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November 10 2010

The lonely souls of religious art

Paintings of swooning saints are beautiful but they mask centuries of sadness as women languished within convent walls

I recently came across the amazing statistic that about 54% of all aristocratic-born women in 16th-century Venice became nuns in convents like San Zaccaria. In the age of the counter-reformation, these nuns' lives were getting ever more circumscribed as they were segregated in newly "enclosed" convents.

It's a depressing picture: no way did the majority of these women have authentic vocations. Even at the time it was widely commented that the pressure to dispose of unmarriageable young women filled convents with the victims of "forced vocations".

What has this to do with art? Well, it puts a new perspective on all those baroque images of swooning saints, many of them made for convent churches (although nuns were not even supposed to look at the art in their own church). In Venice, as in all European cities, religious art abounds. From Titian's Assumption to the architecture of the Salute, no visitor fails to be moved by the beauty with which Venetian society, for centuries, expressed common religious beliefs. Yet reading about Venetian convents, I had a terrible thought. Is it possible that all the lovely painted Madonnas, all the rapturous domed church interiors, are really just the husks of wasted lives? Religious art moves me, but if you think of religion less as abstract belief and more as the shaper of experience, over centuries and centuries, it becomes a lot more troubling. How many prayers have been said with dull hearts, how many lives ground out in cloisters. The boredom, the frustration … perhaps we see it in the most melancholy products of baroque art.

Take for instance the Salute, one of the grandest churches in Venice. It is a marvellously imposing place, but there is a sadness in its echoing, hollowed interior. Perhaps this is not just the memory of the plague it commemorates, but the undertow of religious history. This history includes not only the dry debates over the existence or non-existence of God, but also the constraints of real lives, especially, down the centuries, the lives of women. Bernini's St Teresa is a great work of art, but it tells a deadly lie: rarely was such passion felt in all those lonely cells.


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October 06 2010

Women helping women get into tech

Past efforts at getting women involved in the computer industry have generally focused on high school and college students, but Sara Chipps (@SaraJChipps) is taking a different approach. Girl Develop IT, an educational effort she helped start, is introducing women of all ages to programming. Chipps recently spoke with me about the project and the pressures women face in the computer and open source communities.

How did you get involved with computers?

Sara Chipps: I've been doing development for about 10 years now and web development for about five years. I fell in love with it when I was in high school. I took a C++ class taught by a great woman my senior year, and then I went to Penn State and majored in computer science. When I was done with school, I started out as a DBA. I got a great chance to work with a group of guys who mentored me in web development, and that's where I am today.

Do women in tech feel pressure to either be "one of the guys" or to go to an opposite "Barbie" extreme?

SC: I think it's a dynamic that's evolving, and I'm hoping that we can reach a middle ground. The reason for the whole Barbie push is that to be accepted in this field a lot of women feel the pressure to kind of, for lack of a better term, become a little more masculine. Or they feel the need to separate themselves from who they are as a gender in order to get respect from other people in the field. As a response to that, there's been a push in the other direction; that's what you've seen recently. It has a lot to do with getting the message out there that being a nerd on the inside doesn't mean you have to be a nerd on the outside.

Are women encouraged to take on non-development roles at tech companies?

SC: Sometimes I get feedback from women that they've been encouraged not to go into development, or they've been told they'd be a better fit in management. That's all arbitrary data because it's only based on things I hear.

I'm hesitant to say, definitively, that women are being discouraged from development. In my career as a developer, I've gotten support from people who want to see more women in the field. These people have gone out of their way to make sure I succeed.

Why has traditional computer science education failed women? Why is Girl Develop IT different?

Girl Develop ITSC: I can only relate to what my own experience has been and what I've heard from women I've spoken to. But it was really scary for me asking questions in a room of 50 guys. I felt like I was representing my whole gender.

All the guys I've worked with or ever learned with have been really great. Sometimes insecurities -- or being in the minority -- makes you feel if you call attention to yourself, you might do something embarrassing.

With Girl Develop IT, we wanted to create an environment where women weren't afraid to ask stupid questions. We also wanted to make programming a lot more accessible for them. And now, we actually have two guys in our classes. We think this is a great industry, and we want as many people to get educated about it as possible. We're just more geared toward women.

How did Girl Develop IT come together?

SC: A whole bunch of us met about six months ago, all seeing the same problem and wanting to be part of the solution. There are a lot of groups that get around a table and talk for a while. What we wanted was for people to actually teach women to ship software.

We treat classes like a lab. Women bring their laptops and by the end of the class they've produced something they can take home and view online. We want to give them something concrete that they've made.

We offer four series, and we're adding a fifth: the first one is HTML/CSS; the second is JavaScript and jQuery; the third is data structures and databases with MongoDB; the fourth is Ruby on Rails; and the fifth class will be advanced Google Analytics for predictive analysis on your web space.

We limit the classes to 30 people. We've had a lot of pressure to grow this, but we're focusing on getting it done right and being able to mentor other groups that want to do the same thing. However, we did recently expand to Australia with Pamela Fox, who is on the Google Wave team. There are now Girl Develop IT classes being sponsored by Google over there.

Is there misogyny in the open source community?

SC: It isn't misogyny as much as it's an alpha male environment. That sounds like a synonym, but I don't believe it is. In open source, there's a lot of people who believe very passionately about what they do. Those people have passionate debates.

