Diary week c/ 22 November 2015

This post was written 4 years ago.
Fri, 27 Nov 2015
It is half past two on a Friday - that is, already Saturday - as I start writing. This will be short although I would have lots to write. But what I'd have to write is often difficult to express too. Mmh, why should I not, for a change, write about coding? Yes! So, two weeks ago we had our JavaScript workshop. I think it went quite well except for one quite annoying technical detail. The projector we were given had a lot of speckles on the lens which made the screen either look like a starry sky or splattered with dirt, depending on the background. It was really quite astounding. What had happened to it? Luckily it did not faze the speakers too much and they made sure that people were able to read by increasing the font-size etc. At least the wifi worked, apart from a brief glitch. The speakers and talks were amazing, and I enjoyed the whole thing even though I was the main organiser and always a bit on egde.

So now I am in the process of editing videos - that is, adding some screens at the beginning, which was fun to do in kdenlive. I am currently uploading the first one to Youtube, I am curious if it will work out well. Then I also want to do a writeup of the whole thing, as I have done the previous two years.

And then there is the biggie, I want to plan an exit strategy. I do not want to be the 'leader' of our CodeHub meetup any more. The funny thing is, I enjoyed being in the driving seat more than I'd have thought. It is just that I find certain aspects of this particular role really exhausting and emotionally draining. Part of the reason is that this whole thing is so personal. It really is a bit like a child to me, my baby, and I sometimes don't know where I end and CodeHub starts. There have been things that in themselves would not be more than annoying or stressful, but have triggered a total meltdown in my case (not in public, luckily). And it has taken up so much space in my mind that I don't actually get to the whole objective of why we founded this anymore: Learning new things and improving my programming. My mind was mostly so preoccupied with organisation (even when not actively organising a workshop) that I did not find the peace and quiet to just - code.

Another reason is that I honestly think I am not the best person to take it forward. I've since the beginning felt a bit out of my depth, especially when I realised that a lot of eperienced programmers, and also CompSci students signed up to the Meetup group. So I am neither particularly qualified on a technical level, nor do I command extraordinary social or marketing skills which could make up for that.

The question is just, will anybody want to do that? What do people see in CodeHub anyway? A lot of people must have been interested in the concept at some point because they signed up, but is that still the case? I myself totally believe in it anyway. Hands-on learning through your peers..

It is getting late.. to be continued..

--
tags: weekly_diary, codehub

Diary week c/ 15 November 2015

This post was written 4 years ago.
Mon, 16 Nov 2015
I still have not quite learned to jot down my thoughts in a notebook when they come. I have these whole narratives in my head sometimes, I decide to hang on to them and write them down later, but by the time I get to do that they are gone, of course. This one thing I remember though. I've been thinking to devide my entries into two halves. One dealing with what is going on around me - politics (global, national, local), communities, social life. The other one: things that go on in my head. As I can never become a fully factual (let alone, technical) writer, I might just as well embrace my focus on emotions, psychology, philosophy. The desperate attempt to lead a 'good' life in the double sense: To serve others and bring out the best in them as far as one can do that from the outside. And to live well, and this explicitly means experiencing both pleasurable as well as painful emotions - sometimes very painful ones. The whole range, but with a commitment to oneself, acceptance and compassion. I want to write more about that below. But as I decided to start with external events, I will begin with what has been on the news for days, the attacks in Paris.


Darkness and light

I never read up very much about the details. By now I have heard: One attack happened outside the football stadium, the suicide bombers did not manage to get inside, the bloodshed would have been much worse, had they managed. There was a friendly going on between France and Germany. The players heard the explosions outside, but kept focusing on the game. It turned out two of the French players would be affected. One lost a cousin, another one did not know for a while what had happened to his sister, in the end it turned out she managed to escape unscathed. The German team decided to stay in the stadion overnight and the French players out of solidarity stayed with them. I first heard this from my mum, and then again on the radio. It makes you feel so European. The French, our neighbours, not much different from us at all. Standing together, shoulder to shoulder. Even the English anti-French sentiment (as a German you sometimes hear "the ones that we really hate.."; are the French told the same thing I wonder?) will be nullified for now I reckon, when the French and English team play against each other in Wembley tomorrow.

But we need not only think of ourselves as Europeans but citizens of the world. What happened in France happens in other countries on a (almost?) daily basis. Some have pointed out - and I think it's a valid point - that Beirut a few days earlier, after a relatively stable period, saw similar attacks, and no sights around the world were illuminated in the colours of Lebanon. Nobody would expect that, but I can see how the outpouring of grief over French victims can leave a Lebanese person with the question: are our dead less worthy to be mourned? Are we worth less? Which might be exactly at the core of the problem, one of the reasons, why some people become radicalised.

