Towse: views from the hill

March 25, 2009

Belated Ada Lovelace Day: Let us now praise techie women

Filed under: libraries,technology — Towse @ 11:54 pm

I was gone yesterday. Awoke a bit after 5A to catch the 9X over to the Cow Palace for the day-long Get Motivated! seminar (more on =that= experience to follow).

I left the seminar early (mid Michael Phelps’ presentation) to catch the 9X back to Washington Square Park, where I transferred to the 30 to get to Fort Mason where I met up with his nibs to kill time (kill time, check-in and get wristbands, kill time, stand in line outside in chilly breeze, kill time) until we were let inside (Front Row for us!) for the Zócalo/New America Foundation joint event with Craig Newmark.

“He’s just like I expected,” said his nibs.

“You should read his blog and Twitterfeed,” I answered. “He’s exactly as he is. Which is a good thing.”

(But then we’ve always identified with engineering rather than marketing and sales. …)

Writeup and video with photos here.

There I am! (We’re #3 & #4 in line. I’m wearing black, shades, carrying my handy-dandy AAAS-NSF bag stuffed full the night before with the paper/pens/stuff I thought necessary for the day’s events.)

We walked home. Walked up to Bay and headed east. Cut over onto Columbus and stopped off at LaTrappe (corner of Columbus and Greenwich) because I was in need of some moules frites and Koningshoeven La Trappe Quadrupel. Sal satisfied, we continued home, arriving after midnight.

Ada Lovelace Day had been and gone.
My post praising techie women would be late. Alas.

Let us now praise techie women

Ada Lovelace Day is/was an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology.

Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Entrepreneurs, innovators, sysadmins, programmers, designers, games developers, hardware experts, tech journalists, tech consultants. The list of tech-related careers is endless.

The list of people I could honor is near endless. Grace Hopper was my first choice, but I decided my Ada Lovelace Day post should honor a living WIT. (Others chose differently, honoring, among others, Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Hedy Lamarr, Rosalind Franklin, and Marie Curie.)

Who to choose? Who to choose? Who to choose?

Let us now praise, Jessamyn West, purveyor of (since 1999) and her personal blog abada abada.

Back in 2001, I wrote the following about Jessamyn.

[n.b. This extract is from my Feb 2001 column for Computer Bits [RIP]. The column was titled, ROLL OUT THE CARPET – PASSIONS GREET THE MILLENNIAL DAWN, and covered a batch of sites run by people who were passionate about a subject. The Degree Confluence Project was mentioned earlier in the column.]

I thought I was so clever. I thought, “I’ll pop the Degree Confluence Project into Altavista [yes, Altavista was my search engine of choice in those days] and see who else links to it and maybe write about those sites.” and got sucked into hours of roaming the links of Jessamyn (not that Jessamyn) West’s personal site.

West linked to the Degree Confluence Project because she has a quirky page where you can note a latitude and longitude and find out where you’d end up if you tunneled through to the other side of Earth. I knew West was a kindred spirit because her tunneling page also links to the Library of Congress map pages, mentioned in my November 2000 column.

West has links to everything that interests her and beyond: Naked Librarians (indeed!), Tracy Kidder, confluences and her journal, abada abada — and a fine journal it is. I’d heard of the huge numbers of people these days who keep their journals upfront and personal on the Web, but I’d never had the inclination to check out the sites. “Boring, self-centered clods,” I thought. Boy, was I wrong.

West’s journal includes such life slices as the description (with pictures!) of how she wound up with a printing press last year. “It started out innocently enough, playing pool with my friend Margaret talking about getting a hobby. Next thing you know, I’m en route to a scrap metal place in Burien and before you can say “dingbat” I am the owner of a tabletop letterpress machine. As my Mom said to me ‘this is how your father wound up with the pipe organ…’ “

Dad, by the way, is Tom West, featured in Tracy Kidder’s Soul of a New Machine. On her Tracy Kidder page, West remembers how Kidder stashed himself on the couch at the Wests on weekends as he wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning book.

West’s journal starts in January 1997. I turned my mouse to this month, then that, another year, a different month, fascinated, clicking links, watching West’s writing style and interests grow and change over the past four years. Check out West’s journal and site and you will discover what the attraction is, why I’ve becoming a peeking Sal, peering into someone else’s life and passions.

