New Post, New Place

11 Nov

I explained in the previous post that I am not able to continue writing posts in two languages. Also, I feel like I have outgrown this blog in many ways.

I have just moved to a new location, and will be closing this one quite soon. The new place is called Na miękko, and I am going to write only in Polish.

I am sorry if I have disappointed anyone. Thank you for bearing with me for so long!

Approaching Changes + How I Got Here (Illustrated)

27 Apr

You might have noticed I have been writing less. The reason for that is quite absurd. I have been writing less, because I have been writing more. That’s right!

Remember how serious I got about but 10000 birthday? I made a promise to myself then to finally start doing things I had always thought I would do at some time in the future. Well, the clock is ticking. Writing is one of those things – writing fiction, that is. So I have enrolled in a creative writing course (as cliché as it sounds, I need it, also for regularity). I am practising, and trying to somehow fit it into my normal life.

It is not my goal to give up on this blog, but for my big plan to succeed, I need some changes.

Firstly, I will no longer maintain a multi-lingual blog. I know that at least one person is using my texts to improve her English – please accept my sincere apologies. I decided to write in English to make this available to everyone interested, not necessarily from Poland, but I also wanted it to be noticed here, where I live, so I translated. However, the effort proved to be tremendous. I am often able to prepare a post in one day, but rarely do I manage to translate it in one seating. Moreover, I have simply burnt out as a translator. I think I have pulled some people down with me on my way out, but this is a story to tell another time. I think I am going to stick to English in the future, especially when the “fiction” part will obviously be done in my mother toungue.

Secondly, I am less and less comfortable with the “woman in IT” main theme. I have met a number of such women over the last few years, some of them real role models and inspirations. I am not as special as I originally thought! On the other hand, I think a lot of things I write here are interesting in general, and not only because of my gender. A comment from a few days ago made me even more convinced I need a change here… We have a foosball table at work. I still hold the second place in the company singles league, but this is about to change soon. I do not train, I am not learning new things, I got rid of the lunch break (practice time) – while some of my colleagues treat this tournament very seriously. After yet another defeat I explained to all the spectators that this historically sent me to the second (lower) league. One of them decided to console me with this: “Do not worry, you are still the only woman in the league”.

As a treat, before I start introducing any changes (and before I write the true-IT post I have had planned for so long) I want to share something I have just found on my hard drive. Last year I was invited to deliver an inspirational talk at my university to a group of high school girls considering a career in IT. Here are the slides, with comments.

Sure I could translate them, but I think they are more fun this way.

Slajd1 This is my first slide. The title is “What can a woman do in the world of IT”, and the footnote says “everything”. Pretty smug, huh? :) Of course I used a ready-made presentation template. My graphics skill is so bad I have recently been reprimanded by a peer-reviewer in an online Python course for my choice of colors in a counter implementation.

Slajd2Work and studies. I had to introduce myself and my education/career history. All in all, it was at a university (top left in the slide).

Slajd3This is where the fun begins. My first computer (a First Communion gift from my parents). „Bajtek” was an early computer science magazine which made me and my friend want to learn the basics of Basic :)

Slajd4Here I told the story of computer science classes in the schools I went to. In primary school we “programmed” the AC Logo turtle. Surely we ridiculed it in any way possible and played Doom when the teacher was not looking. Then came secondary school and, to my surprise, AC Logo was a level we never even approached. Instead, we learned how to use text editors in a prehistoric Mac OS edition. A friend and I always did the tasks first. To keep us quiet, the teacher awarded us extra points for good Tetris scores. Want to challenge my Tetris?


Throughout primary school I was convinced I would take Polish studies at university. Then in secondary school I met a Polish teacher who hated my writing style, as well as all my favourite writers. One day the school made us go to a job advising agency. When I hesitantly whispered “IT, maybe?” I suddenly seemd like the most convinced person in my entire class. I decided I would get a real job, and read (or write!) books in my free time. 15 years later the blatant error of this assumption is still staring me in the face. The slide above shows that you can combine the two passions (this is a pile of IT books I translated, taken from an earlier post here). Yeah, it is a little far-fetched… But I did make some money working with words.