Also, all this does not come out of the blue. We have for years lived very well, in part due to our weapons exports (at least Germany is pretty good at that, as the super exporting nation), benefitting from other countries being at war with each other, or engaged in civil war. We do not want to see our shadow sides anymore, the target is to be productive, and if we have too many negative feelings, we frantically look for a way out, we want to get rid of them, we numb them or medicate them away. I am generalising of course, but I do think there is a tendency to do that. The shadow sides exist elsewhere, in other countries, we project it all out there. We can give those people weapons, they are not us. Or we even fight a war against them, because they are evil and we are the shining light. We are the countries where the enlightenment happened, brighter, more cultural and civilised. Really?

I wish there could be a worldwide commitment to do away with weapons, and to become more aware. To not act on first emotions, not reason by emotion ("because I feel so intensely that things are this way, it must be true"), instead become aware of emotions, go through them and eventually let them go by. This is more difficult of course then just to continue hating somebody, for example. But I feel if we don't collectively learn to do that, all our weaponry will just get deadlier and deadlier and we might in the end very well just destroy ourselves. Our shadow, the monster we've helped to create, is coming back to haunt us already. How to deal with that monster, who knows what the best strategy is. In any case, we can't pretend it has nothing to do with us.

Sugar-coated pills

Somewhat related to the above, but more to the beginning of the post, some random thoughts on psychopharmaca I recently had:

I have often thought that too many people are prescribed antidepressants as a chronic treatment. I used to be a total believer in "you have to take them for at least half a year". Until somebody I know came off them much quicker.

It is a difficult path to walk. If medication can help somebody feel better, be more in charge, more functional and productive, should one deny that medication to them? Maybe not. Perhaps it is more important what choice that person themselves make. Because with milder forms of depression, I believe that it is a perfectly good choice to not take anything against it. And people should not be punished if they make that choice. If they are less successful, less productive, more tearful for a while, would that be so bad? The thing is, a state of relative unhappiness might be telling you something. If you elevate your mood artificially and become really productive, you might be missing a message.

I have not had a major depression for 18 years now. What I do have though is an often 'dysthymic' disposition. Low moods, low confidence, many tears. I feel ocasionally de-pressed, you could perhaps even call it depressive; but this depressive means 'like in a depression' and not actually in a depression. I also find myself tense and stressed quite frequently, and sometimes my body seems to turn into a Cortisol factory. I can feel it. If you believe this book, if I took Prozac or any other SSRI, there's a good chance I'd become much more stable and confident. I could very likely achieve more, be more productive. But I'd not choose to do that.

I wanted to write more about this, but it is simply getting to late now! Good-bye and good night.

Diary week c/ 02 November 2015

This post was written 4 years ago.
Sat, 07 Nov 2015
A lot going on at the moment. One good thing: After an absolute low-point in the middle of the week, my outlook is a lot more positive now. I have also decided to not be as self-indulgent to mention any potential newly-arrising crises too much anymore, unless I see in them a pattern that might apply to people in general. There's simply no point otherwise. No lamenting!


Goals

  • After having convinced myself I should 'resign' from running CodeHub before the end of the year, I think now I want to give it a go a bit longer. I'd like to take the bull by the horns and deal with what I find most difficult. Asking people for help by sponsoring us with a venue and/or food. Or we really go to a fuction room in a pub again. People used to do that all the time.
  • Run a marathon end of May next year
  • Revamp my little advent calendar

Not that much for now, will have to revisit that. I am just so tired!

The thwarted contribution

I mainly put this here, because I had this heading in the draft.. Talking of generally applicable patterns, this is something I was reminded of recently. I had seen it mentioned in Barbara Oakley's book. One of the most hurtful things in life is when you actually want to contribute something, but your contribution is not accepted, is not deemed worthy. OR you set youself some strange barriers, prohibitions, or keep self-sabotaging yourself into not achieving anything of worth to others. The latter often follows the first, I reckon.

Tags: weekly_diary /

Diary week c/ 26 October 2015

This post was written 4 years ago.
Mon, 26 Oct 2015

This is going to be very short this time. Unfortunately, I am also not in the best mood at the moment. I feel failure is imminent. A failure to keep up the good faith in something and thereby make it work.

Although while I am writing this, perhaps, just perhaps, some strength is returning.

And still, there is a continuous undercurrent. Something sapping at my confidence day by day. When I met my husband, that was a time, one of just a few periods in my life, when I actually was confident. Compared to that, what is going on now? Rather, has been going on for years, on and off? Wtf? Wtf? Arggghhhhhhh.

There is something quite liberating about writing like that. Because it is a taboo right? I am writing personal things on my personal blog, and I am admitting that I struggle. In particular, I struggle with my confidence. The thing is, I'd so so much hoped I'd be over this, because I am really fed up with even thinking about this, and then talking to other people about it and so on, and so on.

