Grace Hopper Celebration 2010: Day 1 (28 September)

After traveling for seven hours I finally made it to Atlanta! The Hyatt Regency is both gigantic and beautiful, and when I walked in I could not help but feel even more grateful about the fact that I received the scholarship to come to Grace Hopper, and that my hotel bill was included in that scholarship.

Hyatt Regency Atlanta

Hyatt Regency Atlanta

Hyatt Regency Atlanta : Where the conference was held

Hyatt Regency Atlanta: Where the conference was held

Registration started at 3, and they gave us nametags and bags containing a vast variety of goodies, including a water bottle, three lip balm/gloss, plenty of pens, screwdrivers, post-its, a flashlight, two flash drives, and an assortment of information packets about various programs.

Later I went to the Resume Clinic, where a representative from Microsoft offered me advice on how to improve my resume. The most significant advice he gave me was not to be afraid to expand my resume to two, or maybe even three, pages. From here I went to an interview for Barclays Capital, and then onto the Career Fair. The Big Three were there (Apple, Microsoft, and Google), along with Intel, IBM, HP, Yahoo!, MIT Lincoln Lab, NSA, and a number of other companies. They all asked for copies of my résumé, so it was a good thing I decided to print a few copies before coming to the conference! One of the HP representatives, after discussing my résumé at the booth, allowed me to talk further with a recent hire (Tyelisa Shields), who gave me a lot of useful information about HP and about the other companies she passed over in her job search. It was easily one of the most informative discussions I’ve had about careers so far, and I’m glad I stopped by the table!

The Google Booth

The Google Booth

The Microsoft Booth

The Microsoft Booth

The Intel, Intuit, and NSA Booths

The Intel, Intuit, and NSA Booths

The Salesforce Booth

The Salesforce Booth

By the time I had made my rounds the fair was coming to a close, so I went back to my room to sort through all the fancy souvenirs I had obtained. Can’t wait for the rest of the week!

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The Unfinished Short Stories

As I get back into the rhythm of college life (aided in part by taking some time every evening to calm my racing mind through the magic of yoga), I admit my mind has not wandered much into the realm of current events.  Aside from all the academic-related ventures I participated in (ranging from the ever-crucial Dorm Olympics, to advising freshmen on what courses to take, to figuring out what courses I should take myself, to helping dozens of people connect to our new wireless network), I have also been working a little on a short story I hope to submit to a contest someday (provided it can be spruced up a bit). Let me know what you think of it:

11 September, 1649

Sean’s no soldier. He joined the Irish Confederates because he wanted Irish independence, and because scouts have seen so many English troops coming that the army is taking anyone who can hold a gun. Not because he can fight. People are dropping dead at his side, soldiers who are –were– better than he could ever be. Sean realizes how big of a mistake he made.

Every sound makes his skin crawl and his heart pound against his ribs. He is paralyzed in a dank, humid watchtower, his eyes glued to the chaos outside him. Why’d they put him in the towers? He isn’t cut out for this; why did they put him up here? He doesn’t want to die; he still wants to go to school. Gunshots. He doesn’t want to die. Screaming, agony, more gunshots. He doesn’t want to die, he doesn’t want to die…

“We can’t do this much longer!” one of the leaders is yelling from the wall. “We need to surrender!”

“No!” another cries. “Surrender’s not an option! Either we win here or we die here; there can be no other outcome!”

Die here. No. No, no, no, no. The man is right; they cannot win. They have to stop; try again later, maybe. They need to stop before it’s too late to stop.

One of the English generals yells something, and the English pull a cannon out to the front of their lines. Another yell. A deafening boom echoes from the machine as a cannonball flies through the air into the fortress wall, and Sean grips his ears. Will the English get in? They might. Oh, God.

Another crack. Part of the wall collapses as the English load their cannon again. They broke through. God help us, Sean thinks as he clutches his gun. A few of the soldiers run down the stairs, ready to go try and help the ground forces while some of them try to fix the gaping hole in the wall. Why haven’t they surrendered? Why in God’s name haven’t they surrendered?

