Showdown at Unobtanium—for SCIENCE!

Hello, my fellow mad scientists. If you attended my talk at Showdown at Unobtanium, thank you for being part of a fantastic audience—the enthusiasm you fed back to me was infectious and inspiring. Make things and tell me about it!

Please join us at Polyglot Programmers of Austin,  our co-working study group for learning a new programming language (including your first). Breadboards are as welcome as keyboards. Also, I'll be there, happy to answer your Arduino questions.

Some details about my small robot friend, to amuse you. My costume was an homage to Agatha Clay (and her clank) of the Girl Genius comic book. I posted some pictures of the clank's construction process. What makes it fidget is a servo motor on its back, driven by an Arduino in my purse, running an Arduino sketch I wrote (source code).

You might appreciate the Nerd Nite wrapup from the last time I spoke on this topic. There are useful links in there, pertinent to the presentation you saw at the Showdown, specifically the slide deck that contains links to resources for learning more.

Some of you talked to me about presenting to your students at your schools. Yes, please! Get in touch.

Thanks for being awesome. Make fantastic things.

Hello, Nerds. Hello, World. Hello, Arduino.

Thank you to Nerd Nite Austin for a fantastic venue, and my thanks to all of you who were there, creating a palpable enthusiasm for Making Stuff! What a hoot. Resources for ya...

The slidedeck: Hello, Arduino

Samples of my Arduino code are on GitHub, because I like to think out loud in code.

A description of the blinky-eyeball Halloween costume

That "hang out and code with other people learning to code" study group is Polyglot Programmers of Austin, our next meeting is tomorrow, and you should totally join us.

Lest you need some motivation for making nerd presentations of your own, check this out. Some months back, I presented at a Dorkbot meeting at the ATX Hackerspace. Afterwards, someone approached me with "I don't know if you remember me, but..." And kapow! Timewarp! Here was my friend from nerd camp, whom I hadn't seen in 20 years! Wow! We've had a blast catching each other up. Then, I'm presenting at Nerd Nite tonight, and after that, another friend from nerd camp comes up and says hello.

Dude, I'm telling you. Take your awesome hobbies, go to nerdy things and present your awesomeness, and fantastic nerdy friends whom you miss will discover you and reconnect with your life. What a delightful unexpected benefit.

How to Poach an Egg Without Specialty Tools

I got to talking on Twitter (as you do) with Garann and Cecy about that most satisfying of snacks, the poached egg. They lamented the hassle and the need for weird tools (molds and frames and whatnot). I offered an alternative.

I've made a study and a practice of the poaching of eggs, and I've got it down. I also don't use anything more exotic than a slotted spoon. This wisdom is harvested from Alton Brown, The Joy of Cooking, Martha Stewart, daytime television, lots of experimentation, and my dear friend Adam, who cooked eggs Benedict for me on a New Year's Day in someone else's co-op in Boston, using a rapidly melting plastic cup as a poaching mold.

Photos and step-by-step instructions are all on Flickr: How to Poach an Egg
Poached egg

Sorry for the delay, ladies. I had to wait until I wanted an egg and cleaned the stove.

How about you: other tips for eggcellence?

Memo From My Future Self

As a goal-setting exercise, I got a jump on my year-end holiday letters, writing this one five-and-a-half years early. Listen in on this missive from the future. And if Future You has some news of her own, I'd love to hear from her.

Memo from my future self

December 31, 2017

Hello, my lovelies,

Bright blessings to you as the annum odometer rolls over another year. I continue to be amazed at how lucky I am to be able to count you among my friends. I am energized and inspired each time I meet one of you in person. Your energy, your passion; your sadnesses, your triumphs; the small doubting voices and the quiet pride in an accomplishent; your fears, your hearts, your courage: These are all beautiful to me. Rock on with your excellent selves.

I have so many stories to share with you. In no particular order...

