-con.org/cci/badge_sales.php, for all of you who maniacally clicked it hundreds of time) went down due to tracking on the URL from the email. Their tracking and analytics system was their bottleneck. As a dev, I had some advantage here, since I expected that to happen and had already set up two machines in front of me with two different browsers and the link pasted into the address bar ready to hit ‘enter’. I popped in at #1906 in line on my main box in FF and #3222 on my netbook in Chrome.

Turns out that in a moment of epic (pun intended, as Epic Registration is the in-use system) failure, San Diego Comic-Con Member IDs created by people with spaces or punctuation in their names were utterly useless. In the badge registration email, I was told to register with the last name of VLACK, though my last name is Wheeler
Van Vlack. After VLACK didn’t work, I tried WHEELER VAN VLACK and was deeply fortunate that it worked. Chelsey St. Juniors has a space and period in her last name, and missed out on her badges entirely, since the information in her badge registration email was incorrect.

Others complaining on Facebook say that people with a space in their last names have not received confirmation emails. One woman’s comment (Lisa Wong Rodriguez, if I remember correctly) concerning her Member ID and last name not working has been deleted.

People on the Comic-Con International’s Facebook page who are commenting on this issue are being deleted, or so they claim. In a bit of investigative journalism, I’ve posted a comment there as well and already received a response. Far from deleting my comment, Comic-Con has acknowledged that they screwed up people with multiple last names. Still, note Tina’s comment at the bottom.

I want to congratulate Comic-Con for acknowledging their fault, but really–how many men have two last names like these women do? I’ll pay Comic-Con the compliment of assuming there were no talented female devs or DBAs available to do a quick smoke test for stupid.



Comic-Con has responded to my post on Facebook, and they say that the system was broken for all
people who had strange last names with any spaces or punctuation. I absolutely agree: their system was broken. They assert that because men sometimes have spaces and punctuation in their last names (Sr., Jr., etc), that they were affected too; I heartily concur. I never said that this was a deliberate attempt to keep women out of Comic-Con; what I said was that hiring a woman to look over the system might have prevented this problem. Women were, I think, disproportionately affected by this error–and I’m open to refutation on this point. I think that, proportionately, there were more women with multiple or hyphenated last names who didn’t get their badges than men who have a Sr. or Jr. tacked-on.

Should the past haunt Julian Assange?

I see that Julian Assange has been awarded the Sydney Peace Medal. I’m not sure whether to be concerned or not; this may turn out to be something like awarding Yasser Arafat the Nobel Peace Prize before he started bombing hell out of Israel again. There are still outstanding rape allegations against Assange, and unfortunately, the kind of personality that enjoys breaking some of the rules tends to be someone who enjoys breaking all of the rules.

Does this mean that Assange doesn’t have the right to be considered innocent unless and until he faces an unbiased trial with a jury of his peers? Not remotely. However, I question the judgment of
Australian social influence in this case. In a rush to justify Assange’s ideals of openness and accountability, and amid the recent Canadian refusal to extradite a terror suspect to the US based on concerns that we’re violating the Geneva Convention, it’s entirely possible that we’re rushing to justify the man’s actions as well as his ideals.

I have no opinion on Assange’s guilt or innocence. I know that when two different people accuse the same man of the same crime that most civilized nations who empanel grand juries would find cause to at least explore the issue of his guilt or innocence. I’m hoping that in the rush to crucify the US for our actions in Guantanamo Bay that we as a globe do not fail to examine the facts surrounding those allegations. I hold to the same ideals that men throughout history have; Aristotle viewed women as subhuman and slavery as part of the natural order of society. I can find those views and actions repulsive while still cheering for his concepts of social
responsibility, republican government, and the search for truth.

Wikipedia and Virtual Feudalism

I’m tired of having my edits on Wikipedia immediately rolled back without so much as a by-your-leave. The purpose is so that those who have set themselves up as monitors on a range of pages within their area of expertise can read and review my changes to approve them before permitting them on the page.

Why is it perfectly fine for people to squat on pages, roll back any changes made by anyone other than themselves, and only re-enter the information themselves if it seems truthy or can be easily Googled? The purpose of Wikipedia is a democratic approach to the concept of shared knowledge; it’s being hijacked by people who have so much time on their hands that they can’t POSSIBLY be gainfully employed in the area in which they claim to be experts.

The backlash has been against paid editors who monitor content to ensure a ‘pro’ slant on any page they’re paid to manage; I think the real danger comes from those who monitor pages to
roll back any changes they didn’t approve.


Dress for inconspicuousness.

When I first got a gig at Microsoft, my account rep noted that I seemed to dress very differently when I came into the vendor agency office and when I was actually at the Microsoft campus.

I tend to downplay my fashion choices when I work as a coder. It’s hard enough to get taken seriously as a female coder without letting my fellow nerds know that I happen to ADORE red sequins and stiletto heels. Given a choice, I dress more like a character in a video game than the person who programmed said video game.

Still, the choices I make as a coder and a female when it comes to the way I present myself offers up an ethical dilemma.

Am I betraying some sort of Chick Code by dressing down so as to not startle my male colleagues? I don’t mean by dressing work-appropriate; there are many choices of work-appropriate attire that would be far more flattering to me without being at all immodest or unprofessional. I mean a deliberate
choice to not wear makeup, or heels, or skirts, or my beloved rhinestone hair accessories and 20s vintage jewelry—in favor of t-shirts, jeans, ponytails, and trainers.

If you’ve seen Criminal Minds, you know that the resident tech genius Miss Penelope Garcia wears AWESOME clothes, jewelry, and accessories. I tend to have the film noir version of her taste in clothing. Hell, let’s be honest: I weekend warrior as a renaissance reenactor and live action roleplayer; I LOVE costuming and looking good.

Still, am I being unethical by failing to live up to my sense of personal expression within professional guidelines? When I was in graduate school in Michigan, I experienced repeated and vicious sexual harassment (and on more than one occasion, actual assault) when dressed in feminine attire, and much less when I wore t-shirts and no makeup.

Should I have kept expressing myself and fought the good fight? Am I being untrue to myself now when I dress down to deliberately appear as a Plain
Jane? Am I being disrespectful to the women who broke into the profession I now follow?

What’s a girl to do?

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

I don’t need to tell anyone who Ada Lovelace is. The world’s first computer programmer was, strangely enough, female. Today is Ada Lovelace Day; it’s celebrated on March 24th each year.

Actually, I’d like to focus on her presence in fiction. William Gibson and Bruce Sterling used Lovelace as a character when they wrote “The Difference Engine,” arguably the first Steampunk novel. [As if Gibson hasn’t done enough already, what with inventing Cyberpunk in his masterwork, “Neuromancer.”]

Lovelace is presented as a gambler, genius, and historically significant figure in “The Difference Engine.” She’s the first person to have developed code for Charles Babbage’s difference engine. In the novel, she and Babbage go on to develop analytical engines, and the IT revolution happens rather a lot sooner. The world begins to operate on steam engines, and as a result, the political,
military, and social history of the world to now is substantially altered.

Ada Lovelace is historically significant, but like so many other characters who have been plucked from obscurity by the force they wield in our imaginations, her true value is her inspiration to the daughters of the digital age.