Slajd6 Well, here are some pros of working in IT, a bait for the girls. I mention that this job is a constant brain-teaser, pays well and can be done around the globe, almost in any place of your choosing. I also name the types of IT jobs, from programmer to technical writer. When I look at it now – well, all of that is actually true.

Slajd7Some cons. How IT deforms your body, and a “completed product” does not exist.

Slajd8This says “Whatever happened to the women in IT?”. The photograph shows the ladies who programmed ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer), one of the worlds first computers. You can read more on this subject here: ENIAC Programmers Project.Slajd9

This slide is about the need to react when people repeat harmful stereotypes and undermine women’s abilities in science and technical jobs (or anywhere else, for that matter). My blog has served me well as a vent! But real problems need to be solved in real life, so confrontation is inevitable for things to change. Be prepared.

Slajd10An optimistic touch at the end. It is getting easier and less lonely to be a girl in this world. Some links and communities (mostly local) to check.

Will Give Away for Free!

23 Feb

This is just a rant – you have been warned! It was written in Polish first and I was not even sure if it deserves a translation… But here it comes.

Every once in a while I find something at home which I no longer need, but which could be of value to somebody else. Some of those things I try to sell on Allegro (which is more popular than eBay in my part of Europe), especially if they have objective monetary value. The annoying part of Allegro is that you have to assess the postage upfront, and it is usually impossible for me before I wrap the stuff up and carry it to the post office. So if I want to give something away quickly and for free or almost for free, I use which is more like an online bulletin board. In the message I explain that the only shipment option is to collect the stuff in person, from my home.

And each time the same thing happens.

This is my last announcement in which I am trying to get rid of some things that my dog has grown out of:


“Za darmo” means “for free”, and “Nie wysyłam” is “I will not send”.

And here is a quick look at my inbox:


Try to decode it yourself, knowing that “wysyłka” means “shipment”.

So I prepared an answer template, and sent it to everybody who asked me that kind of question:


Dear Sir or Madam,

To be sure, in my offer I explicitly noted that this item has to be collected in person.  

Also, an hour of my work costs PLN X.

But, your unique message has profoundly touched my heart, so I have decided to make an exception. This very moment, I am standing up from my Sunday dinner to go to the post office. Is a priority package enough, or do you prefer a registered delivery?

I am adding diamond earrings, on the house. I hope you will like them!

I appreciate your business!



I only received one reply so far. The word “chamska” (“loutish”) was used.






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Turning 10000*

2 Feb

I turned 32 a few days ago. I am not really bothered by this magic number. It is the birthday wishes I received that got me thinking.

A few (younger) people I know, independently of each other, approached me to say something along these lines: “Happy birthday, have a great year, and don’t worry, you don’t look a day over 26″. While I am a hundred percent sure those wishes were kind-spirited and I am not looking for any hidden meanings and shady agendas (quite unusual of me, I know), I would still like to make the following declaration:

32People, under no circumstances am I embarrassed to be getting older!

Sure, fair skin and the idea that everything great is ahead of us are cool, but other than that…

  1. I cannot be embarrassed or ashamed by something which is beyond my control and not the result of my actions.
  2. I happen to like myself so much more now than I did 10, or even 5 years ago. I feel like I have finally separated who I am from who I thought I was, who I was taught I was (by family, school, etc.). It would have been nice to discover this sooner, but at least I am here now, and I would not give this knowledge back even if the offer in exchange was my weight from five years ago.
  3. I am independent financially and this is always something, no matter how cool your family is about it or how much fun your roomies are.
  4. The good – or easy – thing about being adolescent, already mentioned a few lines up, is the possibility to envision huge plans for the future, to imagine all those things that can happen to us if we are lucky or try hard enough… And not necessarily now, somewhere in the future. This notion always makes me think about Rob from High Fidelity, a guy unable to commit to just about anything, as something bigger might be waiting around the corner. What I have understood recently is this:

The future is now. If I want to be something, I need to do my best to become it. Now.

So, let’s do it! And wish me luck.

PS. I searched YouTube for the Sex and the City scene where Charlotte celebrates her second 35th birthday to post it here, but sadly I did not find it.

*For those of you who are not complete nerds, 10000 is 32 in the binary numeral system.