But what if this is actually not even my problem? What if this is every other woman's problem, and what if it is every other man's problem, too? What if we live in a fucking bonkers time where every half-ways sane person, who happens to be a bit sensitive (I've come to adore those less sensitive, those who can be a rock to others), is struggling to cope? The thing is, I am not that important of course, and I know it. And what is my struggle compared to that of a refugee woman stranded in Lesbos in the wind and rain, with no food and no clothes and shoes for her children? What on earth is going on? And this is happening with the world looking on. There was an article in the HuffPost, all I could think is, is this really true? Can this really be? This is happening? And then beheadings are happening, too, in other parts of the world. What kind of world is this? - Then I read somebody saying the West is paralysed in its guilt. Tony Blair apologised. This must be one of the most pointless apologies ever to have been.

So with all this going on, it would be great if people managed to "pull together" and somehow turn this ship on the brink of chaos around. There are of course many good people helping with the refugees all over Europe, also many good people in Germany. Unfortunately, there are a lot of pretty awful people in Germany, too, and then there are people who become frightened, just because their certanties are being taken away, and they start looking for culprits and are all too willing to direct their hatred against people unfamiliar to them. This is so sad.

And in any case, it is just hard to find a rational, totally adequate reponse to the drama unfolding that everybody can just take part in. So much misinformation, and so many unknowns.

And really, what about the underlying causes. How could the Middle East have become this utter mess it is now. Even as a not very political person, I must come to the conclusion that yes, the West is to blame at least partly. If our political elites create such a mess, how on earth can we ever hope they will get people out of it?



Book Corner - Erica Jong!

Tonight I went to an event to see a woman who could actually act as quite an antidote to my or anybody else's despair. It is always a bit risky to meet your heroes, but I can say in this case my admiration is fully intact, if it has not even grown. What is so special about her? Foremost perhaps the honesty. But then of course, her wit and her convictions. And I really liked what she had to say about feminism as a movement that started in the 18th century and is not just about the liberation of women but is connected with the liberation of any minority group, and also the liberation of men (she said that a little differently I think). Also the very poignant observation that the most repressed group in the population is - children.

It is getting late now, so I will stop. As a closing line, perhaps I will just keep thinking of fearful but courageous Erica Jong whenever I feel down. Also because, among the many things that I always find lacking in myself, courage is something I have occasionally had, so I can relate to that as my role model.


Diary week c/ 12 October 2015

This post was written 4 years ago.
Mon, 12 Oct 2015
Instead of concluding the past week with my entry, I am starting the following. Just like I have a habit of arriving everywhere exactly five minutes late (if I can afford it).

Newish job

So it's Monday, and I have been working at Wiredmedia. Starting a job there a month ago has been an entirely positive thing. It was on the cards, I had really wanted to work in a team again. And it makes a huge difference, even more than I would have thought. It's great because the job is something I can do and I enjoy, and at the moment I am mainly getting faster and more efficient. This does not happen much when I work on my own, as I keep doing so many different things that there is not much of a routine being established ever.

A weird conflict

Conflicts in a family where people essentially love each other, strike me as being really weird. What better way to highlight the human condition. We just cannot totally understand one another. In fact, the question is, how far can we ever progress on the path to understanding what another person thinks and feels. I just realised that the thing one can most easily empathise with is probably physical pain, even though we cannot even be sure there, if another person feels it the same way as us. Thoughts and complex emotions? Hmm. Not much of a chance I think!

So, I have this thing going on in my family of origin, a discussion about politics/current affairs that's gone totally acerbic (and I know I have some part in it; but I wonder if I am as guilty as some people make it out to me - at least judging from the attacks that are being launched at me; I am used to these attacks too by now, actually, although I will never get used to them; a person who can't face criticism has no other way of reacting to even the slightest sign of - perceived - criticsm than by lashing out against the 'opponent', it seems)

Taming my horses

I had recently started to fall back into a really bad habit. That of staying up till really late at night. I love it soo much! It's funny, it has more appeal to me than any kind of drug could have. Maybe my brain creates a sort of drug. The stillness; being undisturbed, just drifting along, reading a good book perhaps, or following some links to blog posts. Or coding. Although I don't do the latter as much anymore. I did start some online courses, which is quite a nice way of doing something relating to code, without too much danger of going down the rabbit holes of a project.

By taming my horses I mean that I always want to do too many things at one, and I keep starting new things before having finished the old ones. Sometimes that feels like I am being pulled into a lot of different directions, when I could make much more progress if I aligned my forces to all go in one direction. Still, I find now, if you just accept that you won't finish a lot of things (or won't finish them anytime soon), instead of beating yourself up about it, it can actually be quite an agreeable state to be in. I am never bored, that's for sure. It just shouldn't be too many things, and there should be a continued effort with some.

