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Monthly Archives: September 2014

Peanut Butter, Jelly and Algorithms: A mini update!

Algorithms

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What do these three things have in common? Well, it’s what I’m having for breakfast!

It has been about a year…

As time progresses towards to the one year anniversary of me changing everything in my life in order to return to school, all that I can do is count my blessings.  I post about this subject quite a bit, mainly because life changing events tend to have that effect on most people and I am no exception.  One thing that I can say is although my life has not slowed down one bit, it is a different kind of chaos that I live in now.  One that I have complete say in and complete control over.  Which is completely different from the chaos I lived in last year.

What’s happening?…

Well, Fall Semester started almost 7 weeks ago and I am getting into the Graphic Design portion of my classes, but I also am taking an Algorithms class.  One thing that I have learned is that Algorithms have completely mesmerized me and have taken over my brain cells.  So much so, that I wonder why I am just learning Algorithms when I’ve taken quite a bit of programming classes so far.  I believe that this class would have helped me with each programming class that I’ve taken so far since I’ve returned to school.  Some of the concepts have been interesting with me attempting to wrap my mind around them, but for the most part they all make since.  Although I’m taking 3 other classes, my life has slowly began to evolve around Algorithms and getting a sound understanding of them.

PB&J and Algorithms… 

As I stated earlier, my breakfast this morning was interesting, mainly because I woke up thinking about a basic Algorithm that we learned during the first week of class.  Being pretty early in the course, we were discussing Union Finds and the difference between the different methods.  I was interested in the relationship between the different methods.  While reading the material, I remember having difficulty with simply identifying the results of certain unions.  I wasn’t able to answer the questions until I mapped them out for myself on a piece a paper and using a highlighter.  At the time, I felt silly, but thinking back, it was a visual way of helping me understand the concept.  What had me up early this morning thinking about Algorithms was the different ways to analyze situations in order to develop an algorithm to suit the situation.  Really, as simple as this concept is, it really opened my eyes to how I’ve thought in the past.  I have ALWAYS been a person that hate doing repetitive things.  I usually try to find a way to make a process easier and automated if possible.  I was the person creating spreadsheets with formulas because I could see the time saved once the work was done.

The last revelation I’ve had of this magnitude was during my Probably and Analysis class during my very first semester.  We had to write a list of everything we did each day, the more detailed the better.  For example, instead of listing “I woke up”, we listed “I took a breath, I opened my eyes, I lifted my arm”… etc.  You can see how tedious a list like this could be.  Well, this was my professor’s way of explaining the different programming paradigms and the differences between languages that are closer to machine language and the ones that are more high level.  All explanations of different languages have led me back to that visual assignment and have helped me to digest concepts better.

Since this is an update… 

I’m excited to announce that I am still on the Dean’s list and I still have a 4.0!  I was afraid that once I had gotten into more difficult topics that it would be tougher to maintain my grades.  I still have a bit to go but I am getting more comfortable and learning more and more each day.  One thing I do have to say is that I learn a lot on my own.  I read so much and practice much more than is required.  This is for my own benefit, I don’t want to get to the point that I am not constantly learning something new.  I also want to learn in tandem with what my classes are teaching me.  I still use YouTube as a great scholarly resource 🙂

I am still taking supplemental MOOC‘s to make sure that my learning is well-rounded.  These have been tremendously beneficial and the options available have also grown.

As always, I am excited about what the future will bring, and I am happy of my new addiction: Algorithms… 🙂

 

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Posted by on September 20, 2014 in Programming

 

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Walking the Line: Females in Technology, is There REALLY a Problem?

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Ah, this is a topic that I have pondered a lot in the past few weeks. I have a vested interest in the answer to this question considering I want to become a game programmer. A recent situation has left me in a place where I began to question my goals.

The situation…
I have been helping casually with a video game project in my spare time. The task has been intimidating simply because it is new, but I have learned so much and I have found the experience wildly beneficial. More importantly, I was able to kick my feet up, so-to-speak, and be myself. I am the only female on the team, but I haven’t considered that as an issue or even a negative reflection of the company whatsoever.

Recently, during a casual conversation with another team member, I experienced a situation that made me furiously frustrated. Probably more frustrated than furious. We were having a morbid conversation about how odd it is that we did not have a choice to be born [a general conversation about how funny and random life is based on one choice]. But this conversation quickly escalated to a discussion about gender inequality. I mentioned that if I had a choice, I would have been born male.

What?

Yeah, awkward. I mentioned that in my situation, I truly believe that my journey would have been much easier had I been born male. I said this because I have always been driven and have found myself in management positions and moving up ladders. As a result, I have personally experienced the issues that females face in certain areas. At this point in the conversation, I was not expecting a “discussion” in gender inequality, especially because of the light hearted nature of the conversation in general.

