Monday, March 30, 2009

GHC: The Largest Gathering of Women in Computing You'll Ever See

It's not all that often that you get to see a couple thousand women in computing all gathered together in one location, so you can understand how excited I was about getting myself to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing last year in Keystone, Colorado. Well, I did manage to attend, along with the other three executives at the time from Carleton's Women in Science and Engineering, mostly thanks to the mantra of 'ask, ask, and ask again'! (Check out my posts about last year's conference.)

This is an incredible experience for any woman in computer science or engineering. There are technical talks on a wide variety of topics, and other more general issues are discussed from work-life balance to new outreach initiatives. If you happen to be one of the many males in engineering, this conference might still interest you. Though the guys who attend have to contend with the paradigm shift of suddenly being in the minority, they can learn a lot about how many awesome things women in the field have accomplished, and how they can support us in our endeavours.

But it's not the only the official program that makes this conference so great. Travel with some of your classmates and colleagues, and you will see your friendships blossom. You will also be meeting some of the greatest names in the field (most female, but some male too!), giving you the networking opportunity of a lifetime. Really, no matter how you look at it, this is an event that can't be missed!

The official Grace Hopper website has now opened to scholarship applications! These cover your lodging, registration, and some travel expenses. But you should start working on yours now, since you will need to write essays and get recommendation letters.

Hope to see you in October at this year's conference in Tuscon, Arizona!

CRA-W Grad Cohort: A Short Summary

I flew back home from sunny San Francisco, California, last night. Naturally, it was rainy and cool here in Ottawa, making me miss the wonderful time I had at the CRA-W Grad Cohort already!

This was the first time I had ever travelled alone. Fortunately, there seemed to be many other women who had done the same, making it very easy to meet lots of new people and chat with them. It was really interesting hearing about their grad school experiences, particularly because things seem to be a bit different in the United States. For instance, as far as I can tell, here in Canada, we almost always view the Masters as a separate program from a PhD when starting on that degree. In contrast, it seemed to be very common for cohort delegates to be in a PhD program that lets you get your Masters on the way, almost as an afterthought.

The content of the conference was very well presented. I really appreciated spending a day and half talking about grad related issues, some women-specific, but most not necessarily so. I plan on blogging about many of these topics in the next few days since I think that many students would benefit from the advice given to us. I will also link to the slides once they are available on the Grad Cohort page on the CRA-W website.

In the evaluation survey at the end of the event, one of the questions asked what we felt the most beneficial aspect of the conference was. I wrote that the poster presentation was incredibly useful for me. I had never done one before, and was somewhat nervous about describing my as-yet incomplete research to the women who were in the same field (not all would be, but certainly some would). As it turned out, it was these women who gave me the biggest confidence boost of all! They thought my topic was really interesting, and were even impressed that I was a Masters student rather than PhD. Thanks so much ladies!

Although I loved San Francisco, and it's barely even spring here, I am glad to be home so I can try to finish off my research once and for all. Thanks CRA-W, Microsoft, Google, and the other sponsors (I'm so sorry - I forget who you are!) for an amazing experience that I definitely think will help me through the end of this Masters degree, and into the PhD I hope to start in September.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day: Technical Women I Admire

A couple of months ago, I signed an interesting pledge: "I will publish a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people will do the same." Boy, time sure flies, and it's now time to write that post!

The women (yes, plural) I would like to write about are my fellow executives for Carleton University's Women in Science and Engineering. They have been inspiring me since ever CU-WISE really got going a year and a half ago.

Serena, Natalia, and Barbora put the wheels in motion a couple of Septembers ago, and then asked me to join in, due to my experience with the computer science undergrad society. Later, Lindsay joined our team when four executives just weren't enough to keep up with the awesome program we were creating! Since then, we've hosted a variety of successful events, gained over 150 members on our mailing list, and participated in multitudes of outreach for young women and girls of all ages.

What I admire the most about these ladies is their dedication to the cause. None of them are in it for themselves - they all simply want to make the university science and engineering experience the best it can be for each and every woman who enrols for these programs at Carleton. We all work together beautifully, and more than that, we seem to have become incredible friends, offering each other support in all our endeavours, school or otherwise.

If you read their bios (linked to the names above), you can see how amazing these women really are. Serena is always kind but honest, has a beautiful artistic touch, and has managed to succeed in a difficult undergrad program while remaining dedicated to CU-WISE. Barbora is never afraid to give and (perhaps more importantly) ask for constructive criticism, and will never let you down. Natalia has brought a huge wealth of experience from her hometown in Mexico, from helping start a new polytechnic university to participating in scouting for almost 20 years. Lindsay jumped right on board despite having just started at Carleton only months after finishing her undergrad at Queen's, and has done an amazing job of organizing many great CU-WISE events. I could gush about these women for many more paragraphs.

I know that each of you can find an inspiring woman close to you, whether she is in technology or not. All you have to do is look.


If you want to share your stories, it's not too late to participate in the pledge! If you write your own blog post, add it to the database here. Or, if you don't have your own blog, add your thoughts to these comments, set up just for this purpose. Check out the mash-up of all the posts made so far here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rediscover Reality Today

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I just found a wonderful blog called Augmented Times. They featured a video of Ori Inbar of Games Alfresco, who uploaded a talk he gave at the Winter Augmented Reality Event in Austria this February. I've always been interested in augmented reality, and want to work more directly with it in my research, but this video may have decided the direction of my PhD. I must do AR!

