Wednesday, April 28, 2010

of course...

of course the sound on my computer decides to stop working the week i'm supposed to be giving a talk about music projects.

i can't figure out what's wrong. i've been googling and troubleshooting like crazy, and my sound is still borked. i have no idea what i did to cause this. none.

time to back up my system again and do a clean reinstall, again. i just nuked and rebuilt my laptop two and a half weeks ago, but since the sound worked just fine when i installed xubuntu karmic a few weeks ago, i'm hoping the problem goes away with this reinstall.

unless, of course, it's some "upgrade" to xubuntu karmic that came out in the last couple days that obliterated my sound. if that's the issue, then i will be one very angry camper. the presentation will happen either way (since the awesome niteshad has offered to let me use his machine if mine stays borked)...but still, having a computer with busted sound makes me one cranky rogueclown.

Monday, April 26, 2010


take that, forces of patriarchy and sex-negativity!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

career strife

the difference between entering the legal field and the information technology field is a stark one. if you're entering the legal field, you're not expected to know jack. if you're entering IT, you are. plain and simple.

this made getting my foot in the door when i was in law school easy. everyone was coming from the same place. we were all law students, going through the same bullshit classes, being put through the same bullshit hazing ritual that everyone has to go through. the more practical of us picked up a few chops here and there doing internships, but even then, it was never enough time to get a particularly realistic taste of the profession. on top of that, no one ever asked how we'd do a specific case or solve a specific problem. i got high grades in my classes, grades that showed i had skills like "forcing myself to study the day before my final", "staying up the night before the paper was due", and "pulling a handful of perfectly cromulent arguments out of my ass in three or four hours."

in other words, the legal profession was one that was ridiculously easy for someone vaguely bright to enter with no discernable skills. people wonder how i could say that going into the law was a path of least resistance. this is how.

computers are a completely different ballgame. instead of competing with other people to see who is better at bullshitting and being charming, they care what you've actually done. "entry level" means they expect you to have a certain level of experience already. they ask you in an interview how to do specific things. i know the best thing to do is own up to what i don't know, and say "i'd look it up and get back to them." but, it gets really frustrating when i'm inevitably competing against people with more experience than i have, who have more knowledge than i do, who have more [and more substantial] projects they can show off, who have far fewer things they'd have to "look up and get back" about than i do.

i'm just frustrated. i love the fact that everyone i spend time with is smart as a whip, because i can learn a lot from them and they never, ever bore me. but, sometimes i get a little frustrated with always being the stupidest person in the room, or the most clueless person in the room. i get frustrated with the fact that i messed up my life by bullshitting my way into a political science degree and a law degree. i had all these years, all those opportunities, and i wasted them all. all these people i know have spent their teens, twenties, thirties, whatever doing really cool stuff, and i just let myself go with the flow until i realised i had almost drowned. i resent the wasted years.

i know i have time to right myself. i'm trying. i'm just not doing a very good job of it right now.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

arduino != iPhone.

this morning, i made the mistake of going to the rat shack. like any electronics hobbyist after about 1995, i know that radio shack is full of fail when it comes to electronics. sure, there was once a day where you could actually go there and talk to people who knew about radio components, but those days are long gone. i prefer to buy components anywhere else, but i needed a few things for a project i want to have done to show off at my penguicon talk in a week and a half. i didn't want to risk stuff ordered online not getting here in time, and i didn't want to have to scam a friend with a car into driving me to fry', i was kind of stuck visiting the rat shack.

i went into the store, picked up some pushbuttons, resistors, and pieces of protoboard, and made my way to the checkout counter where the following exchange ensued:

Sales Clerk: would you like some batteries? we have a big sale on batteries today.
me: no, just the components. i've got more batteries than i know what to do with.
Manager: what are you making?
me: oh, just a little keyboard for an microcontroller music project i'm prototyping.
Manager: do you have an iPod or an iPhone?
me: [confusedly] ummm...yeah...but i'm not doing this project with my iPod. it's being done with an arduino microcontroller board.
Manager: what kind of iPhone do you have? only at Radio Shack, we'll give you trade-in value for your iPhone, toward a new one. someone just got a new iPhone for $8. i just thought that would be enough to make you want to get a new iPhone today.
me: no, just the components for my project. good day.