Here is where I was wrong. This person proceeded to say that women have it easy in many situations “like when reporting rape and in the law”. Um, what? So, you mean I have to be raped or a criminal in order to gain an advantage? Sweet, let me jump right on that. Oh, it gets worse. I decided that I did not want to get into that conversation, so I conceded on that point (Yeah, I know), and proceeded to take the high road and mention that I was solely speaking of my personal experiences. I wanted to make it clear that I was NOT speaking for the general female population, just me and my insignificant speck in the spectrum.

Since I did not want to get into personal experiences with this guy (some of these experiences had zero grey area, I was blatantly discriminated against), I decided to mention the standard obligatory wage discrepancy in an attempt to get out of the wormhole. He then said, “women can use sex to get promotions.” He then states that we only complain about the bad things and ignore the many things that we have going in our favor. At this point, I couldn’t recall complaining, but again, I did not want this conversation to be escalated.

Ok, let’s sum this up. In order to get an advantage, I would have to 1) be raped, 2) commit a crime, 3) use sex to get a promotion. I’m feeling better about myself already. I should get started on this “to do” list immediately, let’s start with becoming a criminal >.<

Yeah, it doesn’t stop here folks. My sarcasm kicked in and I say something close to, “Oh, right women are just sexual objects here for men to use as they see fit.” His response was “exactly”.

Now, I have been a child of the internet for the majority of my life, and I am quite aware of what a troll is. We shall get to that a bit later, but I thought I would mention that right now.

How did this situation make me feel?

Well, immediately I felt like I did not have a place in that environment anymore.  I felt as though I did not want to have anything to do with him and that I had lost my “safe haven”. I know that I will have to deal with situations like these in ANY field that I enter. I know that conversations such as these can and will happen in ANY work enviornment. One person sharing their views, whether they were being a troll or not. BUT since I do not have to interact with this guy, I decided not to interact with him anymore.

How is this a “Female in Technology” issue, and not just a normal “some people are just naive” issue?

Here’s where I have to share more of my personal experiences.  It’s not a female in technology issue.  Yeah, I said it. It’s a female inequality in a male-dominated environment – issue. I’ve read several blogs about situations where there is shortage of females in technology field. I’ve read articles on how there is a pipeline issue and how there is an environment issue in many of these places. I’ve seen the same infographics visually depicting statistics of women who leave tech positions to do other things.

I’ve also seen the responses to these blogs from men in the tech positions saying that “women need to just suck it up” and “any statistic can be used to demonstrate a point”. I’ve also seen responses of men that agree that there are issues and that the situations and environments can stand for an overhaul.

Well, there’s a world of resources out there where people can get statistics. You won’t find that here. But what I can share are my personal experiences. I have seen the shortage of female representation in other male-dominated industries. I have sat in meetings where I was the only female. I have sat in even larger meetings where less than 10% of the population were female. My view on the topic is not from being someone on the outside looking in. My view on the topic is from both experiencing several blatant examples of female discrimination and from the “thousand tiny paper cuts” phenomenon. Because there is such a major misrepresentation of females in STEM professions, the situations persists.

My attitude to these situations has ALWAYS been that they have made me stronger. My skin is thicker and I am able to face many situations head on without turning back. It is with this attitude that I decided to follow my dream of becoming a software engineer. I have NEVER made excuses or even complained about the situation. I have had the mentality that it is pointless to cry over spilled milk and that I’m better off making lemonade out of lemons.

One thing that I experienced firsthand is that in many (NOT ALL) cases, men did not want females to infringe on their comfy environments. I observed that often, this did not even happen intentionally. When you work 60+ hours a week you tend to communicate with those with like interests or someone that you can be comfortable around. In many cases when I was initially being excluded, one tap on the shoulder to remind my peers “Hey, I’m here”, resulted in welcoming, inclusive arms. But it takes one of two things, men with the mindset of proactive inclusion and/or a female that is not afraid to speak up. I could write an entire blog post about this mini topic, so I will stop there.

So why is this seemingly insignificant situation getting to me?

First, I’m saying that this situation is “seemingly insignificant” only because in comparison to some of the things I’ve encountered, it truly is. This encounter is getting to me because it triggered my “walk the line” response. In the past, whenever a situation such as this occurred, I had to ask myself if it was worth fighting for? I had to choose my battles or I would have been typecast into a role that I didn’t want to be placed in. I had to choose whether or not I would perpetuate the issue by doing nothing, or to stop and make a stand. Sadly, more times than not, I chose to ignore the offense in an effort to keep my job and to keep the peace.

With this recent situation, I didn’t want to have this feeling in THAT environment. I wanted to enjoy feeling included and apart of something bigger than just me. Women in these situations walk a line every day. I know I did for a good portion of my 10+ years in management.

