March 2009 Archives

Ada Lovelace Day

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Today nearly 2000 people are writing about an influential woman in technology, thanks to Suw Charman-Anderson inviting all and sundry to do so through pledge bank.

I did not start out to have a career in technology. I wanted to be a doctor or a writer. I ended up with a degree in Elementary Education, but before I graduated I met my future husband and he turned me onto a facet of technology that really interested me, communication via computers. Back in those days, any interest in computers also had to involve hardware and understanding much more arcana than today, so when I got my first jobs as an office temp, I was quickly the go-to-girl for printers that didn't work, writing macros for (now extinct) word processors, and generally sorting out the confusion that was pre-Windows office life.

But this post isn't about me or my life in IT. It is about one of the mentors I had along the way.

I was very lucky to land a job in the IT department of Duquesne University in the early 1990s. Lynda Barner-West headed up the group. She was blind to any limitations that others might have placed on women in IT. Our department seemed nearly evenly split between men and women, with us ladies programming, managing, training and tinkering on an equal footing with the men. It seemed slightly revolutionary then, and comparing to IT organizations I know today, I am sure it was.

Lynda was revolutionary in technology, too. She brought our campus computing to the cutting edge, wiring Ethernet in every dorm room well before that was common, and creating not only up-to-date student computing labs, but pioneering computerised classrooms with kiosks, projection systems and a centralised media server. Duquesne was an early adopter of the NeXT platform, too.

Lynda was not only technically astute, but she had a knack for helping her staff to reach their potential. She coached, challenged and sometimes cajoled each of us to top form. We were loyal, hardworking and constantly exploring new ideas. I started out training faculty and staff on using the Internet (remember telnet, ftp, Gopher, and pine?) and later moved into integrating technology into education by developing custom courseware and online classes. I've never worked with a better team of people than the IT department at Duquesne and I know that it was Lynda's influence, even after she had left for another academic computing challenge, that made us all strive to exceed expectations of the administration, faculty and students.

So thank you, Lynda, for giving me an interesting and educational workplace free of gender bias and filled with so many smart and savvy women in IT. Maybe I will write about some of my colleagues for the next Ada Lovelace Day.

Visiting Dad

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With my father's ashes in the ocean, every shore is a memorial. I make a special trip in his honor once a year on the Spring Equinox. This year is the fourth anniversary of his death and although it is still a somber and teary moment when I dip my hand in the water and say hello, the trip to Inubou and Oarai was more joyful than sad. The ocean is a good place.

Breaking In

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BANG! The door bounced in my hand as it hit the security bar. Oops.

I called to Tod through the crack in the door to come rescue me, but he didn't answer. It was almost midnight and I was arriving home late after helping Tracey with wedding invitations. Tod had spent the day at a tech conference and banquet. He must have gotten home before me, flipped the bar shut from habit, and already gone to bed.

He was so dead to the world that he didn't hear me shout, knock, or ring the doorbell half a dozen times. He didn't hear the home phone ring (I called three times) or his cell phone (twice). Now I was worried that he wasn't just sleeping, but was knocked unconscious and bleeding. I had to get in on my own.

I examined the security bar and figured out how to take it apart, but I needed tweezers and I didn't have any on my side of the door. What tools did I have at hand? Maybe I could do something with a credit card. That always works in the movies, right?

It works in real life, too. It was shockingly easy to set the credit card against the bar, close the door, and then open the door while pushing the plastic. I was inside in a flash.

I found Tod in the bed, completely insensate from too much sake with the geeks. He was breathing and there was no visible blood so I left him there while I calmed down from my adventure and got ready for bed. Thirty six hours later, I'm not calm yet but I am sure I'll be laughing about this someday soon.

30 years later

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Tobu is running an ad campaign for their Spacia train. It's a nostalgia CM - four adults revisit Nikko together after 30 years. They chat on the train, tour the sights, then take a snapshot together and the ad dissolves into a photo of them 30 years before. But wait...

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This is them* in 1979 (there's a date stamp in the lower right corner). I was 13 that year; they look to be a similar age, don't you think?

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And this is them now. Did they age a lot faster than real time? They look a little older than 43 to me...

*In case you were curious, it isn't really the same people 30 years previous. Compare the photos - the tree line is exactly the same.

No Shopping, report #3

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Another month has gone by in my year of not shopping. I have shopped, a little bit. Almost everything I purchased was for a specific project and much of it has already exited the house.