It's not a delicate environment for delicate individuals, either male or female. I think the reason why many women have been steered away from this environment is because of things being so spirited and people being so passionate. It can be a scary place for anyone, regardless of gender.

What I had to do was get to the point where I realized not everyone in that space knows what they're talking about. They're wrong sometimes, just like I'm wrong sometimes. I had to get the confidence to argue with them and when I felt like I had a good point I had stick to it and get in there.

It's like looking into a coliseum with a bunch of men yelling at each other and knowing that you have to walk in the middle and yell back. It's a scary prospect. But once you have confidence in your knowledge and understand that they may be acting like they know it all, but they probably don't, it becomes not a friendlier place but a more comfortable place.

This interview was edited and condensed.


Related:



August 31 2010

Corinne Day: raw genius

Corinne Day's photographs of a young Kate Moss caused a huge outcry – then became the defining fashion images of the 90s

So familiar, so utterly redolent of their time have they become, that it is hard to recall just how alien, shocking and strange Corinne Day's photos for the June 1993 issue of Vogue seemed at first. Edgier magazines (i-D, the Face, Dazed and Confused) had already documented the aesthetic that was sensationally labelled "heroin chic". But when the mighty Vogue published Day's pictures of a vacant-faced Moss clad in low-slung tan tights, posed next to a radiator which resembled her build, a hurricane of disapproval was unleashed.

Day died last Friday, 27 August, aged 48, from brain cancer. She will be remembered for her close association with Moss at the beginning of the model's career, and in particular for two specific photo stories: the Vogue shoot and, three years before that, a cover story for the Face featuring Moss's puckish, 15-year-old features grinning beneath a feathered headdress. The coverline read: "The 3rd Summer of Love". Inside, the magazine showed Moss in black-and-white: half-naked, larking about on the beach, giggling. Looking at them now, they seem as quaint and antique as Victorian postcards.

But it was that Vogue underwear shoot (the word lingerie seems too rarefied for the vests and pants she was shot in) that defined Day. The immediate reaction was ferocious. Susie Orbach, author of Fat is a Feminist Issue, described the photographs as "just this side of porn". Marcelle D'Argy Smith, then editor of Cosmopolitan, said: "The pictures are hideous and tragic. I believe they can only appeal to the paedophile market." The New York Times succinctly described Moss's look as "very young and very dead". Four years later, there was still fallout. Day's shoot was widely referenced when no less an authority than the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, opined that "fashion photos in the last few years have made heroin addiction seem glamorous and sexy and cool".

Then as now, Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, who commissioned the shoot, finds it hard to comprehend the extremity of the reaction. "I remember being on holiday at the time," she said yesterday, "and I couldn't understand what the fuss was about. I thought they were lovely pictures, and we certainly weren't trying to do anything sensationalist. I felt that if you looked in the changing rooms in high-street stores, or if you looked in young girls' bedrooms, that's what you saw. Kate looked like the most beautiful version of girls at school.

"It seemed strange to object to this kind of thing rather than the usual kind of photos with all the makeup, the padded bras, all the artifice. But I think it was really about the context. People felt betrayed by Vogue – it was supposed to be a beacon of old-fashioned glamour and this was so downbeat." In 1993, the magazine was hungover from the glitz and glitter of the 1980s. With the Day shoot, they finally nailed their colours to the mast. The shoot reflected the fact that things had changed, to say the least.

With hindsight, the power of Day's pictures is that they seem to echo a moment in British cultural history, one that goes beyond the emergence of grunge as a fashion trend, and might also call to mind the grubbier shores of Britpop, the youthful antics of artists such as Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas, and the publication of novels such as Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting.

As artefacts in the history of feminism, I am less certain of their status. Day's own great success was in self-creation: she left school with a single O-level, started out as a bank clerk, then worked for free on the Face before establishing herself as a photographer who made, says Shulman, "ordinariness remarkable" and whose pictures were "better and better the less ornate they were". In 1993, and today, there were few women photographers working on Vogue, and when I worked there briefly from 1995-6, the prevailing if unedifying dynamic was of female editors soothing the vast egos of male snappers.

At the time, Moss was called a "superwaif" and waifish is how she appears in the Vogue pictures: a woman-child in the long tradition of Dickens's Dora Spenlow and Berg's Lulu. The Spice Girls were launched in 1994, and the waif was replaced in popular culture by a noisier, and longer-lasting, model of young womanhood – the spuriously liberated ladette. It is hard to discern which was worse: the cure or the disease.


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July 28 2010

Four short links: 28 July 2010

  1. The end of the road for the Nexus One (LWN) -- The pessimistic among us can be forgiven for concluding that the battle for open handsets is being lost. The carriers determine which devices will be successful in the market, and they have absolutely no interest in openness. Customers are irresistibly drawn to heavily advertised, shiny devices with low up-front costs; they just do not see any reason to insist on more open devices or, even, freedom from carrier lock-in. Attempts to create a market in open handsets - Nexus One, OpenMoko - seem to go down in flames. By this reasoning, we may well all be using Linux-based handsets in the future, but the freedom that attracted many of us to Linux will have been lost. (via Hacker News)
  2. Women in Technology -- says almost everything I learned from helping women into O'Reilly conferences. Amen!
  3. Teenagers and Social Participation (Nina Simone) -- [M]any older visitors enjoy the vibrancy of social events and are more than willing to share stories with other visitors in the context of a museum experience as long as it isn't overly technology mediated. There is another, surprising group that is much less likely to participate in dialogue with strangers: teenagers.
  4. Three New Features for Reddit Gold -- I've been watching this with interest. They asked supports to sign up to subscription program before they said what they'd offer in return. Now they're developing premium features to see what sticks. They're offering the ability to turn off ads, no surprise there, but also some features (such as resortable lists) that are computationally expensive. I like the idea of offering subscribers the expensive-to-compute services above and beyond freemium.