Oh, but the problem goes far past gender inequality…

But first, I have to say that no matter how awesome and lovely it would be for me to be a crusader for change, I have to admit that I have zero desire to do so. Deep down, I know that I need to advocate for others and to try my best to be strong enough to create more inclusive environments. But, really what I want is to feel welcome and included.  I’m not saying that I won’t do everything I can to change the status quo, but it would be nice to not have to do so.

I don’t think that the problem will ever be fixed by women: 1) “Complaining” about the current status quo, 2) Leaving STEM and other male-dominated careers in search of asylum in more welcoming environments, or 3) Not bothering to enter a STEM field simply because of fear and the stories of others. For me (and I stress this is for me), I want to focus on my reaction to these situations. Do I walk the line? Do I mention my feelings about different situations? Do I assess how the situation actually effects me in the long run? Ultimately I still have to choose my battles, but do a better job with choosing them.

I’ll choose to live with the fact that there are inequalities everywhere…

A friend of mine is a new dad and was irritated to find a lack of changing tables in the majority of the mens restrooms that he visited. Another friend spoke to the awkwardness of taking his young daughter to the mens room for her to use the bathroom. Yet another new dad spoke to how hard it was to find “manly” diaper bags. I’m not even going to dive into other areas of inequality, so I’ll stick strictly with the issues in gender related areas. Now, we see more and more “family” restrooms or rest rooms that can be used by both men and women. This makes sense considering all we really need is a toilet and a sink. The situation doesn’t stop there, whenever a male enters a female dominated field, there are stigmas and similar situations. I have a friend that is a male nurse and some of the stories he’s told me would shock the masses. There’s more of these fields: nursing, administrative assistants, social workers etc.

No, a lack of changing tables in the mens room can in no way be compared to severe cases such as sexual harassment or unfair pay. But this situation can be seen as a less eye rolling (i.e. rape, crime and sexual advances) example of how compensating in one direction can be harmful and uncomfortable to the opposite sex. But that’s just it, there are unequal situations all over the place, is it right? No. Should these inequalities hinder me from successfully entering and staying in a STEM field? Absolutely not. Nothing compares to how great it feels when I figure out new concepts in programming. Just as a male who chooses to be a nurse or a stay-at-home dad will have to live with the inequalities in order to do what he loves, I will have to face different mindsets and opinions going into the STEM industry.

As for my team member, here’s what happened and what I have to stay about it…

He sent an email apologizing within the hour. This gesture was both unexpected and appreciated and I genuinely accepted the apology. Parts of his apology stood out to me because it mentioned “trolling” and in the same sentence, “not meaning to offend”. It made me try to recall a situation where someone wasn’t meaning to offend someone by trolling them. Again, this concept is something that I encounter on a regular basis being a gamer. But even so, I believe that the apology was sincere and I appreciated him taking the time to apologize.

I am still not sure how I will handle the situation, initially I just decided to remove myself from the situation so that I could assess my reaction to it. Now, I simply wish that the conversation never happened. At the same time, I have to respect his opinion, regardless of how distasteful it may be.

What I am taking away from this…

The planet is massive. There are over 7 billion of us co-mingling and attempting to interact authentically. Each of us attempt to carve out a sliver of this planet to call our own. We spend our days with things that we are obligated to do mixed with the activities that simply please us. Each of us are unique. We present ourselves as a cultivation of different ideals, skills and talents, all influenced by different ethnicities, nationalities and upbringings. We are the physical representations of uniqueness.

Because of our uniquenesses. We will clash. I will clash. When I do, I can only respond authentically and adjust accordingly.  For those that ignore that there is in fact an inequality problem, you’re definitely entitled to your opinion.  For me, I’ve experienced it firsthand and regardless of the statistics that are floating around on this website and that blog, I know what really happens in certain environments.  As for females in technology, it is and will be an uphill battle for the near future.  But the battle will strengthen our resolve and make us stronger people in the long run.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2014 in STEM

 

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My New Addiction: Diablo 3 Reaper of Souls

gear

Ah but first, a brief history of games I’ve played 🙂

One method that I have always used in the past to relax is playing games.  I love everything about them.  Even though I began years ago as a console gamer, playing systems like atari (yes, I’m old), nintendo, playstation one, game cube, and gameboy.  I was the one that was completely excited when Nintendo created a color version of their Gameboy system (insane)!  I eventually migrated to playing PC games, my first being Diablo II for the PC.

Years ago, I started playing World of Warcraft with my ex boyfriend and I had a ton of fun in cooperative gameplay in PVE.  As with any MMO, it is really difficult to be a casual player, usually the game content and social aspects pulls you in making you want to play more and more.  Well, I didn’t have much free time so I decided to quit playing.