So, I want to keep a record of some things that I actually want to follow through with. Things where I find it's important not to abandon them. Currently, that's:
  • Writing this blog (ha!)
  • Updating websites relating to CodeHub and applying for sponsoring for the JS workshop
  • Learning JavaScript, on my own, and with the JS101 study group

  • There's probably a lot of other things that I have forgotten about, but will hopefully dig out by and by

Book Corner

I just started reading a very gripping book by Barbara Oakley, whom I actually first came across because she co-hosted an online course on Learning how to learn. The book Coldblooded kindness is about the true story of a woman whith quite an unusual mind, extreme artistic talent and an urge to 'fix' people or at least look as if she was doing so. She killed her third husband with a handgun while he was drugged. There is some scientific background about empathy that I find really interesting. Also 'victimisation' and the 'sancticity of the victim' really interesting concepts. - Food for thought for me who used to see myself as a victim a lot, although I have thankfully almost entirely stopped that now. The book also highlights for me how relatively common gun delicts are in the USA, as there is another gun crime mentioned in the book which happened to a group of people connected with the protagonist.

Tags: weekly_diary / books /

A weekly diary for the rest of the year

This post was written 4 years ago.
Sat, 03 Oct 2015
So, this is a simple challenge. Except, I don't know if it will be simple for me. It could be, or it could be not. The chances are 50/50. Writing is very important to me. But there was a time when it was the scariest thing for me. Writing something that would (perhaps) be read by others. That old fear occasionally resurfaces, and my control over it is limited. Then part of the challenge is maybe to learn to live with that discomfort. In any case, one post per week. That's the deal.

At the moment change is the only constant, and I thought it might be good to keep a record of some of what is going on. This stretches from the world of politics and economy, both on a global and national level, to the local communities that I am part of, my personal life and myself. (The change might not be massive in all cases though, and have more to do with my perception of things)

I'll start with an — incomplete — collection of things that are on my mind these days. Things that I observe with some interest, that cause me headaches or heartaches, or just sit there clamouring for attention and a solution of some kind. I start shifting pieces and numbers around in my mind, and it feels like a real-life three-dimensional Sudoku. What chances are there of ever solving anything? Perhaps the art is to restrict the solution-finding to very little things, and otherwise just try to live a half-decent live, without being on some kind of I-need-to-save-the-world mission. Observing things is a start, paying attention, and asking questions perhaps.

(Money) politics

There are a few recent events that I found striking in that a while ago I would not have thought them possible. Especially these two:
  • The Greeks voting "No" to the conditions imposed on them by the Eurogroup
  • The election of Jeremy Corbyn as the Labour leader with a majority of 60%; somebody who has principles and speaks their mind
In addition to that, it seems to me that there is a turning. Something gathering momentum. More and more people getting fed up with austerity politics and refusing to be sold that to them anymore as "we are all in this together". Honestly, who on earth would ever believe that? I am fully aware that there are still big enough numbers of well-off people who want to cling to the Status quo, so that we will not see the end of the Tories soon. And yet, my hope is that they will be gradually held in check more. Yes, Corbyn will probably not be elected Prime minister, but I think he will be fully capable of providing a strong opposition.

When the Greeks said No, I started following the reporting of Paul Mason, and eventually read his book "Postcapitalism". It made a big impression on me, and I hope to post a review of it at some point. There is something so sane and truthful about it. It is also a book that conviction and a deep interest in the matter has gone into. I am quite sure it is not a book written for the sake of making money, and it is not following some kind of blueprint.

The idea of an unconditional basic income has been floated for a while now, and in Germany the owner of a ubiquitous drugstore chain is passionately pushing it which I hope will help it gain traction — I also just realised that Switzerland will even hold a referendum on it in 2016!. I think when it comes, it will not make things easier for most people. Status anxiety will remain, and the freedom to choose might even add pressure. But it would end poverty and that is absolutely a good enough reason to introduce it.

By coincidence yesterday we watched television, which we do extremely rarely, and there happened to be Brian Eno on, giving a John Peele lecture. I did not even know these lectures existed, and I would not have thought of Brian Eno as somebody who gives lectures. Interestingly, part of it was exactly about the subject of postcapitalism and he did even mention Paul Mason's book. Before that he said something about Art which I found quite beautiful: Art is the "things that we don't have to do". And we will all produce more art, professionally or otherwise, as automation progresses. I also liked how he said that after art college he "went on the dole, because I was desperate to not get a job, because I feared I would not get out of the job anymore" The one thing I felt a bit uncomfortable with was when he said that refugees "wanted a share" of our wealth. The very last sentence of the programme, in a response to a question, was something similar again. Of course a lot of people want to come to Europe for economic reasons, but those would not be called refugees?

The growing power of women

This is somewhat connected to the first point, as I think women will play a big role in political and social change. There is so much untapped potential at the moment. For me, the way in which women have been silenced, and out of convention or habit often remain silent themselves, is one of the biggest challenges in that respect. That silence is something that does not only apply to women, of course, but to any oppressed group. It is unfortunate, because it often means that an intelligent, knowledgeable and well-meaning part of a group does not exert their power, ceding the playing field to the bullies. But once we recognize that the only reason the bullies have power is because of the silence of a big fraction, if we manage to empower that fraction of the group, all is not lost.