June 13 2010

Shirin Neshat: A long way from home

Exiled artist Shirin Neshat's first film is about the lives of four women in her native Iran – but it won't get past the country's censors

Shirin Neshat sits in the cafe of a London park enthusing about pirate DVDs. The artist and first-time film director is unconcerned with the effect on ticket sales, instead praising the ingenuity of black market sellers who have made illegal copies of her film, Women Without Men.

"My sister managed to buy five copies in a store, with a new cover and everything," she tells me. "She sent someone to buy some more, but the guy said, 'Lady, we have already sold 500.' I was really happy." The store was in Iran, where the film is set, and the DVDs are likely to be the only way anyone in the country will see her film. Neshat is confident it will never get past the censors. "Every Iranian artist dreams of the black market," she laughs. "We don't care about making money."

Women Without Men took Neshat six years to make and won her a best director award at last year's Venice film festival. Best known for the arresting black-and-white photographs in her Women of Allah series (pictures of armed, veiled women, their bodies inscribed with Farsi poetry), the film is based on the magical realist novel by feminist author and former political prisoner Shahrnush Parsipur. The story, banned in Iran since 1989, follows four women: a young religious woman in love, her politically conscious friend, a prostitute and an unhappily married middle-aged housewife – taking in their lives, deaths and the odd resurrection. Set in 1953, the film has all the hallmarks of Neshat's gallery work, with its focus on women's bodies, beauty and political violence. Each scene recalls her photographs or is a homage to a painting: when Zarin, the anorexic prostitute, almost drowns, it is in a pool as overgrown as the stream in which John Everett Millais' Ophelia lies.

Neshat, 53, says she was trying, with her husband and collaborator Shoja Azari, to "pioneer our own way of storytelling. It was about not following patterns or models within cinema, but following the conceptual art and poetic traditions of Iran." Small and slim in an embroidered black jacket, huge hooped earrings and her trademark pharaoh-like eyeliner, she is nervous about the film's UK premiere on the day we meet. Critical reaction has been mixed, with the New York Times raving about its "fierce beauty" while the Washington Post dismissed it as "relentlessly dark". Writing in this paper, Peter Bradshaw called it "a quietly tremendous film which ensnares both the heart and the mind"; the Financial Times, however, was not alone in complaining that the film "is a series of tableaux to which no one brought the vivants".

Neshat, who left Iran at 17 to study in the US, and now lives in New York, worries that the style may be difficult for a western audience to follow. "It is rooted in Iranian heritage. We have been censored for so long that the only way we can express ourselves is through the use of metaphors and allegory. So for a western audience to understand it, they have to read between the lines – the way Iranians express themselves – when they are used to people being very direct."

Neshat is learning to be more direct, too. She once told Time magazine that "I'm an artist, I'm not an activist", but the protests in Iran sparked by the 2009 elections, in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government was accused of rigging a landslide victory, have shifted her position. "For a long time, I just let my work speak for itself and it was about ways of questioning – not answering, and not really taking sides," she says. "But since [last] June I did change [because] by not taking a position, by not showing solidarity to people who are risking their lives for something that is so positive, you are taking sides. There is nothing negative about a group of people crying out for democracy – and if my voice counts I will be vocal.

"Being political is an integral part of being Iranian," she adds. "Our lives are defined by politics. My own life – not being able to go to Iran, being separated from my family – has been ruled by those who have control, so the anger, bitterness and resentment is there in me, too. It's not just sympathising with the anger of the people on the street."

In memory of last year's protests

Although Women Without Men was completed before last year's protests, Neshat's decision to emphasise the political background of the story now seems prescient. (She added an unapologetically political dedication, in memory of "those who lost their lives fighting for freedom and democracy in Iran, from the constitutional revolution of 1906 to the Green Movement of 2009".) In 1953, the year the film is set, Iran's first – and only – democratic government was overthrown in a British-instigated, CIA-backed coup when the leader, Mohammad Mossadegh, made plans to nationalise its oil industry. Neshat believes the backlash against the west that the coup unleashed began the chain of events that led to the Iranian revolution and the present theocracy. "We Iranians have been fighting generation after generation for the same thing," she says. "This cycle keeps moving and the torch is passed on."

More recently, she helped organise a hunger strike and petitions to free political prisoners – including fellow director Jafar Panahi, released from prison at the end of May. His detention, she says, highlighted the extraordinary position of artists in Iran. "We have no freedom of expression, but we are central to the discourse. Artists are taken extremely seriously, to the point where we are considered a threat, which is really interesting in a government which doesn't care about culture." Yet she says she wouldn't have it any other way. "We are not just making work which demands the judgment of critics at an international level, but also the judgment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. I love that – that people's imaginations can positively affect a society rather than just being collected and put in a museum."