Then enter League of Legends.  League is  a MOBA and is still one of my favorite games and I still play on a regular basis.  What I liked about League is the gameplay but also the ability to play a game or two without a ton of time commitment (for us casual players).  This fit lovely in my schedule because with school and work, I needed something to play that I didn’t feel like I needed to put a ton of time into.

Ok, so you were talking about Diablo 3

Right… When I quit World of Warcraft, this was my last interaction with Blizzard Games for years, but somehow I am now playing three yes three Blizzard Games.  Somehow they have pulled me back in, and with a vengeance.  I am currently playing Hearthstone, Diablo 3, and their game that is still in technical alpha status, Heroes of the Storm.

But yes, Diablo 3.  Blizzard has made some changes to the game play that has made me return to a game that I started playing when it was released.  Diablo is a “grind” game that has you constantly fighting demons in order to find gear upgrades so that you can graduate to the next tier in difficulty.  Often times I find myself running through the content which enables me to relax while I smack demons around with outrageous abilities, all in the hope of staying alive and obtaining the goodies that fall from them when they are defeated.

But what makes this game any different?  In between my World of Warcraft days through today, I’ve played other “grind” video games and the only other game that I’ve made a little time for has been League of Legends.  One other game that I enjoyed was Tera Online.  I loved this game because it was 100% skill shots, and monsters purposefully stepped from side to side while you aimed in an attempt to avoid being shot. So. Much. Fun!

Tera didn’t stick primarily because once it’s novelty wore off, it was just another MMO and my friends gravitated to other games that they were more comfortable with playing (WOW and League).  For me, I sort of meandered around playing games here and there and didn’t really have a game that I played seriously.  I even wiped the dust off of my XBox 360 guitar and played Guitar Hero and another rhythm game called Osu.

What made Diablo 3 stand out.. 

Well, in the defense of all of the other games I’ve played in the last year, Diablo has always held an important place in my little gamer heart.  I started playing Diablo with the first iteration that was released on Playstation back in 1998 and then Diablo II that was released in 2000.  So, when I returned to Diablo 3 for a second time, I loved how the game had the old feeling again without the people spamming  to buy/sell gear and people that were focused on making money in the Real Money Auction House (RMAH).  The game lost its appeal and became a cesspool for people only interested in making a quick dime, or people who had the money to spend to get an advantage over other players.  Gone were the days of people “grinding” to achieve the highest tiers of the game.  What happens when you remove the true “grinding” from a “grinding” game?  Yes, exactly.

Well, Blizzard decided to shut down the RMAH and did a complete overhaul of the game play.  I have to say that they did a fantastic job with the changes they made, bringing back my favorite game with some cool new features to boot.  This made me super happy panda.

Apart from the return of the nostalgic gameplay style there’s one more thing…

One thing that always stands out to me is female gear in games.  It’s never something that I could understand how a development company could justify the over-sexualization of their female characters.  Ok, the majority of gamers are males, I get that.  But come on, their has to be even a hint of believability here.  Take the main picture in this post as an example.  On the left is a decked out female character from Tera Online.  The gear is even worse with low level characters who run around in high heels and lingerie (yes, lingerie).  Then they go out to fight random monsters.  Um… yeah that “gear” won’t protect you, sunshine!

Now on the right is my Crusader in Diablo 3.  I dyed the gear (yes so many dyes to choose from) and transmogged my gear until I found the perfect bad ass configuration of gear.  I made the gear pink to make a point for this post, but I’ve done all white, all blue, and all purple so far.  Something as simple as Blizzard taking this opportunity to make female gear look flattering and not make their female characters look like porn stars really appeals to me.  This is not to say that I didn’t have fun playing Tera, because I did.  I would still be playing if my friends didn’t abandon me while playing it :).  But I feel innately comfortable and completely proud of my Crusader and her shiny gear (matching my bubbly personality)!  I also don’t feel trashy running around wearing something that most people would feel uncomfortable wearing to sleep at night.

One aspect of game play is the relationship between the actual player and the main character that they are playing.  It is up to the game developer to manage this relationship and the connect between the two entities.  Many control this connection with the story line.  Some facilitate this relationship through making robust character customization available to the player.  Making the character look like the player or something the player could relate to is one way to manage that relationship.  When a successful relationship is created, the player feels like they are actually in Act V in Diablo III, fighting Reapers in the hope of protecting the citizens of the town.

Home Sweet Home…

There will always be a new shiny thing to play with, but I really feel as though I will always have Diablo 3 to return to after checking out the new and shiny.  I’m really happy that Blizzard has created this updated version of a game that I love so much.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2014 in Gaming

 

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