27 July 2011

Geek girls return

Anna Lewis interviews Fog Creek Software's Leah Hanson, currently that organization's only woman intern.

Q: As you know, Fog Creek would like to attract and hire more developers who are women. Is there anything you’d recommend we do in our recruiting process to attract more women?

Leah: ...one of the things that happens is that women don’t even think they’re qualified for something because it’s advertised in competitive language. The language of competition not only doesn’t appeal to many women, it actually puts them off. Google advertises their Summer of Code with very competitive language. In 2006, GNOME received almost two hundred GSoC applicants – all male. When GNOME advertised an identical program for women, but emphasizing the opportunities for mentorship and learning, they received over a hundred highly qualified female applicants for the three spots they were able to fund.

Lewis leads the post with an excerpt from the April 1967 Cosmopolitan, which makes the point that programming is very Cosmo girl, especially when you get to use the cool light pen. And for a time, women were attracted to the field, but the proportion of female CS majors peaked in the mid-1980's, when Ronald Reagan was president and hacking moved to the desktop.

(Link via The Code Project.)

Just in time for Adam Mansbach's 15 minutes

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the new NPR Books home page (with links to landing pages for each book and author featured)? As usual on my projects for this client, I was on the team that built back-end tools to manage the content (and automate extraction of it from third-party sources), while other specialists did the work to make the content look good to the outside world.

20 July 2011

Antikythera recap

Michael Edmunds and Tony Freeth review the computational tools and techniques used to analyze the Antikythera Mechanism, ranging from the exotic (Tom Malzbender's polynomial texture maps) through the imaginative (DNA sequence matching tools) to the mundane (Excel macros).

13 July 2011

Go geek girls!

Congratulations to the three winners of Google's first worldwide science fair:

* Lauren Hodge (age13-14): Hodge studied the effect of different marinades on the level of potentially harmful carcinogens in grilled chicken
* Naomi Shah (age 15-16): Shah endeavored to prove that making changes to indoor environments that improve indoor air quality can reduce people's reliance on asthma medications
* Shree Bose (17-18): Bose discovered a way to improve ovarian cancer treatment for patients when they have built up a resistance to certain chemotherapy drugs

Survey design 101

Back when I worked at Vovici, I saw my share of badly designed online surveys. Great sweeping masses of matrix questions were always popular, alas. One of the services we provided was consulting with our customers to make their surveys more sensible and thereby to improve completion rates.

Because I once had this professional interest, and because I actually have a graduate degree with a concentration in marketing and market research, I try to respond to solicitations to take a survey. And if I see that it's poorly designed, I have no compunction about bailing out after the first page. Forcing an answer to a question where my response is really "don't know/don't care" especially peeves me.

DCist's 2011 readership survey, therefore, comes as a pleasant surprise. It's short and to the effing point (three pages plus the thank-you page), that is, it's focused on getting business intelligence in just a few areas. All the intrusive (for some people) demographic questions are on the last page, where they should be, so the respondent can skip them if he chooses to. This is not the sort of survey you usually see hosted by the free service SurveyMonkey. The only quibble I have is that the demographic questions are required-response.

But it's this sequence of "don't care" response alternatives that tickles me.

8. What device(s) do you use to get your TV programming? Check all that apply.

  • Computer

  • A television

  • Apple TV/Google TV/Boxee

  • Game Console

  • Smartphone

  • Tablet (iPad, Playbook, etc.)

  • I don't watch TV

  • Other (please specify)

9. What service(s) do you use to access your TV shows? Check all that apply.

  • Local network TV

  • Cable/Satellite/FIOS TV

  • Network sites (NBC.com, ABC.com)

  • Free streaming video sites (Hulu, Veoh)

  • Premium streaming video sites (Hulu, Netflix)

  • Subscriber exclusive apps (HBO Go, TWCable App, etc.)

  • I don't watch TV

  • Other (please specify)

10. What kind of TV programming do you enjoy? Check all that apply.

  • Drama

  • News

  • Sci-fi

  • Sports

  • Movies

  • Educational

  • Reality

  • Comedy

  • Food & Home

  • I told you I don't watch TV, dammit!

  • Other (please specify)