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April 22 2010

02mydafsoup-01
02mydafsoup-01

March 26 2010

02mydafsoup-01

Tags: Ada Lovelace - the Ada Lovelace Day, 24th of March - survey on articles via Soup.io in 2009 & 2010


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Pointer - Wegweiser ---------------------------------------------------



AdaLovelacePic.jpg
In occasion of the Ada Lovelace Day, 24th of March (a day to remember and encourage women in IT technologies, female engagement in all kinds of cyber-activism & blogging) I tagged all the articles I could find on my soup in 2009 und 2010 on Ada Lovelace (just click on the name and the postings will appear)

There are a lot of informations about engagements in politics interconnected with the fields of technological developement, human rights, privacy - btw, also about Franziska Heine from CCC - and even comics.


[oanth - muc -20100325]
Reposted bySigalon02 Sigalon02

March 25 2010

Ada Lovelace Day: Celebrating Women in Technology and Transparency Worldwide

Inspired by Ellen Miller's post on the Sunlight Foundation blog, which profiles the work of women who use technology to promote transparency in the United States, we decided to add to the list by profiling several women from around the world involved in the use of technology to make government more transparent and accountable. The following profiles were written and researched by Renata Avila, the lead of Creative Commons Guatemala, the Director of Primer Palabra, and our researcher for Spanish-language Latin America on the Technology for Transparency Network.

In Mexico, Irma Eréndida Sandoval heads up a laboratory to document corruption and research the best transparency policies. “Laboratorio de Documentación y Análisis de la Corrupción y la Transparencia” at UNAM, the Autonomous National Mexican University, is one of the most prestigious institutions in Latin America.

In Iceland, parliamentarian Birgitta Jónsdóttir is promoting the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, a proposal to create a global safe haven for investigative journalism in Iceland that would improve freedom of expression and transparency worldwide by protecting watchdog groups and whistleblowers from libel censorship.

It is important not only approve good laws to promote transparency and openness but also protect a free country from becoming less transparent. An activist from Germany, Franziska Heine, initiated the most successful e-petition in German history, aimed to prevent a law which would give the German police the right to create and maintain censorship lists with websites to be blocked by German ISPs. It was signed more than 134,000 times. Franziska is part of the anti-censorship movement and is engaged in several activities and organizations which fight against surveillance, data mining, censorship and other threats to civil rights.

But good laws and proactive citizens are not enough; tools are also important to enable women around the world to take action and promote transparency. Margarita Padilla, an IT engineer and the former director of the magazine Mundo Linux is making a difference. She creates and maintains systems with a social approach and also promotes openness with her website Sin Dominio.

Mercedes de Freitas from Venezuela is the Executive Director of Transparencia Venezuela, the local chapter of Transparency International and is former Ashoka Changemaker Fellow for her work in promoting civic participation to increase government accountability.

These are surely just a few examples of women around the world who are using technology to challenge corruption, improve the performance of institutions, and create better policy to engage citizens and hold public officials accountable. As a recent article by Alexandra Starr notes, both the fields of technology and government have long excluded women from participation despite their impressive track record for approaching both policy and technology with more realism and tact than their male counterparts.

Software companies and parliamentary buildings around the world are still mostly dominated by men, but this is changing quickly thanks to a new generation of women technologists, activists, and politicians. I would be remiss to not highlight the work of our female researchers and research reviewers who, it must be said, have proven themselves to be the hardest working members of our team on the Technology for Transparency Network.

Renata Avila, who wrote the profiles of all of the women above, is a lawyer, human rights activist, the country lead of Creative Commons Guatemala, and the director of Primer Palabra. She has worked with the Rigoberta Menchu Tum Foundation, Harvard University, the Public Voice, and Women in International Security. Twitter: @avilarenata.

Sopheap Chak is a graduate student of peace studies at the International University of Japan. Meanwhile, she is also running the Cambodian Youth Network for Change, which mobilizes young activists around the country. She was previously advocacy officer of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) where she helped lead the “Black Box Campaign” to fight against police corruption in Cambodia. Twitter: @jusminesophia.

Rebekah Heacock is currently a master's candidate at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, where she studies the intersection of ICT and development and edits SIPA’s blog, The Morningside Post. She previously lived and worked in Uganda, where she co-developed and directed a series of conferences on post-conflict development for American and African college students. Twitter: @rebekahredux.

Manuella Maia Ribeiro is a recent graduate of Public Policy Management from the University of São Paulo, Brazil. Since 2007 she has been researching how governments can promote transparency, accountability and participation through the use of information and communication technologies. Twitter: @manuellamr.

Namita Singh is a researcher and consultant focused on participatory media. She studied mass media and mass communication at Delhi University and has a Master of Arts in Social Work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. Namita will soon begin her Ph.D. research in the UK on the processes and impact of participatory video. Twitter: @namitasingh.

Carrie Yang is a a postgraduate student studying new media at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The focus of her research is on citizen journalism and new media product development. She studied English at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies in Guangzhou, China. Twitter: @Carrie_Young.

Sylwia Presley is a blogger, photographer and activist who is passionate about social media marketing for the non-profit sector and social media for social change. She has organized numerous events including Barcamp Transparency UK last summer in Oxford, which she hopes will be replicated in other European countries this year. Twitter: @presleysylwia.

Aparna Ray is an independent qualitative research consultant by profession who is keenly interested in people, cultures, communities and social media/software. She writes both in English and Bangla, (the latter being her mother-tongue), and covers the Bangla blog world on Global Voices. Twitter: @aparnaray.