“We ought to surrender now,” one of the remaining soldiers mutters as he loads his gun. “There’s no way we can win now.”

“What’s Aston thinking, dragging this out?” another soldier agrees. He peers outside to get a glimpse of the mayhem. “Damn them; they’re ransacking the town.”

“Forget Aston; I’m not getting killed for this.” One of the soldiers throws his gun on the ground and tears a piece of cloth from his white tunic.

“You’re right,” another says as he follows suit. Most of the other soldiers stack their guns and push all the weapons to the side. Then they wait. Sean drops his gun, numbly, his eyes glued to the soldiers sitting near the window. Those soldiers look outside and report on what they see, but for some reason Sean can’t understand what they’re saying. Will the English accept their surrender? What happens if they do? Will they become prisoners? Servants? Will they go through the shame of slavery?

Yelling. The clanging of weapons attached to running men echoes in the stairwell. An English soldier appears, then two more, then three more. All have guns aimed at the Confederates, while a few of the soldiers are frantically waving their white cloths. The English get the idea.

“Knock them out,” one of them says. They start hitting the Confederates with the butts of their guns. Sean cowers with his head in his arms, not wanting to watch. He feels a sharp pain at the back of his head. He feels dizzy. His vision grows dark.

?

He wakes to hushed whispers. Still alive. His vision is blurred, but he sees figures hovering near him. English? He struggles to focus. Can’t move his hands. Can’t move his hands! Sean realizes he is tied to a chair. Oh, God.

“Look, our friend is awake,” he hears someone say. English accent. God help me.

Sean sees faces now, staring at him. Watching. He wonders what they’re looking for. Whether some blemish on his skin or some look in his eye is the key to his salvation.

God help me, he prays as he stares at his boots. He almost jumps when someone asks him,

“What is your name, young man?”

“Sean,” he replies carefully. He can’t remember his last name and panics.

“How old are you, Sean?”

“Twenty-one.”

“Your eyes are not those of a fighter. What was your trade before you joined the army?”

Sean hesitates. “My father is a blacksmith,” he answers. The soldier smiles.

“A blacksmith, eh?” Sean nods. “That is a fine trade, son. A reliable trade. Why would you leave it for something as cruel as war?”

Sean hesitates again. What sort of answer is this man looking for? “I wanted to help make Ireland independent of England,” he recites warily, quietly. He doesn’t know what else to say. There is no change in the soldier’s face.

“Of course. But why else did you do it?”

“Excuse me?”

“What were you looking to get out of it?”

Sean is quivering in his chair. The soldier doesn’t like his answer, but he doesn’t know what else to say. What should he say? What should he say? “Indep–”

“Never mind, let me ask another question. What do you want us to do with you, Sean?”

Is this a trick question? Sean doesn’t understand. He keeps silent. The soldier grins.

“No reason to be quiet, boy. Do you want us to let you go? Kill you?”

“I’d like to live, sir,” Sean whispers numbly.

“Speak up, boy!”

“Live,” Sean manages. A laugh.

“You want us to let you live? Hm?”

“Yes…”

“Well then! What if I were to tell you that we are willing to let you out of this prison? Alive?”

Sean stares at the soldier. Sean is uneducated, but Sean is not stupid enough to think he can go for free.

“Why?”

The soldier laughs, and Sean flinches at the sound. “Let us say we could stand to benefit from the arrangement.”

“Which is?”

“You agree to join a special battalion of our army, and we will let you live. In fact, we will also give you everything you need in order to live comfortably. Including a considerable amount of wealth.”

That’s it? He joins their army, and he gets all that?

“What’s special about it?” he asks. The soldier laughs again.

“We require you to agree to the deal before we go into such details,” the soldier replies. He adds, almost as an aside, “If you do not accept, your alternative is to be killed. As I see it, agreeing to the terms is the most logical choice.”

Sean hesitates. He has a suspicion that they are trying to trick him. But he doesn’t have many options, and at least one could allow him to run away, if necessary.

“I’ll do it,” he decides.