For me true feminism is so valuable because I had to come round to it, I had to be converted to it, I did not really know for a long time what it was. I have for so long looked to men to "rescue" me, to teach me, to make me feel good. And somehow not seen just how many brilliant, kind, fantastic women are out there. I still like men, there are as many good men as there are women. But their outlook is different on the whole (by the culture they have been brought up with, they are much more competitive and more status-oriented), and the women — as a group, of course there are exceptions, women can be power-hungry too — can bring something else to the table, something that is much needed. I just heard an interview with Erica Jong, in which she said that native Americans had a "council of grandmothers" who decided whether to go into a fight. While it was the men who did the fighting, it was the grandmothers who decided. They knew what was at stake, the value of life, because they had given birth (those were not her exact words, but it was something along those lines).

Becoming more effective

Then there is my personal progress. I will devote some space to that too. Being a woman and considering the above, I wonder in how far I can have a voice, whether my voice is of value and so on. The thing is, if you can call this blooming at all, I am a late-bloomer of the highest order. I feel I have missed some boats, career-wise and skills-wise, in the sense that I won't become as good at something anymore as my talents would have allowed me to become, had I started earlier (and been less bogged down in self-doubt!). But in some cases, I don't know if that is just a feeling or actually the truth. And then, the truth is such an abstract thing anyway. Better to cultivate a "growth mindset" and just work on the things you like. Whether they live up to some impossibly high standard, is that really an important question? I don't think so. I have a lot more choice than I think. And I want to see if I can utilize my voice in a good way.

There is much more of course, but I will have to leave it to another time!

Responsive Day Out

This post was written 5 years ago.
Tue, 23 Jun 2015
Last Friday, Responsive Day Out ("The final breakpoint") happened in Brighton, and I was glad that I had the opportunity to go there. I had listened to recordings of the previous years, but being in Brighton, hearing the talks live, catching the athmosphere and talking to other attendees is something quite different.

Quite a few talks touched on things that I had been thinking about or experiencing recently. Especially, the difficulty of naming things, and that of being a generalist. On the technical side, there was the responsive images spec which I had recently got to try out, and web components. Flexbox is for now remaining a black box to me — but that will hopefully change soon. The power of CSS selectors for applying style decisions was fascinating, as well as some of the new web APIs.

I really liked the mix of the technical, and the psychological/philosophical. There was an exchange in the first chat (after every three talks there was a brief discussion with the three speakers) that highlighted for me how the respective challenges differ. Jeremy Keith asked "Are the trickier problems the human problems?" to which Alice Bartlett, the first speaker, replied: "People problems are harder to reason about. They are also more likely to provoke an emotional response. Solving a technical problem is more satisfying, and you can more easily brag about it" I believe this to be very true, and it might explain why so many problems between people go unresolved for long times.

The first two talks where about accessibility, and this was also a topic in later talks. I really liked the idea in Alice Bartlett's presentation, of reframing accessibility not in terms of abilities that users lack, but what the service can provide. I imagine that means for example each site should have the option to be operated via keyboard, instead of saying "we need to be accessible to people who have motor difficulties". Rachel Shilcock talked about her experiences of designing with accessibility in mind, and mentioned a lot of good resources, for example HTML Codesniffer and tota11y which can be used as bookmarklets to get information about a site. Also, Contrast ratio by Lea Verou, and Color Oracle.

Naming things and modularity is hard


Alma Kholmatova gave an impressive talk about Futurelearn's approach to create a common, modular design language. "Modularity appears simple, but to implement it takes radical changes". Creating a controlled vocabulary was in her experience one of the most useful exercises. At Futurelearn, there is an ongoing effort to name things in a way that avoids duplication, but is also meaningful.

I was also very impressed by Peter Gasston's talk about web components (Slides), which had a lot of technical information while also providing background about their relative significance, and alternative techniques that achieved similar things (React, BEM, and the new ES6 modules in Javascript). Web components leave the developer with much responsibility. Because of the limitless possibilities they open up, it is also possible to make very bad ones. Which basically means, many bad ones will be created — see Sturgeon's revelation There is a gold standard which developers should adhere to "This is a big opportunity. We need to get it right."

Responsive images are here


Responsive Images have landed! Jason Grigsby said he could not let go of them, because they were interesting puzzles (Slides). "I've been obsessed with them for five years". I had only marginally followed the discussions about different proposals for the markup of image and picture element, but if I remember right it was a very heated debate. But the solution that came out of it, is really very good I think. The key thing is that all the hard work can be left to the browser. With srcset and sizes attributes of the image element, we can state rules as to which image should be used at which viewport width, and how much space it should occupy horizontally. Browsers are starting to support the new elements. If not, there is a picturefill, and with the img element there is always the src attribute to fall back to. "The picture element is progressive enhancement for images". There were interesting considerations about how to determine the breakpoints for switching between resolutions. For example, the difference in memory usage needed for resizing images, is much higher when it comes to large images, so it would make sense to put more breakpoints in at the higher end than lower.

photo last chat on stage at responsive conference
Heydon Pickering and Jake Archibald were both, in different ways, concerned with too much reliance on JavaScript. Heydon showed how much can be done with CSS selectors, which was fascinating. It comprised a lot of nth-child selectors (but not only!), and prime numbers (Slides).