On (Job) Changing

15 Dec

A few days ago, a former colleague asked me if I had moved my blog to a new location, as I have not posted anything since the day I changed jobs.

Who moved my cheese?

Who moved my cheese?

My grandmother keeps asking if the blood-thirsty corporation has chewed me up and spitted me out already.

No and no.

I have not written too much over the last few months, but it had more to do with my private life (see the most recent short post) than anything else. I am back now!

And I want to start by sharing some reflections on why getting a new job turned out to have been such a great decision for me.

1. People who saw you grow up have to make a conscious effort to treat you seriously

Most of us have been there, right? A rarely seen aunt that never managed to finish high school feels the need publicly to comment on your ‘extravagant’ religious choices. The grandma, who has been expecting Germans to come back anyday now for the last 60 years, packs her mouth with fat-dripping ribs which sure as hell will make her see the doctor the following day, and expresses her concern about how miserably thin you are (nevermind the 10 kgs you have gained sitting in front of the computer since you last saw her). The uncles move on to discuss the current job market and the horrific attitude of modern day youth – and exchange amused looks when you try to take part in that conversation.

In my experience, the same thing happens at work, though usually not in such a blatant manner.

I started my previous job right after gradutating from PhD studies. No matter how many side projects I had been involved in and how much I liked coding – at the beginning, I was clearly behind most members of my team when it came to the newest frameworks and everyday programming practice. I spent more than two years in that place and, between writing papers and going to conferences, I really got down to business, but I still felt patronized during design discussions. It might be true, though, that ‘felt’ is the operative word here.

New job, clean slate. They see what I am able to do now and it is refreshing.

2. It is usually easier to get hired than to be promoted

I remember reading an interview with a Polish woman how had a great career as a City of London lawyer. When asked how she managed to reach such a high position at such a young age, she said the only way to effectively move up the ladder is to change employers often, because you will never be promoted as quickly within one company. Loyalty plays against you, she explained.

While a job history of 6 months here and 6 months there may not look very attractive to certain employers – there is a grain of truth to her story. I am way happier with my new job title!

3. I understood how much I know

Very recently, somebody has mentioned to me the Impostor Syndrome. Reportedly, it happens to high achievers, and to high-achieving women in particular. So you get promoted, people ask your opinion, you sit in board meetings, but all the time, down in your gut, you have the feeling that all those people know so much more than you, and that at some point you will finally be exposed as the hopeless fraud you really are. I know the feeling, too.

For some reason, I needed a change of environment to see my skills clearly, and understand other people to fact checking too.

4. I learned a ton of new things

I have been hired to a higher position, and as I result my employer expects me to be very self-reliant and independent. Suddenly, I am supposed to know more than most people. One of my success stories is that of Continuous Integration.

At my previous workplace, the (quite mature, I would say) team applied CI with Jenkins and some Attlassian tools. It was there, I knew without a shadow of doubt how important it was, but I was afraid to touch it with a stick and was very happy that somebody else was responsible for it. Then came the new team in the new job…Where people were even more afraid than me. So I did that. And I learned so much! These days I am joyfully setting up crazy scripting multiple platforms multiple VCS build plans. I have even obtained Stack Overflow reputation in this field :)

Work is fun as long as you are learning new things.

5. Open space made me step outside my safe habitat

I am not sure if this is a good thing. Eye opening, for sure… But that’s good, right?

Previously, I worked ‘in culture’ (digital libraries and museums) with a team of experienced developers, some with PhD’s , who also traveled a lot. We spent our days in a 6-desk room with a view and only left it for meetings or to get coffee in the miniscule kitchen. There where hardly any racist/homophobic/sexist remarks, and if something happened, I made a big fuss about it. Then I moved to a new job: open space, dozens of people with different backgrounds, mostly younger than me, too.

Of course, if what I hear is harmful, I react. But being exposed to opinions like this has reminded me how different people are. We all tend to surround ourselves with those similar to us, who think like us. It is quite easy to forget that our opinion, and our friends’ opinion, is not necessarily what the majority thinks. Being exposed to different mindsets is not always pleasant, and sometimes quite tiring, but I also think it is healthy.


Some people say that one should not stay with one job longer than 5 years. I guess with this post I am backing this claim up. I went from one good job to another, and in the process I gained things which – to me – seem irrespective of the particular employers. They arose from the change itself.