Laura Vidal is a Venezuelan studying Science Education in Paris, France. She blogs at Sacando la Lengua about languages, literature and interactions in society, and deeply believes in the uniqueness and importance of every culture, and in the study of them as a mirror to our own.

Do you know other women working in the fields of technology and transparency? Please link to their websites, blogs, and Twitter accounts in the comments section below!

Reposted bySigalon02 Sigalon02

March 24 2010

Ada Lovelace day: Celebrating women in science

The annual event aims to raise the profile of women in science and technology. Rebecca Thomson picks out some of the most important people


Reposted fromsigaloninspired sigaloninspired

January 24 2010

02mydafsoup-01
Play fullscreen

The Week in Green, episode 13 - 20100115


In the 13th episode of The Week in Green, Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet, associate professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses the role of women in the Green Movement and in other revolutionary movements in the nation's history.

 در برنامه شماره ۱۳ هفته سبز خانم فیروزه کاشانی‌ثابت استاد تاریخ در دانشگاه پنسیلوانیا، در باره نقش زنان در جنبش سبز و دگر جنبش‌های انقلابی در تاریخ کشور گفتگو می‌ک
Reposted byiranelection iranelection

November 23 2009

Qatar: Cartoon of maid abusing child raises ire

Cartoon published in Gulf Times Nov. 22 2009

Cartoon published in Gulf Times Nov. 22 2009

Is it satire, or just bad taste?

A cartoon of a crazed, angry-looking woman threatening a child with a dripping bowl of tainted gruel has left many Doha bloggers scratching their heads and looking for answers.

The sketch, titled ‘Housemaid's revenge,' was published in Sunday's Gulf Times, a local English newspaper.

The cartoon depicts a maid - presumably Indian, judging by the red bindi on her forehead and gold hoop earrings - threatening a toddler after being scolded by her employer.

The text reads:

Your mum shouted at me today just because I broke a plate. And I am going to strike back. Count on me you brat, you won't sleep at home tonight! You will stay at Al Sadd Children's Emergency. Open your mouth now. This dish I have made will make you so sick that it will make you dizzy for hours.

Many Doha bloggers strongly condemned the cartoon, but were undecided about the artist's intentions.

On Twitter, Weirdweb said:

No, really, Gulf Times, let it all out. Tell us how you REALLY feel about Indian maids. #racism #paranoia

On the forum Qatar Living,

Commenter Olive said:

There's so much wrong about this cartoon I'm not sure what the editor was thinking when he allowed it to be printed.

Some wondered if the message behind the cartoon was lost in translation.

On Twitter, tomgara said

What is worse in this Gulf Times (Qatar) cartoon - hectic racism or awful 6th-grade writing? The answer is both.

On Qatar Living, the debate turned to treatment of maids by their employers, who sponsor their stay in the country.

genesis said:

Mohammed cartoons are never meant to be funny. Most of his work is dark altough sarcastic. I think it's badly translated, the intention is how cruel some sponsors treat their maids

rMs_000 responded diplomatically:

It describes about the cruelty of some sponsors.. and devilish reaction of house maids. Editor doesn't show any partiality to both of them i say. So its neutral..

britexpat said

The message is quite simple..Abuse the maid and you risk her abusing the child

Satire or not, most found the cartoon to be in poor taste.

On Twitter, rachelannmorris said:

Not funny in any way shape or form

On Qatar Living,

Commenter Amoud said:

I don't like this at all…..Even the bad translation doesn't cover what bad taste this is in.

And Adham Essam chimed in:

Oh my God! I CANNOT believe that was printed. How on earth could they allow something like that??? Which ever angle they were going for, it is completely wrong of them to present the issue like this. For the maid. For the child. For the parents. Disgusting…

For more on the discussion, visit Qatar Living.

November 07 2009

Haus proud

When the Bauhaus art school opened in 1919, more women applied than men - so why have we never heard of them?

Bobbed, geometric haircuts. Chunky jewellery. Vegetarian diets. Saxophone playing. Breathing exercises. Painting. Carving. Snapping with brand new 35mm Leica cameras. Dressing in the artiest handmade clothes. Attending arty parties. Ninety years on from the founding of Walter Gropius's legendary art, craft and design school, the female students of the Bauhaus appear to have been as liberated as young women today.

At least they do in the photographs in Bauhaus Women, a book by Ulrike Muller, a "museum educator" in Weimar, the German town where the Bauhaus opened in 1919, declaring equality between the sexes. Where German women had once received art education at home with tutors, at the Bauhaus they were free to join courses.

And yet the photographs of those seemingly liberated women tell, at best, a half truth. Yes, the world's most famous modern art school accepted women. But few became well known. While the men of the Bauhaus – Gropius, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, László Moholy-Nagy and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – are celebrated, names like Gunta Stölzl (a weaver), Benita Otte (another weaver), Marguerite Friedlaender-Wildenhain (ceramicist), Ilse Fehling (sculptor and set designer) or Alma Siedhoff-Buscher (toy maker) mean precious little.

If these bright young things came to the Bauhaus as equals, why are the women so obscure? The school's fleeting existence (just 14 years), the rise of the anti-modern National Socialist movement and six years of world war may have been factors, but the uncomfortable truth is that the Bauhaus was never a haven of female emancipation.