okay, fine. i can't get too wound up about the attempt to sell me batteries. i was clearly buying electronics supplies, and electronics projects can be run with batteries.

but, an iPhone?


something tells me that guy does not even know what a microcontroller is.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


i spent this past weekend at notacon 7. i am still recovering, but i want to say a few words about it before it starts to get fuzzy.

first of all, a big thank you to all of you who came to my talk, and to all of you who played Whose Slide Is It Anyway, Notacon Trivia, or Know Your Notacon Presenters. it made me happy to see you all there, and i hope you enjoyed yourselves. an extra-special thank you to everyone who participated in the question-and-answer session after my talk...i was so impressed by the insights you all brought to the discussion about new people in the hacker community, and you've given me a lot to think about.

and, now...a set of bullet-pointed observations, tales, and miscellanies from the weekend that was.
  • hot all-girl rock bands consisting of me, Tottenkoph, Lizard, and Christina are awesome...and rather good at both being the rockingest band at notacon, and wiki-ing moms.
  • if i wear a shirt that shows off my boobs, the Balloon Baron forgets to give me money.
  • faygo rock-n-rye is good, but an even tastier interpretation of rock-n-rye involves mixing rock star energy drink with rye. yummy!
  • it's funny to hear punkrokk give a talk about his balls.
  • maybe it's not the best idea to sign up for Whose Slide if it means you have to give a talk right after taking your Shardy+ test. if you wonder why this is a good suggestion, chemhacker may be able to explain.
  • anytime anyone was fiddling with a staff radio, i fought an almost uncontrollable urge to go "raaaaaaadio...raaaaaaaaadio...yipyipyipyipyipyip!". that may or may not have been vocalised at least once, and i wonder if anyone i worked reg desk with thought i was completely nuts.
  • Stormgren's military special rum is...well...extra-special, in the way that it eats through cups.
  • bus trips with Jimmie and Eli lead to the creation of neighbourly websites like
  • guitar hero is awesome. guitar hero ported to the Commodore 64 is even more awesome.
  • trips to the shooting range are fun, whether they're before the con, after the con...or, as was true for this con, both of the above. niteshad wins for arranging both of the range trips, as well as for letting me shoot his firearms. also, on the thursday trip, Tottenkoph's squeeful reaction to shooting niteshad's AR-7 was pretty much the most adorable thing ever.
  • as much as i rant about needing a break and being dead tired at the end of the con, it probably rings a little hollow when i am still at the con hotel, and purchasing bus tickets to go to penguicon in less than two weeks. ;-)
i'm probably forgetting a few things, since this was one of the most madcap cons i've ever been to. but, i had an amazing time...i loved seeing everyone i knew, and it was awesome to meet so many fun people for the first time.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

strippers and dirty magazines!

if you're coming to notacon this weekend, niteshad has organized Strippers and Dirty Magazines! after the con has wound down on sunday, there will be an excursion to a shooting range for anyone who wants to go.

detailed information about it [time, place, rules, permitted and disallowed firearms and ammunition] is all on this site.

hope to see you there!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

last entry meant something. this one is just me complaining.

i should be doing something productive to prepare for notacon.

unfortunately, the only thing i've done that's the least bit productive in that regard is buy bleach and hair dye to fix my hair before the con. that's a step. but, i've done nothing else.

i wanted to buy more jeans, since all the ones i have are falling apart. but, i've been thwarted in that pursuit, since apparently no one wants to stock my favourite jeans in april. seriously...people wear jeans all year long. i don't understand why stores don't keep a full stock of them all year long, instead of only stocking them when fall and winter clothing is in season.