The point was largely about how to make augmented reality matter to today's youngest generation - the Digital Natives, if you will - to ensure it doesn't fizzle out the way virtual reality did before it. A major theme centred around the fact that modern kids are glued to screens (even though these screens sometimes allow for physical activity, as with the Wii, or are mobile, as with iPhones and Nintendo DS's - they are still staring at a screen). They don't seem to find that whole reality thing very interesting, so we can try to use AR to enhance their interactions with the real world. This makes everyone happy, from parents to national health organizations. It also makes the developers and content providers lots of money.

Pending any transcription errors on my part, the summary of the talk is thus:
To rediscover reality today:
  • Support our mission to nurture a healthy industry through collaboration,
  • focus on the user to drive adoption (soon, pronto, ASAP),
  • and we'll fulfil the vision that in 10 years everyone uses AR to interact with the world in a more meaningful way.

I guess what makes me so excited isn't so much the actual content of this talk (I still think there's a very valuable place for outdoor play without a screen, even if the screen can enhance playtime once in a while). It's more that it confirmed my belief that AR can become the next big thing today, and that it has so much potential for games, education, and a mix of the two.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Uses of My Thesis

I found a nice augmented reality blog the other day while looking into Microsoft's Core Tools for Augmented Reality (which I worried might make my thesis redundant, but so far that doesn't seem to the case). A post from a few days ago includes a video about augmented tourism, demonstrating one of the uses my thesis research could have.

In my case, I am trying to use existing spherical panoramas like those seen in Google's Street View to figure out how to augment a photograph (or, eventually, maybe even video) taken with a mobile device. By matching the photo and panorama and finding the geometry between the two, it it easy to take a model from the panorama and project it into the photo. I recently did a talk describing this, so you can have a look at the slides here (much of the information is in the notes rather than the actual slides).

Once you can accurately add arbitrary models to your photographs, you have a whole new world of possibilities. I love this concept of looking at historical buildings, allowing you to see what a place used to look like in the good old days. I think there are some other cool possibilities, including games. A scavenger hunt could allow players to tag certain structures (like buildings, signs, etc) as their own, and players encountering those later on would see the first player's marker. Kind of like this tagging application, except mine would actually work ;).

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What Difference Will You Make?

I wrote this quick blog post for the CU-WISE blog, and thought it was worth sharing here. I feel that, as women in science and engineering, a minority, we have a very special role to play. We can make such a difference!

My aunt sent me another one of those forwarded emails that we so often ignore. But, since her emails seem to be carefully selected, I read it anyway. It was about a grocery store bagger named Johnny, and how he made a difference to everyone who came to his checkout line.

Now, this doesn't have anything to do with women or science and engineering. But it does inspire me to ask myself and all of you: how will we make a difference in the lives of women at Carleton, and girls who might consider studying here with us one day? From attending CU-WISE events to participating in outreach opportunities, there are so many ways we can touch the lives of those around us.

Here's the video.

Friday, March 6, 2009

CRA-W Grad Cohort

I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but one of the greatest bonuses of grad school is the opportunity for travel. In this academic year (2008-2009), I've already been to Montreal for CCCG, Keystone, Colorado for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and London, Ontario for the National Conference on Women in Engineering (this time as a speaker). Now, my friends, I have my plane ticket booked for San Mateo, California, where I will be attending the CRAW-W Grad Cohort, March 28-29.

I learned about this opportunity through Systers. As mentioned on the CRA-W website, the program "aims to increase the ranks of senior women in computing by building and mentoring nationwide communities of women through their graduate studies." And lucky me, all expenses are paid, thanks to Google and Microsoft!

As a second year grad student, some of the workshops I will be attending include:
  • Presentation skills
  • Networking and professional development
  • M.S. career opportunities
  • Job search and resume writing skills
  • Building self confidence
  • Publishing your research
This is in addition to a few great keynote talks, like balancing life and work, and a Google-Microsoft dinner reception.

I will also be participating in the poster session, the second 'first' for me (the first 'first' is travelling alone - my poor eyesight makes me nervous!).

I will be arriving at the San Francisco airport on Thursday and leaving on Sunday, leaving me a bit of time to explore the area. On Thursday, I hope to hit the nearby Harley shop for my dad, and see what else is in the near area. On Saturday afternoon, after the conference is done, I would like to take some extra time to see San Francisco. Must-see's are the Golden Gate Bridge and 21st Amendment. (That second one is a brew pub that I'm really visiting for my husband, who is insanely jealous that he can't go there himself.) Hopefully I'll make some new friends during the conference who will want to go with me! :)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Carleton School of Computer Science in Canada's Top Five

Imagine my excitement when I stumbled across this article on ScienceWatch: Canadian Universities: Highest Impact in Computer Science, 2003-07. Way to go, Carleton School of Computer Science! (That's where I study, for anyone who doesn't know.)
Ranked by average citations per paper, among Canadian universities that published at least 50 papers in Thomson Reuters-indexed journals of computer science & engineering between 2003 and 2007.

Rank Institution Papers
per paper
1 University of British Columbia 137 2.89
2 University of Toronto 158 2.82
3 University of Western Ontario 87 2.17
4 McGill University 86 2.13
5 Carleton University 116 1.72