More women than men applied to the school in 1919, and Gropius insisted that there would be "no difference between the beautiful and the strong sex" – those very words betraying his real views. Those of the "strong sex" were, in fact, marked out for painting, carving and, from 1927, the school's new architecture department. The "beautiful sex" had to be content, mostly, with weaving.

The school's students produced radical work, but Gropius's vision was, at heart, medieval, if apparently modern, and he was keen to keep women in their place – at looms, primarily, weaving modern fabrics for fashion houses and industrial production. He believed women thought in "two dimensions", while men could grapple with three.

By the time Mies van der Rohe was appointed director in 1930, the Bauhaus had essentially become an architecture school and, increasingly, there was little place for women to shine. Those who did, like Anni Albers, did so only after they abandoned the Bauhaus. Albers left Germany for the US in 1933, with her husband, the painter Josef Albers, to teach at the new Black Mountain College, North Carolina, and make fabrics for design-led companies like Knoll and Rosenthal.

Marguerite Friedlaender-Wildenhain, the ceramicist, also became a big success in the US with her Pond Hall pottery. Benita Otte was ousted from her position as head of the weaving department but established her own mill elsewhere in Germany; her fabrics remain in production. Mean­ while, Gunta Stölzl, hounded by Nazi sympathisers within the Bauhaus after her marriage to a Jew, left in 1931 and founded her own successful handweaving business in Switzerland.

Many other Bauhaus women simply vanished without trace. Sadly, this was all too true of the toy maker Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, who was killed in a bombing raid in 1944, and of Otti Berger who, on a trip to see her mother in Yugoslavia in 1939, was unable to get a visa to the US despite an offer of work at Moholy-Nagy's New Bauhaus in Chicago. In 2005, newly available Soviet archives revealed that Berger, a Jew, had died at Auschwitz in 1944.

Marianne Brandt, a metalworker, was one of the few who made a name for herself while at the Bauhaus. The globe lamps she designed in 1926, and the Kandem bedside light, with adjustable reflector, have long been standard-bearers of Bauhaus design.

But if the school's women are largely unsung, their legacy lives on. As Bauhaus architecture becomes a distant vision of the future, so Bauhaus fabrics remain as useful, tactile and special as they were when these women set out to equal their male peers. As Gunta Stölzl (1897-1983) put it, "We wanted to create living things with contemporary relevance, suitable for a new style of life. Huge potential for experimentation lay before us. It was essential to define our imaginary world, to shape our experiences through material, rhythm, proportion, colour and form." Against the odds, they did.

Bauhaus Women, by Ulrike Muller, is published by Flammarion at £24.95. To order a copy for £22.95, with free UK p&p, go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846.


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July 09 2009

Four short links: 10 July 2009

  1. Ceph -- open source distributed filesystem from UCSC. Ceph is built from the ground up to seamlessly and gracefully scale from gigabytes to petabytes and beyond. Scalability is considered in terms of workload as well as total storage. Ceph is designed to handle workloads in which tens thousands of clients or more simultaneously access the same file, or write to the same directory-usage scenarios that bring typical enterprise storage systems to their knees. (via joshua on delicious)
  2. Daily Internet Activities, 2000-2009 -- Pew Charitable Trust's Internet usage survey. We've finally broken 50% of Americans using the Internet daily. Twitter is almost a rounding error. (via dhowell on Twitter)
  3. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage -- fantastic comic, with end-notes that explain how Babbage and Lovelace's lives and works are reflected in the action of the comic. (via suw on Twitter)
  4. Search User Interfaces -- full text of this book about the different (successful and un-) interfaces to search. (via sebchan on Twitter)

April 27 2009

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LBJ Page Turners Series: Nadine Eckhardt

March 24 2009

It's Always Ada Lovelace Day at O'Reilly

I had a hard time choosing just one of the many marvelous women in tech that I might write about for Ada Lovelace Day, because, frankly, I'm surrounded by those women! Where so many think of the tech world as male-dominated, women have always played a major role at O'Reilly. A large part of our management team has always consisted of women, and women are the creators of some of our best known products and brands. I want to acknowledge their contributions, highlighting the fact that they have been so central to the success of my company. I also want to emphasize that there are many ways to contribute to a tech community, and that being a coder is not the only way to have an impact on the world of computing.


Christina o'reillyMy first hat tip has to go to my wife, Christina O'Reilly. She's a playwright and choreographer, not a techie. But if you've been influenced by me, you've also been influenced by her. The company, its values, and much of its unusual nature have been profoundly shaped by our relationship. (You can see her influence in some of the early company documents you'll find here,.) In more ways than I can count, I've built the company to be one that she would be proud of. We met when I was nineteen, and she's been part of everything I've ever done, in the same way that Elizabeth Barrett Browning said of her husband, Robert Browning:


What I do and what I dream include thee,


As the wine must taste of its own grapes


From the earliest years of the company, most of my key managers have been women. From 1985 till about 2000, there was a troika--Linda Walsh, Linda Lamb, and Cathy Brennan--who helped me shape the corporate culture, and for many years were touchstones for the values I still espouse.


Linda Walsh was my first employee. She helped me build my original documentation consulting business, and helped me come into my own as a leader when I broke up with my original business partner. She was also the key business leader for our digital books initiative in the late 1990s and one of the founders of Safari Books Online.