‘Who Moved My Cheese?’, remember?

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It’s Oh So Quiet

1 Sep

I have not given up on writing this blog. In fact, I have tons of ideas! What I do not have, though, is time.

Just to let you know what is going on with me these days:

  • Together with my husband, we bought a house. We are having it renovated… Never had I expected the proportions of this endeavour.
  • I am translating a book about C++ and Qt (I also underestimated the cost of the renovation thing). It is huge. And I am talking to contractors instead of doing any actual translating.
  • It has been six months (!) at my new job! Satisfying, though still with some minority (or should I say majority) struggles.
  • I have a dog! It is a Newfie, 3 months old. Her name is Gałgan. She is starting puppy kindergarten next week. I did not want to keep her in the appartment, so I have moved to the new house already. Renovation. No kitchen. No hot water.
My dog Gałgan (the small one) and my dad's dog Grendel. Don't get fooled as to who stalked who :)

My dog Gałgan (the small one) and my dad’s dog Grendel. Don’t get fooled as to who stalked who :)

So… I am tired. I shower at the gym. I had to postpone my JUG presentation even further.
But I honestly believe this is all for the good.

By the way, one of the things that keep me enthusiastic is Spotify. So much good music! Well organized. Nice recommendations. Facebook friends. Offline mobile mode. My phone talks to my car so this is cool. My biggest Spotify discovery so far is Elliott Smith. I cannot stop listening to his music! I almost cried when I realized he killed himself (or his girlfriend killed him, as my local friends seem to know better than the judge).

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Open’er: the Eternal Searching

13 Jul

Heineken Open’er is the same story all over again.

A few weeks in advance I start to impatiently watch the growing lineup and plan what to see. A little closer to the date it turns out that out of my top 5 concerts, two are played at the same time on different stages, and the other three happen one after another – but on stages that are a kilometer from one another.

I also try to plan the meetings. People I will go to the festival with, people I will see there. There is always somebody who wanted to stay in our cabin/tent/dormitory/camper but could not fit, and we have to have drinks together to make up for it. There is a friend from another town (or abroad) that I have not seen in months, and a guy from work who I would like to talk to outside of the office. As a result, instead of joining the mosh pit or spreading a blanket on the grass in a nice spot overlooking the stage and the bg screens, I run around the airport (!) trying to coordinate a group of lost, delayed and slightly drunk individuals. Remember that the cell network is overloaded, and phone batteries dead.

This is how I know that summer has arrived.

Let's meet at the green brick thing, surely nobody will have the same idea

Let’s meet at the green brick thing, surely nobody will have the same idea


Why do I keep coming back?

  • Because the person(s?) who decides which artists to invite has a taste in music unbelievably close to mine. Open’er gave me the chance to hear and see live a number of bands I had thought were only in the dreamworld: Sonic Youth, White Stripes, this year those were Blur and Queens of the Stone Age (I am still waiting for Beck to drop by). Each time I discover something new, too, like Crystal Fighters in this year’s edition.
  • Because it is one of the best organized festivals in Europe, with buses coming every few minutes, more portable toilets that could possibly be used, hot water at the camping site showers, and staff members picking up plastic cups from the ground during the last concert to make for a fresh start the following day.
  • Because they have started inviting theatres and artists too!

Well, it does irritate me a bit that one third of the girls wear exactly the same set of shorts, glasses and wellies, and half of those who stay in a tent pack a hair straightener… But it does not harm me in any way.

Below you will find a few loosely related remarks from this year’s edition of the Open’er festival.

Caravan Camping

I did my math: this was my 8th Open’er. We have tested many accomodation options over the years: domitories in Gdańsk (too far and slightly disgusting), a one-room flat in Gdańsk (20 people on 30 metres, funny, but too far), a flat in Gdynia (EXPENSIVE), the campint site (crowded, hot, and somebody stepped on my head), a basement in Mosty (best than all the above, but still a tad too far) with an emergency tent at the festival. Finally this year we used our heads and rented a caravan which proved to be just what we needed.