“Of course you will,” the soldier says with a glance at his friends. They pull Sean to his feet as he is told to report to training at sunrise. He is given a large bag of gold coins. He is led to his new house and to a dozen other locations, but he’s so excited about the fact that he escaped death that he barely pays attention to where they drag him off to.

Thank you, God.

15 March, 1650

Sean had heard not long ago that near everyone in his town had been slaughtered, even the civilians who had tried to take refuge in the church. He still feels a pang of guilt for continuing to live, when so many other soldiers had chosen death rather than the sovereignty of their country. For continuing to work for the country that killed his unarmed family and friends without mercy. But he tries not to think about this. He must work hard to become successful, to bring honor to his family name so it may honor those he has lost. If this means working for the English, he must endure it.

True to their word, the English had let him live, and live much more comfortably than before. His home now could have housed his father’s smithy in its foyer. He has more gold in his coin purse than his father had earned in his lifetime. He is being educated every day as part of his training, and is learning how to read and speak properly. He has not yet been put in another battle (they still did not trust him, Sean guesses), but he trains as though he will fight in one at any moment.

After a few months of training Sean is asked to come to therapy sessions. Sean is brought to a dimly-lit room in the military compound, where a middle-aged man asks him questions. They explain it’s to gauge how well he’s adapting to life as an English soldier, and while Sean finds it slightly degrading, he’s thankful they aren’t doing anything more drastic to test where his thoughts lie.

“Your name, please,” the man always asks him first.

“Sean Reid.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-one.”

“What is your current occupation?”

“Member of the Queen’s Special Guard, first battalion.”

“What was your last occupation?”

“I was a blacksmith.”

“What was your father’s name?”

“Kieran. Kieran Reid.”

“And your mother’s name?”

“Ana.”

“Do you have any siblings?”

“No, I was an only child.”

“Do you have a wife?”

“No.”

“Do you have any pets?”

“No.”

“When is your birthday?”

“July twelfth.”

“Of what year?”

“Oh. Of…1628, I think…?”

“What is the color of your shirt, right now?”

“White.”

“What color are your eyes?”

“Green.”

“Do you have a history of drug use?”

“No!”

“Are you religious?”

“Yes.”

“Do you feel as though you are fitting in with the rest of the battalion?”

“I suppose.”

“Do you have any problems with your assignment?”

“Not really, no.”

“Do you harbor any resentment towards the English for how the war turned out?”

“…No.”

“Will you continue to serve England and the Queen?”

“Yes.”

“Do you swear to devote your life to Her Majesty?”

“…Yes.”

And, after a few more promises to remain loyal to the crown, Sean is sent on his way. Sean must repeat the ordeal once a week, with the same questions each time, asked by the same man in the same room. He figures that the English ought to know after the first two months whether or not he plans to rebel against them, but he guesses they just want to be thorough. Or, perhaps, they’re just waiting for him to slip.

31 October, 1650

The man who usually asks Sean questions is sitting in his normal seat in the dim-lit room (Sean has never been offered his name and has a feeling he will never get it). Standing next to the man are the two usual English soldiers, and two men Sean has never seen before. Sean has never seen people like them; they have fine black hair and small eyes, and one (dressed in strange robes) is muttering in a high-pitched language that he has never heard before.

“Your name, please,” his questioner asks.

“Who are they?” Sean asks, his eyes glued to the muttering man.

“Pay no attention to them. What is your name?”

“What are they here for?”

“Nothing important; just answer the question.”

“If it’s not important why won’t you tell me?”

The questioner stares at Sean and sighs. He motions a solider over and whispers something in his ear. The soldier leaves. Sean warily watches him leave.

“Where is he going?”

“To get you some tea,” the questioner replies. He sighs and points to the foreigners. “They are men from China. They are going to see what sort of work we do here.”

Sean stares at the man in robes again. He seems to take no notice of anything happening around him. The other man, in normal English clothes, stands silently next to him, staring at the ground.

“Now your name, please.”

Sean hesitates. “Sean Reid.”

“How old are you, Sean?”