Linda Lamb was a key member of the team (along with me and Dale Dougherty) that developed our original publishing program back in 1985. Linda also served as our director of marketing for many years, with a delicious, quirky sense of humor. (I still remember one of her earliest trade show pieces, a wonderful riff on the National Enquirer, in which she reported on abductions by strange aliens with big eyes, programmers forced to participate in camel races, and exorcisms performed after errors in programming with curses.) She was also the original author of one of our first books, Learning the Vi Editor, and later creator (with Nancy Keene) of our series of Patient-Centered Guides.


I hired Cathy Brennan (now Strider) as a receptionist in 1985 or 1986, but her common sense soon made her one of my most trusted advisers and her ability to get things done made her one of my senior executives. When I decided to move to California from Boston in 1987, Cathy was the one who persuaded me to move our then-fledgling publishing business along with me, and agreed to move out herself to set up customer service and operations for this new line of business. She built and ran our operations as we grew from a tiny startup to a publishing powerhouse. She also managed the design and construction of our office complex in Sebastopol.


Laura baldwinLaura Baldwin joined the company as CFO in 2001, just as we were crashing into the wall of the dot com bust. I can with confidence say that we wouldn't have survived without her. I had always held up Harold, the last of the Saxon kings of England, as one of my management heroes. He went down to defeat by William the Conqueror rather than abandon his people to fight another day. Laura convinced me that I needed to do layoffs--and when I did, I found that the people we laid off moved on to what were often better jobs for them, and the company itself became leaner, more creative, and more effective. Laura brought financial discipline to the company. She helped bring us back from the brink, and built a bigger, more profitable, and more successful company. Living to fight another day helped us to birth the Web 2.0 movement, Foo Camp, Make: magazine, the Missing Manuals, and many of the other post-2001 products we are known for today.


Laura is now our COO as well as CFO, and is the day-to-day manager of the business. Those of you who wonder how I find so much


I have learned more about the nuts and bolts of business from Laura than from any other person. Harold Geneen once said "The skill of management is to achieve your objectives through the efforts of others." Laura knows how to do that in spades - she's a great manager. But she's also the most amazingly productive person I've ever met. Usually, you have to choose between an effective manager and an effective individual contributor. Laura somehow manages to be both.


CJ rayhillThe list goes on.
CJ Rayhill was our CIO for seven years, working with Laura to build the information systems that turned O'Reilly into a "real company." (She was also one of the first women to graduate from the Naval Academy - here's an interview about her history in the tech industry.) She's now the COO for Safari Books Online, where she's managing the extremely cool features that will be appearing in Safari 6.0 later this year.


Gina blaberGina Blaber was the original managing editor for GNN, the world's first commercial website. She then ran our software group (remember Website Pro, the first PC-based web server?) and now runs the O'Reilly Conferences group. If you've ever been to an O'Reilly event, it's easy to think that the speakers and program chairs do all the work, forgetting that it's Gina and her team (mostly women) who make it all look so easy.


Laurie petryckiLaurie Petrycki ran several of our publishing divisions (notably Head First and Missing Manuals) before taking on the challenge last year of launching our new education division.


And that's leaving out the many women who've worked as editors, copyeditors, designers, and production staff at O'Reilly over the years. If you've ever read and enjoyed an O'Reilly book, take a moment to appreciate how many hands, how many eyes, read it before you did, to shape it into its final form.


Sara wingeSara Winge is the creator of Foo Camp, one of O'Reilly's quirkiest and most influential initiatives. While Wikipedia claims me as a co-creator of the event, I have to say that it has always really been Sara's brainchild. I had wanted to do some kind of events at O'Reilly after the dot com bust left us with a lot of unused space, and I might have even proposed residential events, but Sara is the one who picked up this idea from the heap where we tend to leave good ideas that don't have anyone to make them real.


Sara conceived and developed the format (inspired in part by Open Space, she says, but to my mind, all the best parts were original.) I've just been the front-man and impresario. So if you've been to Foo Camp, or to Bar Camp, or any of the many other "Camp" spinoffs, you owe a big round of thanks to Sara. Foo Camp also demonstrates a uniquely feminine sensibility. Sara didn't charge to the front; she created a context where other people can shine, quietly facilitating. As Lao Tzu said, "When the best leader leads, the people say, 'We did it ourselves.'"


Edie freedmanEdie Freedman is the creator of the distinctive O'Reilly animal brand. Many people know a bit about the story of how strange animals came to be the symbols of so many technologies, but what they probably don't know that behind this brand, so central to the company's heritage, was an act of generosity by a complete stranger.


Our first books, published late in 1985, all had the same simple cover, featuring the image of a nutshell. The idea was that these small books had everything you needed, in a nutshell. In 1987, with seven books in print, we realized that people at trade shows weren't recognizing that we had more than one book, so we hired a designer to produce some new covers. She developed a treatment that was colorful, geometric and high-tech. We had an all-hands meeting on a Friday afternoon to review the new cover treatment. I just couldn't go for it. It was too expected. I said we'd have to try again.


original cover reading & writing termcap entriesLinda Lamb shared our plight with her housemate, Edie, who at the time was a designer at Digital Equipment Corporation. Edie thought that Unix program names sounded like weird animals. She also realized that 19th century woodcuts provided a unique, low-cost design option. Fair enough. But she went further than that. She produced and laid out seven mechanicals of possible covers over the weekend. Linda brought them in on Monday, free of charge. Here's one of the original designs, for original cover design, sed & awkSed & Awk, a book that didn't even exist yet.)