Jake Archibald took an existing web app, talky.io and demonstrated how it could be improved by not having all the JavaScript being downloaded upfront, but rather asynchronously in the background. The original capability of websites, to be viewed while resources were still being downloaded, is often compromised by too many resources being loaded in a blocking way. He also showed how web workers can be used to make apps work offline, using his app SVGOMG as an example. An image I won't forget so soon: A sad disused web worker slowly disappearing into the mist. ;)

Ruth John on the other hand, demonstrated new web APIs. In this case it can actually be beneficial to switch from CSS to JavaScript, as for example with the animation API, you get a lot more control than with CSS animations. I had not even heard of many of the new APIs, for example the ambient light API. Most of them are not yet supported that well in most browsers, but as long as their functioning is not critical for the use of a website, there is of course no harm playing around with them.

Zoe Mickley-Gillenwater showed how flexbox can be used for progressive enhancement. She works for Booking.com where content inside box elements can vary widely in size. It is very beneficial in that case that with flexbox you can design without units. This is, I suppose, again an example of how a lot of the hard work — calculating where which layout should be used — can be left to the browser.

The virtuous generalist


The last three people presenting were Rosie Campbell, Lyza Gardner and Aaron Gustafson. What their talks had in common was the perspective that constraints and challenges, whether they are given by the medium or self-imposed, can actually aid creativity. Rosie Campbell presented exploratory research at the BBC around smart wallpaper, and Aaron Gustafson looked at what the future will bring in terms of accessibility and possibilities of new devices. He predicted that speech will become more important than touch as a way of operating devices, and hit home that in reality everbody has special needs when accessing the web which echoed the first talks of the day.

But perhaps the talk that most struck a chord with many in the audience, and certainly with me, was Lyza Gardner's. It was a talk about the wonder and the struggle of doing stuff on the web. The joy of finding out how to build stuff, followed by the need to keep up with new developments and ever changing demands and possibilities. How easy it is to feel overwhelmed by it all, and how easy also to dismiss what one actually knows and can do.

But I guess the main theme was how we should celebrate how much we actually do when we keep learning new things, evaluating, organising, synthesizing new knowledge. "We reserve our admiration for those how do one thing extremely well", but we should acknowledge the skill we have in learning new technologies and adapting to an ever changing environment. - Except we might not always feel we actually manage so well. But then we should still be aware of all the things we do do.

I feel many things I have heard will influence me when I go back to work, it will be interesting to see in what ways.

Thanks to everybody who made this happen, in particular Jeremy Keith and the speakers.
This post was written 5 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)

Crunch time diary 3

This post was written 5 years ago.
Tue, 02 Jun 2015
So, this might be last in series. I don't want to keep calling my posts crunch time ;). It is on one hand quite fitting, I have a "now or never" feeling, i.e. if I don't manage to deal with certain things now, if I don't make at least some, small changes somewhere, I never will, and I might better give up everything to do with web development; much more, wanting to teach / help people learn web development. On the other hand, I don't currently feel that stressed.

The thing is, maybe what I have been trying to do here, is to find a conclusion to some stuff that has to do with how my mind works. And the ways in which it works differently from the "accepted norm" (difficult to tell what that even is; it's not me, that much I have found out). That might not have been so apparent in what I was writing, but it is what is underlying a lot of my doubts, especially those about recent activities.

I'd really like to move on from that, and I've not given up hope that I might do that soon. Then eventually, these slightly strange posts whill sink down to the bottom of the pile, and nobody will know about them unless they search, and if they are interested enough I am happy for them to know. Even now, I don't know if anybody at all is going to read this :)

About six weeks ago, I realised something that had briefly been on my radar before, but I had then dismissed (partly because somebody I thought must be in the know, dismissed it). There's a pretty high chance that I have Asperger's syndrome, or at least something that goes in that direction. Something "on the spectrum". I hesitate writing this, as it is so much associated with the male form, which is quite different. Or, because the male version is the one that is generally known, I should rather say, the female expression is different from the male. It is much harder to recognise, because women are — or become? for cultural reasons? — much better at masking it.