“Twenty-two.”

“What is your occupation?”

“Member of the Queen’s Special Guard, first battalion.”

“What was your occupation prior to the war?”

“Blacksmith.” The familiar sequence of questions calms Sean down a bit. The soldier who left comes back with a teacup and saucer in his hands. He hands this to Sean, who takes a long draw from the cup.

“What was your father’s name?”

“Kieran.”

“What was your mother’s name?”

“Ana.”

“Did you have any siblings?”

“No.”

“Do you have a wife?”

“No.”

“Do you have any pets?”

“No.”

“When is your birthday?”

This takes Sean a little while. “The twelfth of July.”

“What year?”

Sean’s mind is starting to get fuzzy. He’s aware of some humming noise that seems to come from far away, and it’s making him tired.

“I….1624, I think,” he replies, confused.

“What color is the shirt that you are wearing at this moment?”

Sean can’t remember. He looks down. Everything seems to be blurring together. This can’t be right…

“White?” he murmurs.

“What color are your eyes?”

“What is happening to me?” Sean asks, struggling to stay awake. He grips the table in front of him.

“What color are your eyes?” the questioner asks again. It sounds as if he’s miles away.

“What color…”

Sean closes his eyes and feels himself falling…

I’m a Grace Hopper Blogger!

I am excited to have found out that I have been chosen as a community blogger for the Grace Hopper Conference! I will make an enthusiastic effort to make the community proud. :]

The Curious Case of Dr. Laura Schlessinger

So naturally my first real entry must be on Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a conservative talk show host who not only uttered a racial slur almost a dozen times on a recent show, but willingly resigned from her position and then claimed it was because she felt her 1st Amendment rights were being infringed, as millions of people condemned the tirade she issued on the air. Because there is no better way to kickstart a blog than to add my two cents to one of the most controversial events in the news today.

The incident began when a black woman called into her show, saying she was upset that her white husband would not stand up for her when his white friends said racist things towards her. Dr. Laura then asked for an example, as a lot of people tend to be “hypersensitive” about these things. The woman gives an example of how one of their neighbors tends to ask her how black people do certain things, and says she is offended by this; Dr. Laura tells her it isn’t racist, and mentions a lot of black people voted for Obama just because he was black, and that she made a joke that white guys can’t jump, and that neither is racist. The caller then mentions that some of her husband’s friends throw the n-word around, to which Dr. Laura replies that all one hears from black comics is “n*****, n*****, n*****.” She then goes on to comment on how there’s “a black man as president and there’s more complaining about racism,” and then says that a word can’t be restricted to race (repeating “n*****, n*****, n*****”), and telling the woman not to “NAACP me” and that “if you’re that hypersensitive about race and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race.” The latter being because as soon as you marry out of your race, people instinctively wonder “What do blacks think? What do whites think? What do Jews think? What do Catholics think?” She then goes on to talk about how black activists are fueling bogus claims about racism, and how she had hoped that people wouldn’t try to “demonize whites hating blacks” once a black guy became president, but that unfortunately power is causing these people to complain even more about racism. And that it’s sad that this is happening.

(listen to the full exchange here.)

Wow, where to begin? The beginning, I guess. Are comments about “What do think?” racist? In my opinion, to even ask such a question about a race (whose people are only bonded together by the color of their skin–not by philosophical ideals or anything similar) is to have such little disregard for the personal experiences of everyone in the race, to assume that they can all be categorized by some stereotype or some central dogma, and thus to assume there is no variety, no free thought amongst the people of that race.  In other words, it is to ignore the fact that each person in the category (black, white, etc) possesses their own personality and life story that shapes the foundations of their opinions and habits, and therefore to strip all concept of free will and intelligence from the entire group, and to refer to them as a mindless collective who follows one unified doctrine. So to answer the question, while it may not technically be “racist” (if a black person asks a white person what white people think about cats, and is under the assumption that every race has some general opinion of cats, then he is not being racist, as he is subjecting every race to the same generalization), it is strongly bigoted and close-minded at best, and the woman was not “hypersensitive” simply because she was tired of being treated as a drone of the black race. The same logic applies to “white men can’t jump” comments, etc. I could comment upon the Obama thing as well, but perhaps I’ll save that for another post.