(then again, i never understood the idea of "seasons" for clothing, anyway. the season affects my desire to throw on a coat over my clothing or not, but it does not change what i want to wear. i don't care if it's december, june, or anything else...i want to wear jeans and a t-shirt!)

that said, i will have to search some more over the next day or two for some jeans that make my butt and my legs look good...and are not falling apart like all my current ones are. i also want to find a skirt. i would like to find a cute new skirt for notacon, so i can show off my bad-ass steel-toed knee-high boots, maybe while i'm hosting either Whose Slide or Pub Trivia at notacon.

i also have some work to get done on my talk slides and my blockparty entry, but i'm just braindead today. braindead as in doing things like "getting on a bus going the wrong way". braindead as in "useless for anything other than gazing out into space and posting completely worthless tweets and blog entries." i'm drinking coffee, i'm listening to upbeat music, and it's really not helping.


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

on guns, shooters, and my attitudes

last week i shot a gun for the first time, and i liked it.

the me of up to a couple of years ago would be absolutely disgusted to look into the future to see that i would ever do such a thing, much less enjoy it. i have no regrets about it. however, it has taken a long process of me forming, assessing, and reassessing my views on guns in order for me to get there.

i didn't grow up around guns. at all. they weren't in my house. they weren't in my relatives' houses, at least to my knowledge...except for one, i think, and when i heard that he kept a gun in his house i was scandalized. i didn't understand why people would want to keep a scary thing that could kill you at the pull of a trigger anywhere near home. even if they claimed it would protect them from home invaders...the home invaders had guns too, and the chance that you got your gun out to shoot them before they shot you still wasn't worth all of the risk of actually having that ticking time bomb in your house.

there was also the issue of concealed carry. north carolina, where i grew up, passed concealed carry in 1995. i was in middle school, and i was scared out of my wits. i couldn't believe that the state was actually going to make it legal for people to hide guns under their coats and carry them around in public. i remember walking around for a time after they passed that law, looking around and wondering how many of the people i encountered on the street were carrying a gun, and ready to blow my head off at the drop of a hat, if they wanted. it was scary.

guns were for criminals. guns were for militia-types. guns were for bad people, violent people. they weren't for decent, peaceful folks like me and my friends.

i still felt this way in college. in fact, i spent the summer of 2002 in washington, dc, working at the brady center to prevent gun violence. i remember being frustrated that their policies didn't go far enough toward banning the scourge of firearms from our society, that they were not going far enough to get guns out of the hands of everyone but the military and the well-regulated militia, which in my eyes was the national guard--because there was nothing well-regulated about letting every tom, dick, and harry keep a firearm in their house. i tried to be okay with their claims that long guns were somehow less threatening than handguns, and that using guns for hunting or target sport was somehow different than using them for crime, or keeping them around the house as some kind of misguided personal protection plan. however, i didn't see the difference--guns were guns, and they were all a menace to society.

i did realise that i was still very unfamiliar with guns. for a long time, i saw my inexperience with them as a virtue--i felt like i knew intellectually what they were, knew intellectually what they could do, and was a better person for being as far away from them as i possibly could. however, on two occasions in those younger years, i had the chance to touch a firearm. neither experience left a good memory. they weren't bad in the sense that i, or anyone i knew personally, got shot; they were bad in that they pushed far beyond what i was comfortable with at the time, and thus left a sour taste in my mouth.

the first time i ever touched a firearm was the summer i worked at the brady center. they [quite rightly, in my case!] assumed that most of their interns had never been to a gun show before. so, there was a tradition of taking the interns out to a gun show sometime over the summer, so we could gain some firsthand experience with the "gun culture." we dressed our inconspicuous best, all of us in jeans and [slogan-free, of course] t-shirts, and made our way to maryland for the show. i wandered around, agog at how many firearms were for sale in the convention centre.

at one of the booths, i saw a sig sauer pistol that i recognised as being the one in a series of crime books that i really enjoyed, so i asked the man behind the table to let me hold it. he obliged. the vendor told me that the best thing about the gun was that it didn't have a safety on it, and the guy standing next to me affirmed that those safeties were nothing but trouble. i was frightened that the gun didn't have a crucial accident-prevention feature, disgusted that these crazy people thought this was a good feature...and i could not hand the gun back to the vendor quickly enough.