Downloads of Fifty States, Fifty Stories continue at a moderate clip. Word is spreading, thanks to your help. Keep it up! As more people read it, more realize the strength and beauty of their own stories. Tell us your story. I'd love it if you came over to the website and shared your voice. I want to hear from you.

The most exciting outcome of the book for me, and it sounds like it was for many of you, too, is how much I learned writing "Appendix A: Puerto Rico." One enterprising reader was so moved, she has set up a foundation to effect change. Melissa Emory has a place for you on her team. If you also think we have important work to do there, go to her site and get involved.

The interview with Chana Joffe-Walt was too much fun. I even got to meet Ira Glass, and I can confirm: Yes, he is a nerd. I can't wait for you to hear the show. Look for This American Life episode 759, "Stories of the Storytellers." You'll find I'm in very good company, but that's all I'll say for now, terrible tease that I am.

Cities for 2018's Socketwrench Series are filling up. These classes are a blast—hands-on, high intensity coding, for those who want to truly understand what's going on. If you want me to teach a class in your town, get over there and tell me you're out there. And remember, computers are tools for our convenience. Don't let the robot overlords push you around. Come to a Socketwrench class and master the blighters.

Remember that conversation I had with the AlphaSmart people, about responsive keyboards and blogging from the road? Exciting projects are afoot. I wish I could tell you more, but I think this prototype would self-destruct in my hands. Oops!

Ha ha, guess that was okay. Not pushing my luck, though.

It has been an exciting year, and I thank each of you for your part in it. Keep being awesome.

See you on the flipside.

On Thinking About Things

My house was burglarized last month. Thieves took pretty much anything I owned that could be sold via classified ad, plus a bunch of crap that is monetarily worthless and heart-rendingly irreplaceable. I've run out of swear words for these people. But it's got me thinking about things.

Some of it makes me laugh. For instance, the acoustic guitar, the electric bass and its amp, but not the French horn. Sheesh. Everybody's a critic. Or the smart phone that is actually a Windows Phone 7. Good luck with that, suckers. Or the earring from Dad. I'd lost one of a pair of earrings, and made the orphan into a necklace. The night before the break-in—I kid you not, the night before—I found the missing earring. They took the necklace.

Then there are the things that don't make me laugh. All my earrings. All my earrings that my grandmother had given me, a new pair for each play I performed in during high school, which she drove two hours to come up and see. All those. Not worth pennies to anybody, and memories I delighted in every morning as I got dressed. No hyperbole here; I knew who had gifted me each pair of earrings I had, and I thought of them as I selected something to complement my outfit. A little wave hello across time. These were hand-made by Leandra. Those were part of a set of five, owned by five different friends, all cut from the same tree branch. These were grown-up earrings entrusted to my young self by my mom's best friend. Those were Dad's way of saying I could get my ears pierced (finally!). These I made. Those were from the first boy I ever kissed.

They were all Really. Damn. Important.

So I'm thinking about things. I'm thinking, a bit frantically, what else did Grandma Sandy give me? No, I mean, what that can't be taken away did Grandma give me?

I remember lying with her on the big bed, under the afghan she had crocheted, while she read to me: Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr, with their buttered bread; The Wizard of Oz; Motherly Smith and Brother Bimbo, which I have since come to learn is the most boring book ever. I don't know how she put up with it, but I loved it, and I suspect she loved me.

Of course I remember her sweaters. Early in my life, they were all hand made. I remember a full-color rendering of the Wizard of Oz in yarn. It had Dorothy and Toto and the Lion on the front, and the Scarecrow and the Tin Man on the back, with the Wizard's balloon on one side and the Emerald City on the other, and the Yellow Brick Road running around the hem. I'm telling you: pictures in yarn. It was amazing. Later, as the family grew through marriages and children, the Christmas crunch became a drudgery, and she branched out into machine-assisted knitting. She designed the patterns on her computer.

I remember Thanksgivings with two pumpkin pies. One for the family, and one for me. Which I would also have for the following breakfast. With a mountain of Reddi-wip.