The masking is actually a necessity, because as a female you can hardly survive if you don't somehow manage to fit in socially. I for one have spent an enormous amount of energy just on learning social cues and appropriate reactions etc. I think I have over time developed it so much that it feels natural now, "second nature"; I am mostly not acting now (I used to do that a lot). Still, there's always a fear of losing that ability again, and sometimes it temporarily happens. I liked how somebody said you have to become "bilingual". Yes, I feel that's what it is. And — much like I often think in English now — I can feel quite at home in social situations (not always, but most times) because I have been exposed to them so much now, although they still exhaust me. And there is value in being bilingual in that way. There is value in your brain working differently even. But it is hard, and I am not sure if I will ever feel I completely fit in. I fit in within my family, that is a good start. I also have quite a few really good friends who "get" me. (But the number of times I walked through the school gates, and kept having this same thought "I am from a different planet" — do many people think that, I wonder?)

[Edit 30/06/2015 I have been socialising a lot recently and enjoyed it so much, that it seems quite unlikely to me now that I might be autistic. So I can't uphold my diagnosis. - And yet there were times in my life, where I really did go in that direction, definitely as a child and in my teens.]
[Edit 03/07/2015 Last one, I think! Reading about how much autistic traits can vary, and how some things that are easy for neurotypical people often are just harder to learn - not impossible! - for people on the spectrum, another explanation could be this: I just have some autistic traits (enough to make my life a misery at times!), but did eventually learn to socialise and enjoy it, and have always been interested in other people. So would hesitate to call myself Asperger's, but do have quite a few autistic traits. And it makes a lot of difference having found this out, explains so many things, in case you wonder why I go on about it ;) Oh, and if you want to know more, this is a really valuable book - not just for parents of autistic children: Congratulations! Your Child is Strange Only slight criticism: it only uses the male gender, or neutral "the child" to describe autistic children, there is no indication they could be a girl, too]

Popular belief would probably have it that I should also be a good coder then. And for some aspects that is true I think, and there I might be more apt than average. But there are other aspects, where I struggle more than most developers I know. It is hard to describe what it is. And I don't know if I will ever overcome that enough, or manage to develop a stragety to cope with it, so that it won't be a problem anymore. I think it would not even have to be a problem. It is not good for developing confidence I guess, maybe that is the main effect.

Anyway, that's it for now, and now I will probably not write about it again. I will also call it 'wrong-planet-syndrome', because everything else is too much associated with a certain stereotype that gives a wrong idea.

This post was written 5 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: codehub / mind_stuff /

Crunch time diary 2

This post was written 5 years ago.
Wed, 27 May 2015
This is going to be short. Next in my series of sorting things by writing. A thought I've had a lot recently: The more burning question is often not "What have I got? Have I been treated well?", but "What can I give?", "What can I contribute?". That can be surprisingly difficult to answer. And those who can't answer it, those who want to make a difference, but whose attempts to do so turn out inadequate — or at least that's what it seems like to themselves — will most likely suffer from it. I am not quite sure whether to count myself in that category, but, well I guess sometimes I am.

I feel my approaches to things are subpar, especially when it comes to 'executive functioning', where I have to sort things out, organise etc. It can go well for a while, and then something, even quite little, goes a bit wrong, and I become insecure and find it difficult to handle it (or I just plainly don't know how to).

But then, it might not even be true. The one thing that is true is that I am somewhat unusual. And if you look at my role in the technical community (which is always what this reasoning is about), I clearly do not have the skills or experience of some. Same conclusion as last post, I am not that unequivocally part of the industry. I don't have the same access to businesses, to money etc. as other people who run technical meetups. And I feel this is coming more to the fore now than before, as people get to know me better.

But then I find one of the compelling reasons to stay is exactly the fact that I am different. Because that way I might help other people who are untypical too. And there's loads of them! I think some people feel more at ease with me than with other tech people, perhaps because I am a woman, or because I am not as secure or assertive as others.

What I feel trips me up at the moment is my technical expertise. All the inassertiveness and insecurity would be fine if I was a better coder, and generally knew what I was talking about. The thing is I do know a lot about a lot of topics, but I just have not got the experience to always judge things very well. And then it's not only technical expertise, it is soft skills as well. I could be a lot better at those!

I will have to see if I manage to just have enough of the things needed to keep this group going - I have so many ideas for it, too. But there is not much time left. I think I will have to change a few things. Soon.

This post was written 5 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: codehub /

Crunch time

This post was written 5 years ago.
Tue, 19 May 2015

Yesterday I had this idea to turn this blog into a diary, just for this week. Post something every day. As my husbands writes a blog over in Mexico, I'll write mine here. This is at a point where I am reflecting on a lot of things anyway, so it might help to write them down. A lot to do with my professional life, and with my voluntary activities for CodeHub, too. They are connected, in that I have always felt I just want to run CodeHub if I can call myself a bona fide developer. But what does that "bona fide" mean?

For one thing, that I should actually earn money as a developer. I guess I've always wanted CodeHub to be of real value to people who have been learning to code, or have been running their own projects, and wanted to take it one step further, and get a job at a web agency, or the IT department of a larger firm. And I feel I could do this better from the inside, actually being part of the industry, rather than myself being somebody who is still waiting to make a proper entry into that world. But it is not such a clear-cut thing. There are big businesses on one end of the spectrum, small agencies and one-person businesses on the other. Is there a distinct point, a certain size or turnover, where you can be considered "part of the industry"?