the first time i actually shot anything more powerful than a super soaker was a few years later, sometime between college and law school. i was with my boyfriend at the time, visiting his family; his father was an avid shooter. i commented that i had never shot a gun before, and soon i was in the back yard, plinking at a pop can with a bb gun. nothing catastrophic happened...some of the bbs i shot hit the can, and some landed harmlessly in the grass. still, it was beyond anything i was comfortable with at the time. i felt dirty after i did i had somehow betrayed my beliefs, or betrayed my distaste for violence, by shooting a gun. i tried justifying it to myself that it was just a bb gun and not a "real" gun, but such claims rang hollow in my mind. i was disappointed in myself for giving in, and really only found discomfort in having shot the bb gun.

the first cracks in my outlook started to surface several years ago, and were purely a pragmatic matter. they came when i still lacked any real familiarity with guns or shooters. it sucks that these instruments of death and destruction are so ubiquitous, i reasoned, but is there any way we can get rid of them? i grudgingly arrived at the conclusion that getting rid of guns in america was never going to happen. i didn't have to own them, shoot them, or ever touch them again. i still thought that firearms enthusiasts...the criminals, the militia types, the guys at the gun show who fawned over the fact that the pistol didn't have a safety...were not the kind of people with whom i wanted to associate. i didn't have to like guns or their owners. but as a practical matter, a gun ban was politically not going to succeed--and even if it did, the people who really, really wanted to use them for nefarious purposes would get their hands on them on the black market. they'd never disappear, just like alcohol never actually disappeared during prohibition. it would be a waste of energy to do anything but make sure legal gun acquisition channels were limited to people who haven't proven themselves irresponsible with them, and severely punish people who have proven themselves irresponsible with guns but are later caught with them anyway.

it wasn't until far more recently, basically the last year or so, that i felt any real change in my views. as with many occasions when long-held, politically-rooted ideas radically change, it only happened when something happened on a personal level. in this case, it happened when i met a few people through the hacker community, people who i really like and respect, and found out that they were also gun owners, avid shooters, even in some cases concealed weapons permit holders. i couldn't reconcile the image in my head of gun owners as somehow ultraviolent or bad people with the reality of these friends of mine. i asked questions and listened to them talk about their experiences with guns, and thought a lot about what they said. if my assumption that there was something inherently bad about people who owned guns and liked to shoot was correct, then my feeling that these people i had gotten to know were good and worth becoming friends with couldn't be right. however, if my feeling that these were good people was correct, and my sense that they were being sincere when discussing using guns responsibly and safely had any solid foundation, then i needed to take a good, hard look at my prejudice against shooters.

this led to a fundamental shift in how i viewed guns. instead of being these inherently awful things that have no redeeming social value, i started to compare them to computers, knives, power tools, lock picks, or any of a million other things. in the wrong hands, any of those things can do bad, even life-ruining, things. however, enjoying shooting no more makes a person disposed to wanton violence than enjoying lockpicking makes one disposed to burglary. having a concealed weapons permit doesn't make a person disposed to shoot random people on the street. there are always going to be people who get any kind of tool in their hands and use them irresponsibly, recklessly, or harmfully. that said, there are also people who will explore their capabilities responsibly and safely.

even after coming to this conclusion that it was unreasonable to hold the actions of the irresponsible or malicious shooters against all shooters, i was unsure if i wanted to try it. i was curious, but i came up with so many reasons in my head why it would not be a good idea for me to shoot a real gun. in my head, i cited the bad experience at the gun show. i cited the unpleasant experience of shooting that bb gun half a decade ago, i wasn't sure if it would be a good idea. i cited the fact that i'm generally klutzy. but, any of the reasons i could give myself not to try shooting rang hollow, and i knew the real cause of my reluctance--i was holding on to that one last thread of thinking that shooting somehow makes a person bad. and, i knew that my assumptions about people who shoot guns were only busted when i began to be exposed to people who actually shot them. so, there was really only one way to reasonably evaluate what effect that shooting would have on me: try shooting a gun. i didn't know if i'd enjoy it or not, but i knew it was something i wanted to try at least once.