Is Jessamyn technically a technological woman? She doesn’t do HW design. She’s not a SW engineer. What Jessamyn is is a community technology librarian, a guide to the wonders of the Web and technology, a friendly host, an answerer of questions. She works to get technology working in small community libraries. She is a moderator at and runs the Q and A part of the site, Ask MetaFilter. She is the visible face (and the sometimes cranky voice) of library technology. People like Jessamyn West are the link between the technically inept and the technology available these days at your local public library.

There is a boatload of information online and for those who can’t afford to have a personal connection in their home, the public library is the nearest and friendliest place.

So, what do we need to do? Get the technology into libraries. Get the library staff up to speed on using the technology.

Add patrons with questions and problems. Voilà! Solutions. Questions answered. Problems solved. Here is how you fill out the online food stamp application. Here is how you file an SSD or SSI application online. Here is how to use Craigslist or other online resources to find rentals. Here is how to file a complaint online. Learn to budget. Repair a faucet. Find a mechanic. Be a mechanic. Here is a site that lets you study and practice for your driver’s exam.

Let us now praise Jessamyn West and her sisters in library and technology who are wielding the machetes of technology to lead the lost and bewildered through the jungles of confusion to the “good” stuff available on the ‘net.

Let us now praise Jessamyn West and her sisters in library and technology who spend their days at sometimes thankless work, without whom the interWeb and its resources would be unavailable to a large swath of the public.

(‘sted, K, Eva, others. You know who you are. Consider yourselves praised as well.)

December 1, 2008

The Pownce Blog — Goodbye Pownce, Hello Six Apart

Filed under: app,technology,web2.0 — Towse @ 9:16 pm

The Pownce Blog — Goodbye Pownce, Hello Six Apart

Pownce is closing down effective December 15th. They’ve added an export function so you can download all your messages. Leah Culver and Mike Malone are joining the engineering team at Six Apart, and bringing the Pownce technology along with them.

[via a tweet from Laughing Squid]

November 30, 2008

The miracles of modern science – notify a partner of possible STD via e-card

Filed under: app,health,technology — Towse @ 5:58 pm

* Choose one of six e-cards (Figure 1),
* Type in recipients’ e-mail addresses (up to six),
* Select an STD from a pull-down menu,
* Type in own e-mail address or send anonymously,
* Type in an optional personal message.

PLoS article on inSPOT: The First Online STD Partner Notification System Using Electronic Postcards

Ah, the wonders of the Web.

October 28, 2008

Linkbait: what it is, tips & tricks

Filed under: blog,technology,web2.0 — Towse @ 11:39 pm

Linkbait: what it is, tips & tricks

A round-up article. Blog? Care about SEO? Much? Huiskes’ article on Linkbait is a good overview w/ tips & tricks.

August 22, 2008

Fish Tale Has DNA Hook – Students Find Bad Labels

Filed under: food,news,technology — Towse @ 9:25 pm

Fish Tale Has DNA Hook – Students Find Bad Labels –

Two teenagers, recently graduated from high school, decided to check whether the fish in restaurants and at the fishmongers is really what it’s labeled as.

Upshot? They found 25% of the fish with DNA they could identify had been mislabeled.

(The mislabeling usually meant the fish was identified by the seller as a more expensive fish than it really was. Shock.)

The teenagers shipped the fish off to someone at FISHBOL who did the DNA analysis using a newish technique that is simpler and cheaper than a full-bore analysis.

Bad enough that your wild-caught salmon might not be wild-caught. It might not even be salmon!

May 20, 2008

Ars Technica acquired by Condé Nast: the low-down

Filed under: blog,science,technology — Towse @ 4:18 pm

Ars Technica acquired by Condé Nast: the low-down

Oh. For. Pete’s. Sake.

Ars Technica will now grow with the tools and resources of Condé Nast’s WIRED Digital unit. WIRED Digital oversees the business operations of not only, but also Reddit, WebMonkey, HotWired, and other technology destinations. Ars Technica will remain an independent publication, with the same editorial leadership in place. I will remain the Editor-in-Chief, and Jon, Eric, and the rest of the editorial team is staying on board, too.

… and so forth. Don’t worry, Community! We’re not gonna change. Condé Nast is benevolent folk. Shhh. Shhh. Shhh. There there. It will work out. Just you see!

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