I have worked for direct clients, and I have worked for two agencies, although one of them just briefly. I have earned money with developing websites, therefore I can call myself a professional for sure. Perhaps what is nagging me, is that volume-wise I have done less than others who've been part of the web dev world as long as me. Then also, towards the end of last year, I gave up my regular freelance role to join somebody at a startup who was going to mentor me. This was going to be an unpaid work experience up to the moment I was producing some work of value to him. But that moment didn't come, the work relationship ended earlier than that. It's difficult to put into a few sentences what went wrong. Ultimately I was perhaps just not up to this kind of work yet, but I also was not quite aware what was demanded of me. This does not do the whole situation justice, but is the best way I can describe it at the moment, if I want to keep it brief.

At the time I was working towards giving a talk for Women Who Code. I saw this as an opportunity to teach myself some new stuff. I had just learned about ReactJS (at the startup), and as I quite liked it, I experimented with it, and with Node. - This reminds me how a year before, I had made a big effort to learn Python. I went as far as even doing a course on using Python for linear algebra (I just thought, I'd look into it, then really enjoyed it and continued with it). I also at the time wrote the underlying classes for placing Minecraft blocks in a LOGO turtle manner, in 3D! - Anyway, I prepared for that talk, and I started to organise various CodeHub events. After I'd given the talk, I just continued studying and organising, saying I'd start looking for a job again soon. But it was so easy not to!

Okay, so much for justification for not having properly looked for a job. The thing is, tomorrow I am starting one. That is, I am starting on a project. And once more this came through somebody else, they mentioned me as a potential fit for a role. Unsurprisingly, it's PHP. But not only. Front-end work, too. I see a real challenge in it: To not work extra hours that I don't charge for, and not work till deep into the night, or even till the next morning, as I have so often done before. Either I can do it in an adequate time (and the thing is I have to allow myself enough time! I keep thinking I am to slow; but what a trap to then squeeze the last energy out of you by working through the night; how silly), or - well, I will just have to give the whole thing up! I mean, coding, running CodeHub, everything to do with that. It just wouldn't make sense anymore.

The last few weeks were stressful somehow. It seems like my body at some point decided to turn itself into a little Cortisol factory. I could feel it so strongly. Especially in my lower arms, they start to tingle like mad. And it is only slowly subsiding now. How did it even come about? - One thing was, I had started to build a new website for myself. I wanted to have something like a CV that I could show people, and I wanted to include all my volontary activities in it. Also, I'd pose myself the challenge to do this website with very simple means. But I would use JavaScript on it. In fact, I wanted it to run as a single-page-app. But if people did not have JavaScript enabled, I wanted it to be a site with several pages. I'd use PHP and JavaScript to render the same templates that I wrote in Mustache, and the data would be in JSON files. This all worked great and in the beginning I made good progress. Until I tried to build this slidey thing. Or more precisely, until I added event listeners to do the slidey thing. No jQuery, all vanilla JavaScript. I somehow managed that, although not quite the way I wanted to. And then the content! I had made a list of what I wanted to include, but it took so long to then properly write it! Now I have become so exasperated that I feel reluctant to touch the whole thing. But then, not very much is missing now, so fingers crossed I will finish it next weekend.

Next pain point: Code Club (not CodeHub!). The afterschool club I ran for the past two years, and which I'd wanted to give up now (wasn't coding part of the curriculum now, anyway? My son's reply: "If I play tennis at school, that doesn't mean I couldn't also join a tennis club". What can I say? Well played..) I knew this was going to be the one thing too much. And still I gave in to my children begging. "You can't stop Code Club." I really had not been aware that they liked it so much. So in the end I scheduled 6 weeks. The first week went brilliantly! But the next week already went a bit wrong, the computers started playing up, there were networking problems. Most of them showed a blue screen once they'd started up (a process which itself took absolutely ages) We were doing 3D games programming in the browser. This is a fantastic book for teaching children to code, I think. Alas, each week there seemed to be something wrong. First, the same network problems. Than the week after the IT person had re-installed windows from an old image. The networking problems didn't happen anymore. But Chrome was missing now, and we needed that or Firefox to run the Code Editor. So we painfully had to first install Chrome everywhere (I am surprised the system allowed it all). The amazing thing was that each time, even if I'd spent ages sorting out problems while the children had started to do all kinds of nonsense, once we got a few computers running, they did actually get down to coding. They were still interested. They did want to do it.

In any case this grated on my nerves, and hard as I tried to see it as a partial success, it did not feel great.

I could go on now, but it is getting too late. I can't turn up too sleepy tomorrow!

Tbc..


This post was written 5 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: codehub / code_club /