I remember going for walks around Arden, where I learned that when I grew up I wanted to live in a neighborhood where people waved to each other, which I have now done. I remember her flower gardens.

I also remember her work with the Civil Rights Movement, and raising my mom by herself in Philadelphia, and her pursuit of a Masters degree in sociology. She had a computer and an email address and knew how to use them. She was strong and funny and patient.

She taught me never to buy anything on credit. That right there is a hell of a gift.

I stood in the shadow of Venus

I also stood in a stairwell for a really long time, but that was fun, too. The UT astronomy club opened its rooftop to the public and recruited an army of volunteers, who were completely astonished by the size of the crowd.

I bumped into Brandon just as I arrived, and we entered the back of the line at the 7th floor. Luckily I was mistaken about how many floors there were—the flier mentioned a gathering place on the 13th floor, and that didn't sound so bad. Part way up I learned that the roof is above the 17th floor, but at that point I was well invested.

A stairwell full of people starts to smell like a stairwell full of people after a while. Each landing became a reprieve, a chance to catch some fresh air through the held-open doors (passed hand to hand, as we each climbed by) and, if you were quick, to dash out to a water fountain. An enterprising soul could set up a thriving business selling ball-park concessions to the people standing in line. It was the kind of line usually reserved for rock concerts. Which is why I love Austin.

Brandon got a call from a friend a few floors below us, and actually ceded his place in line to go join her. That left me to... shrug, talk to the people around me.

I met a bartender who said she received all kinds of verbal abuse as a bouncer but considerably more respect as a bartender. And no, people don't actually pour out their hearts to bartenders. I met a someday-med-student-but-currently-enterprise-support-agent who works at Dell. He camps under the awe-inspiringly dark skies in Big Bend, struck dumb by the sky-splitting blue gash of the Milky Way, and quieted by the realization that the mountains he could see from his cliff-side perch were in Mexico, 200 miles away. I met a photographer who got up at 2:30 this morning to capture time-lapse footage of the wheeling stars for his friends' film about the Bastrop wild fires. He went to space camp when he was in high school, so many years ago, and practiced a simulated space walk repairing the optics in the Hubble telescope.

So happy to burst out of the stairwell onto the 17th floor, and so resolved to stay chipper as we filed into a line that snaked down the hallway and back. We stood there for a while—at least it was air conditioned—until finally the mind starts to notice that the only movement is from the compression of the crowd. Cloud cover. They've halted the line to wait for clouds to clear. I wonder if we could all get on the roof and wave our arms to push the offending wisps out of the way. But I think about terms like "time invested" and "sunk cost," and waiting isn't so bad. Plus, we're talking about dark matter and SpaceX and deep-sky images, and I got to tell the story of visiting the Hobby Eberly Telescope, twice.

There is a time limit, though. You can't see Venus transit the face of the sun if the sun has set. 7:00 ticks by, which, rationally, I know is plenty of time, but I start to rehearse making the decision that night has fallen and it's time to go, having missed the whole thing while inside a windowless spiral of concrete.

But then the line moves, and we're up to the roof, and there are telescopes and people everywhere. And more lines, but at least there is air and sunlight. A volunteer with a basket of cardboard solar-viewing glasses gives me the chance to get my first look at Venus.

And, there it is! Plain as day, a disc in front of the red face of the sun. A shadow, interposed. Cheeky girl.

Spilling onto the sidewalk below, a fellow viewer said, "See you in 105 years." I replied, "I'll be there."

The Future of Blogging*

Here's how this is going to work. I have technical blogs on Los Techies and Headspring, but this here blog is the one with the cute domain name. Wondering what to do with Girl Writes Code, I remind myself that I enjoy writing about cooking and climbing and travel as much as I enjoy writing about code.

So I will continue to post technical content to those blogs, and this one will feature posts about the rest of my life, with pointers to the tech posts on the others. You can subscribe to either of those blogs, or to this one for the union of all three.

* on this blog