Next comes Dr. Laura’s comments on black comedians and who is “allowed” to use racial slurs. Ignoring the fact that she also indulges a bit in over-generalization, she fails to understand that the word she throws around is a word that (predominantly white) people have used for decades to demean and humiliate blacks, and that this is the reason why the word is not one that everyone is entitled to fling around as they please. She also fails to understand the concept of taking something horrible (in this case, a racial slur) and internalizing it in the culture in an attempt to either transform it into something non-offensive, or to utilize it as a vaccine against its usage outside the culture (where it will more often be used for offense than for anything else). These are fundamental sociological phenomenon that are seen in a number of other instances (for example, there are studies on how female friends call each other b****, in part to make them immune from the insult when venturing outside of the “safety” of their friend circle), and Dr. Laura’s inability to recognize any of this only further highlight how little she understands about the topic she felt prepared to rant about.

Even more alarming is her comment that basically implies, “If you can’t take a bigoted joke, stay inside your race, because it is normal for people outside your race/religion/etc to ask you bigoted questions.” As if it is a healthy part of life to assume everyone is a walking set of stereotypes, and that it is the caller’s fault if she gets offended when she learns otherwise. To even suggest social segregation unless you have the “sense of humor” to laugh at blatant bigoted assumptions or insensitive behavior is one of the craziest things I have heard of in recent times.

But the saddest thing of all is her opinion that a black man is president, and therefore people ought to stop “complaining” about race relations. It’s a common opinion that stems from the opinion, “A black guy is president, therefore racism no longer exists.” This could not be farther from the truth, as Obama’s journey to the White House alone indicates that racism is alive and thriving in our nation. If this isn’t already evident, just look at all the people who assume he’s Muslim, who assume he wanted universal health care just to help “his” people, and who talk about him as a black man when he’s really a multi-racial man. Or, look at how many times he had to place pictures of his (white) mother in his campaign ads and how many times he had to make reference to his white relatives during his campaign, simply to get people to worry less about the prospect of his harboring the great Black Uprising of the century, or about reparations for blacks (and think about all the people who still fear he has such plans in the works). Aside from that, statistics from hundreds of sources will show that blacks are still being discriminated against everywhere, from education to the work force to buying homes, and are more than enough to prove that people do indeed still have reason to “complain” about racism. Racism never left; it’s just less apparent, having been shoved behind the rainbows and unicorns that cropped up when Obama became president.

So Dr. Laura, I will give you that racism is not as bad as it was fifty years ago, when people were being publicly lynched in the streets. And I’ll give you that after decades of persecution and discrimination, a fair number of blacks are over-sensitive about race relations. But you still have a LOT to learn about when it comes to race and bigotry, and you’re not getting out of any of the other claims you made.

But even after all this, I still have yet to get to the most hilarious part of the whole ordeal: that, after being allowed to keep her show on the air, even when sponsors are puling out left and right, she decides to take her show off the air herself, claiming the move is to “regain her first amendment rights.” In other words, Dr. Laura is allowed to say a multitude of bigoted things, is allowed to keep her job despite saying these offensive things, and then has the nerve to act as though her rights are being infringed just because millions of people condemn her for what she did, and because some of her sponsors no longer wish to be associated with her after what she did. The First Amendment protects her right to say what she said, but it also gives everyone else the right to express that they have a problem with what she said (whether that expression be through speech or by non-malicious action, such as pulling sponsorship).  One should not claim her rights are being ignored when she is ignoring everyone else’s right to have the same freedoms; it is hypocritical and, frankly, a bit petty.

So in conclusion, Dr. Laura, while I agree with close to nothing you uttered on your radio show and quite frankly consider most of it to be grossly insulting to the human race in general, I will respect your right to say such things. Hopefully you will in time come to respect my right to post counter-arguments like this as well.

Even more alarming

Introduction

So I have decided to create a blog again.