and so, last week, i went shooting for the first time. i was up in detroit visiting niteshad, and he took me to the range for my first time. he was a very good and patient teacher, and even before we went to the range he discussed safety rules with me, showed me what i would be shooting, and showed me the mechanisms inside a gun [since i had never seen the inside of one before]. all of that beforehand made the actual trip to the range far less daunting than it would have been otherwise; i felt like i had a good idea of what i was getting into.

it turns out that i really, really enjoyed shooting. it put me in a completely different state of mind than i thought it would. i expected i'd be in some really primal state of mind when i was shooting, but that's the farthest thing from the truth. instead, i was in this state of hyper-concentration, the likes of which i don't think i've ever felt before. i had this extremely powerful thing in my hand, and i knew things could go terribly wrong if i did not meticulously follow every rule of operating it correctly. on top of that, when everything was loaded and checked and i was actually trying to aim at the target, i was sharply focused on what was around me and in front of me, in sighting exactly where i wanted that bullet to go.

i was expecting to be terrible at it. anything that involves physical prowess or coordination, i suck's one of the general rules of my life. but, it turns out i actually did pretty well at shooting. not every shot was a bulls-eye, of course, but i shot some nice, tight groups, and everything landed fairly near the centre of the target. i was going to be perfectly happy if most of my shots actually hit the paper, but i far surpassed any expectations for how well it was going to go. it was refreshing--i concentrate, i focus deeply on making sure to do everything right, and things work out the way i want them to. i expected shooting to bring with it an overarching feeling of a loss of control, since i was handling this machine to which i had always ascribed these violent powers greater than myself. however, i instead felt a profound feeling of being in control, since the safety of the situation and the accuracy of my shots were my responsibility.

do i still think there need to be certain forms of gun control? of course. that hasn't changed completely. i still favour background checks before you buy a gun, and i'm still not in favour of the gun show exception. i still favour stiffer penalties for violent felons--as in, if you've proven yourself irresponsible with guns or weapons before, you lose your right to legally have them. i still find it inexcusable to keep unlocked guns around children, or people otherwise unable to appreciate the lethal potential of a firearm (people who are drunk, high, et cetera), and there needs to be legal liability in those situations. as a matter of constitutional interpretation, given that i generally go for a living-document interpretation more than an originalist take, i'm not crazy about the idea that we're still bound to see the "well-regulated militia" as the same thing as it was in the 1790s.

that being said, giving shooting a fair chance has shown me that i was wrong in my blanket assumptions about people who shoot guns. some people inevitably use guns irresponsibly, and some people inevitably use them to act out or satisfy some desire to be violent. but, that's true for some people--it's not true for everyone. there are a lot of people out there that use them safely and responsibly, and are mindful about what can happen if safety rules aren't meticulously followed. i'm really grateful to the friends of mine with whom i've discussed guns as of late, both for helping dispel my assumptions and for bearing with me as i muddle through all my thoughts and beliefs about guns.

at this point, i'm still not sure whether i'll ever own a firearm or not...but i do know that i have a lot more respect for guns and shooters than i once did, and that i'm looking forward to going to the range again soon.

Monday, April 05, 2010

so soon?

a week and a half until i leave for notacon.

i've got most of my stuff ready for that, but i still can't believe it's right around the corner. eek!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

a year.

it was a year ago yesterday when i lost my job at the law firm.

as frustrating as it is, in a lot of respects, to still not have a job...i'm so much happier than i was a year ago. going to that job was frustrating. i wasn't enjoying it. i was starting to come to the realisation at that point in time that i didn't want to be an attorney anymore. i hasn't completely come around to that yet, but that's where i was leaning...i was spending all my spare time playing with computers, and i remember the weekend before i was laid off, i had spent the entire saturday night alternately in tears and doing research on computer science graduate programs, since even though the idea of going back to school for any purpose did (and still does) revile me, it seemed like a way out.

i'm not going to make this some kind of ridiculous retrospective and rehash the last year. most of it was awesome, some of it was painful. i'm still not quite there by any stretch of the imagination, whatever there means anyway. that being said, i have a much better idea of what i want now than i had at this time last year, and i'm grateful for the law firm for telling me to take a hike. my life is much better for it.