How cool is that? One of the great brands in tech was a gift from a stranger! (Edie did later come to work for us, and served as our Creative Director for many years. She is still with the company.) That is one of the many experiences that made me receptive to the idea of open source as a gift culture when Eric Raymond wrote about that in 1997.


(While I'm on the subject of the kindness of strangers, I have to call out the contributions of Danese Cooper and Linda Stone, two people who've never worked for O'Reilly but who might as well have done, for all the tireless work they do on our behalf. I met Danese through our mutual work on open source when she was the "open source diva" at Sun, and later at Intel. She's the person I always call when anyone asks me for advice on open source licensing, community, or corporate adoption. Linda Stone, former maven at Apple and Microsoft, is a mentor and inspiration on the value of making connections between people who ought to know each other. Linda is also the one who had the brilliant idea of Science Foo Camp when Timo Hannay of the Nature Publishing Group and I were scratching our heads trying to find a project to do together. She's also the one who suggested we ask Google to host the party. Never mind random acts of kindness; there's real power in random acts of connection. When I said a few years back that our purpose at Foo Camp is to create new synapses in the global brain, I was channeling what I learned from Linda.)


I could go on and on. There's Allison Randal, who Nat Torkington already wrote about in his own Ada Lovelace Day post earlier today. There's Kathy Sierra, the creator of the amazing Head First series of books, and also the subject of many another Ada Lovelace Day post. There's Carla Bayha, who for many years was the computer book buyer at Borders, and whose penetrating judgment helped books on many an obscure topic find space on shelves across America. Carla is truly an unsung hero of the industry.


And of course, I celebrate the many other women authors, conference speakers, and coders who've been a part of O'Reilly's story over the years. Truly, we could never have done it without you. As far as I'm concerned, it's always Ada Lovelace Day at O'Reilly.

Ada Lovelace Day ABC

Ada Lovelace Day helps to "make sure that whenever the question Who are the leading women in tech? is asked, that we all have a list of candidates on the tips of our tongues". I was tempted to talk about Mitchell Baker (Chief Lizard Wrangler at Mozilla) but the Ada Day specifically requested "unsung heroes", so I'm going to give you the ABC of great women you probably don't already know:

The first, actually, you probably do: Allison Randal. She sometimes blogs on O'Reilly Radar, but not as often as we like. Allison succeeded me in four projects, and made me look bad every time! She ran the Perl Foundation better than I did, she ran Perl 6 better than I did, she was a better editor than I was, and you don't need a math degree to figure out how smoothly OSCON ran without me last year .... I admire the way Allison is a humane manager who succeeds in getting forward progress, even out of the most difficult to manage people, yet she'd much rather be coding. She's a linguist, a compiler writer of mad skills, has been the driving force behind Parrot (congrats on 1.0!), and is a deeply sane person in an industry too-often burdened by ego, vanity, and fantasy.

The second is Brenda Wallace. She's also a rock-solid developer, but has taken on much of the social organising of geek events in Wellington, New Zealand. Software folks are great at spotting gaps in code coverage, but they often have a blind spot for gaps in social coverage. Brenda's run geek girl events, SuperHappyDevHouse, Open Days, Hack Days, and more. She's always finding ways to get developers meeting developers. She rallied many troops for New Zealand's fight against bad copyright law. And, as if that wasn't enough, she has more gadgets than anyone else I've met in NZ!

The third is Courtney Johnston. She works for the National Library of New Zealand. I especially appreciate liminal people, those who live at the intersection of worlds. Courtney bridges three: art, libraries, and the web. She can bring the world view, the values, the techniques, and knowledge from one community to the others, enriching them all. She's passionate about the potential for galleries, libraries, archives, and museums to not just survive but thrive in the digital world. And, like Allison and Brenda, Courtney is an amplifier: she is working to share knowledge and build networks that make other people more effective and powerful in what they do.

Lady Ada would be proud.

Tomorrow is Ada Lovelace Day, Celebrating The World's First Computer Programmer

AdaLovelacePic.jpgAda Lovelace, a 19th century British writer who is considered the world's first computer programmer, will be honored by bloggers all over the world tomorrow. In the spirit of providing young women with role models, more than 1500 bloggers participating in the first annual Ada Lovelace Day have pledged to write about a woman or women they admire working in technology on March 24th. You can read about Lovelace on Wikipedia.

Sponsor

The event was organized by UK social software consultant Suw Charman-Anderson using the service Pledgebank. If you'd like to participate as well, or just in case you're interested - we've created a Custom Search Engine of technology blogs written by women to help with this and any other research.

We'll be participating with a post highlighting an inspiring woman in tech tomorrow, but we thought this would also be a good opportunity to share the search engine below, titled Blogs By Women in Tech. It was created using the super simple and very powerful Google Custom Search tool and lets users search just the archives of more than 200 tech blogs written by women. It was seeded by the archived blogroll at Misbehaving.net and has since grown with more people submitting their blogs. I have a link to it saved on my toolbar and use it whenever I can, as a way to make sure to include womens' voices in our news coverage.

Feel free to save and use the search engine yourself. I you'd like to suggest your blog or someone else's for inclusion you can either email links to marshall@readwriteweb.com or volunteer to be a contributor through a link on the site.

So go sign up to participate in Ada Lovelace Day and let's make sure that the next generation of young women know that there is an important place for them in technology.

womencse.jpg

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Reposted fromjrobelen jrobelen

February 02 2009

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