Yes, again; few probably remember my exploits as Lord_of_the_Pixie_Stix three years ago (was high school really only that long ago?): a dedicated blogger who posted writing excerpts monthly and counted down the days until she started college, who ranted about politics and how little George W. Bush cared about the environment and whose dedication to taking online quizzes and filling out chain surveys was unparalleled. It was a simple time, a happy time.

And I suppose there is no better way to introduce this blog, than by addressing what has changed in those three long years.

Well, I am no longer counting down to college (or to graduation, for that matter). I am in college and would rather wish to stay in it (though once I start serious work on my thesis, perhaps that countdown will make a comeback). I still write, and my enthusiasm for great literature, along my distaste of Christopher Paolini and Dan Brown’s “work,” are still intact. I now add Stephanie Meyer to my blacklist, as I finally read the first installment of the Twilight series and could probably write a blog purely dedicated to all the reasons I find the thing to be a horrible addition to popular culture (from a mythological perspective, from a feminist perspective, etc). I read more Russian literature than in high school (where I was mostly introduced to great English writers), and my interests within literature have become more centered on the psychological than the fantastical. I still draw (not a Da Vinci, but I can do better than stick figures), and have moved from mechanical pencil and Crayola colored pencil to more sophisticated media (mainly charcoal and pastel). I still have a passion for animation, and as such I still mostly watch cartoons. I find that the amount of personality expressed in cartoons (every line drawn, every stroke of a digital paintbrush) far exceeds what I find in most live-action television, and I feel as though this stance will persist throughout the rest of my life.

I still am a rabid Roger Federer fan (Nadal fans may as well find another blog to read), and am hoping he can retire with a total of 20 championship trophies. I am also still a Blake fan, although it appears he will never have his chance in the spotlight. Ah, well, such is life.

I watched the World Cup in Germany in 2006 and rooted for Ghana and Switzerland, then France in the finals, and I developed a horrid distaste for the Italian team and their theatrical dives and their fake tears and their call-the-sister-of-another-player-a-whore tactics and their generally sneaky, untalented playing style. In 2010, South Africa, I rooted for the USA and France (the former made me proud, the latter moved me to comment about their performance, angrily, in French); I rooted for Ghana when the US was sent home, and in the end I rooted for the Netherlands in the finals. My distaste for Italy never faltered (to see them dismissed before the elimination rounds was akin to seeing karmic judgement in action). While many of my allegiances shifted over the years, one thing remained constant: the team I rooted for always failed in the end. Perhaps my football endorsements come with a curse.

Whereas in high school I would jokingly taunt my sister about how poorly the Washington Capitals were playing, when I came to college and faced hordes of hockey fans who dared to root for non-DC teams, I promptly brought my allegiances in check. I cheered as they became the best team of the season, trash-talked in French Canadian chatrooms during games, and lamented when the Caps’ journey to the championships of the Stanley Cup came to a disappointing end.

I no longer post the results of every quiz I take and I no longer fill out a chain survey every week. I restrict my activity with these for the sake of my friends’ sanity. I rant about politics, but vocally, rather than in a written form (the only exception being on our school’s message boards, and it is nice to note that I do not have a poor reputation because of it). I do not rant so much about the environment, if only because college does not grant me the time to launch into five-hour discussions about clean energy or vegetarianism. And, perhaps, I have grown a little more realistic about how willing people are to change their habits, even after being shown the consequences of their actions and given a plan of action to reduce the harmful effects of their lifestyles.

In terms of overall interests, I went from being interested in politics, genetics, and environmental science, to being interested in computer science and much more geeky things. I read my first real superhero comics in college, I started reading more science fiction, and I started watching anime and learning about internet memes and what lies in the depths of YouTube. But even after all this I still retain my artistic side, for which I am glad.

And it appears I have not lost my ability to ramble. I will end with a quote that I still take to heart, and which still guides my religious inquiry, and my philosophy as a human being:

“Do not be too eager to deal out death and judgement; even the very wise cannot see all ends.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Namarie. 🙂

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