  • 4 rolls of electrical tape and a tube of glue to finish the hoops I made in November
  • 6 small skeins of yarn immediately knit into a housewarming gift
  • 1 meter of pink spangle for Spinbirds costumes
  • 3 cuts of cotton knit fabric from the Okadaya sale table
  • A craft punch & some paper samples for Tracey's wedding invitations

I haven't used the cotton knits yet and that indicates that I am finished buying fabric for a while but not for too long. Since I will be making Amanda's wedding dress, I will have to buy material and because the dress will be an original design, I am planning to make two of them: a prototype in color that will be my "wedding guest dress" for this year's round of celebrations; and then Amanda's all white bridal version. So I will buy fabric for a dress for myself in the next week or so and start sewing.

Shopping as entertainment is something that I knew would be difficult to let go. It is a convenient way to kill time (really kill it dead forever) when in between activities and I am slowly retraining myself not to go into a shop to look at things that I won't be buying. As a result of staying away from retail most of the time, I've noticed how very awful stores smell. All plastic-y and chemical fumes. Ick. Chemical poisoning - another reason to avoid shops.

Over the weekend, I did a big spring clean and kipple pitch. Even without buying much lately, there was a lot of stuff hiding in corners and weighing me down. We stuffed 5 garbage bags full of broken & worn out things, old promotional items, plastic deli containers, and a lot of scraps from my fabric stash. There was a pile of cardboard and magazines to recycle, too. It wasn't too hard to get rid of it all and I'd be happy to pare down even more. I need to have a garage sale.

I thought I would develop a hording problem. It certainly makes sense to hang on to stuff that can be used as raw materials, like old clothes and cardboard boxes. But those things need to be stored somewhere (where?) in an easily accessible organization (how?). So in the end, it is easier to toss everything and Do Without.

Foodex 2009

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These are the samples I hauled home: Italian oranges, honey from For All (thanks, Natalia!), bottles of Taiwanese fruit tea, Greek olive oil, Japanese rice, fresh wasabi, seasoned salt, and a lot of sweets and other treats.

Thanks to Sachiko and the New Tree chocolate company, Tod & I got tickets to attend Foodex, an enormous food industry exposition. We lied about our professions to get in (I was a" food planning specialist in the Hotel and Leisure category" which is a big exaggeration of what I really do) and it was worth the deception. We were in tasting heaven - 8 exhibition halls of local and imported foods from all over the globe! In four hours we sampled over sixty different foods and drinks. Even the tiny portions quickly added up to a very full belly!

I tried to make a list, but there were so many things that I lost track. Here are some highlights:

Weirdest: Cinnamon-dusted, chocolate coated, dried natto
Most Available: Mango in various forms
Most Tasted: Olive oils - so many, all so good
Most Filling: Farro and chickpea soup
Best Fried Dish: Breaded catfish
Best Japanese Food: Tempura fried gobo pickles
Best Alcohol: Mexican cherry tequila
Best Chocolate: Thyme chocolate from New Tree
Best Fruit: Blood orange
Best Vegetable: Avocado
Most Surprising: Black garlic
Nicest Presentation: Tomato and mozzarella
Best Spiel: Chia seeds to me; Tod talked to the wasabi folks for a long time

Autobiography Timeline

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Writing an autobiographical timeline was a recent assignment in my Japanese class. I found it exceptionally difficult and for once it wasn't the language that stymied me. I was stuck with four paltry lines: born, graduated, married, expatriated.

The problem is that a good timeline needs a common thread to tell a story, a progression of personal achievements. But my life is a long series of unconnected, one-off events. If I start to list my personal highlights, my timeline grows long and doesn't lead anywhere.

So I decided to pick a theme and try to find things to fit it. I opted for "performance" because that seems to be what I am doing most of these days and I have been active in entertainments of various sorts for a long time. Here is what I ended up with (in English).

1966 Born Kristen Kemptgen Hill in Pennsylvania, USA
1978 Writes & directs school Christmas play
1980 Organises children's circus with neighbors
1981 Joins local community chorus
1983 Acts in first Nuremberg Community Theater production
1985 Learns technical theater crafts with Red Masquers theatre club
1988 Graduates from Duquesne University
1989 Marries Tod Nathan McQuillin
1990 Quits job because it interferes with semi-professional theatre avocation
1993 Quits semi-professional theater because it interferes with everything else
1994 Wins first prize in FiberFest talent show for rendition of drunken sister
1998 Expatriates to Tokyo, Japan with husband
2000 Launches freelance video editing services
2003 Premieres Hello Tokyo short film at Design Festa
2005 Begins reading audiobooks for Librivox
2007 Screens Yanagisawa's Robot Nation animation at Design Festa
2009 Debuts as hoop dance performer

That is is a better story of "me" than a dull four lines. What would you put in your personal timeline?

Meet the Spinbirds

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The Spinbirds: Amanda, Christina & me

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I designed us a logo.


Our debut performance (The video is dark and from the wings, but you'll get the idea...)


A sunny rehearsal (Have fun watching our mistakes!)

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