There is a separate campers’ and caravans’ campint site at the festival. You pay PLN 400 for a caravan (up to 8 people are allowed to stay there). The price includes”

  • 40m2; we managed to fit there: the caravan (7os.), the car, a 3x3m sun shade (150 zł)
  • a separate set of portable toilets and showers that were cleand every day, and the worst queue took 10 minutes, not 2 hours
  • hot water at the free showers (well, maybe not around 11)
  • security guys doing rounds all the time (important since you can open most caravan doors with a butter knife), but not paying any attention to the drinks we brought from the market)
  • a festival bus stop behind a fence and a pedestrian crossing coordinator with a very loud megaphone (we had earplugs, we are pro)

Not included in the price, but available: electricity (PLN 140).

I am actually reluctant to share this, in case next time a friend takes the last camper spot from me.

Toi-Toi Optimization

Another insider tip that I am not so eager to share has to do with the portable toilets zones.

There have always been plenty of them at Open’er, and last year their distribution changed so much that I think some serious movement analysis was at play here. Still, every now and then you do habe to wait, and the watered down festival beer is not our ally in this cause. So, here comes my hint, and it is illustrated!

Usually what festival goers do is to line up in front of particular toilets. Sometimes a good organizer tries to start a more sustainable common queue, but there is always somebody jumping from the side. So there is one queue per Toi Toi, usually set back a distance of one such toilet.So have a look at this spacial setup, and pay special attention to the internal corners:

Toi Toi waiting time optimization insider trick ;)

Toi Toi waiting time optimization insider trick ;) You are welcome.

Yes! The person waiting in the corner can normally choose from 4 (four) different toilets! You can drink my health at the next festival to thank me.

Rihanna WTF

Quite a short time before the festival (so short that a friend had bought a return ticket to England before learning about this) it was announced that Rihanna will play a gig the day after the festival, at Open’er main stage. I would never buy a ticket to see her live, but then it turned out that people with a four-day festival pass were allowed to see the concert free of charge, and the camping site operation was prolonged too. We were enthusiastic for a moment, but later (and especially after 5 minutes of the actual concert) we started thinking. So here are some points:

  • Why did Rihanna play at the same stage, but not as part of the Open’er lineup? Could it be because the organizer (ALTERart) was fully aware how lame it would be to have her at Open’er, but neither were they willing to give up a profit like this?
  • The festival does spoil you with the punctuality of the concerts. There are many bands, the breaks are short, so there is no time for normal Rock’n’Roll delay (though I do remember delayed planes and concerts played late into the night). Rihanna, obviously, made everyone wait a full hour.
  • She used playback. Half playback, I guess, or 3/4 to be exact… I do not get it. If an alternative, niche band can bring about 3 backup singers, if Blur takes with them additional brass band, if the White Stripes can rock out with just 2 band members – why does one of the richest pop start have to play songs from a record?

I managed 15 minutes of that and ran away to the trailer. This kind of sucks as the last memory from this year’s festival, doesn’t it?

It is not the only one, though:

Beer watered down with rain

Beer watered down with rain

Male Feminists and the Abuse of Statistics

30 May

A week ago I went to a software conference which featured a discussion panel about minorities in the world of IT. All the people I talked to during the panel were successful, inspiring and good-willed professionals, but there was that one clash of opinions I keep thinking about.

There was a guy. An experienced team leader and a blogger advocating for more women in IT. A person I think I would be very happy to work with. While most of the panelists did their best to talk not only about women, but all minorities and diversity (see this beautiful post by Jessitron about how it is not only the excluded who lose), this guy kept saying that it was only true about women, not minorities in general. He cited research by Anita Woolley. I have spent some time searching, I think he meant Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups, from which we learn that:

The collective intelligence factor is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group.

At this point I do not care about and do not want to argue over definitions of “collective intelligence”. I do agree that empathy and social skills are important on a team. Are women more empathetic than men? Some research on this subject is summarized here: Are women more empathic than men? (tl;dr: apparently they start off as equals in this respect, but adult women come off as more empathetic on average).

So far so good, nothing too controversial. The day after, however, I went to a full talk by the same guy. Among many very good hints for teams and employers, he kept repeating this: “Men are good at technology, but this is not all that is needed. So I hire women even if their technical knowledge is worse, because empathy is needed on the team just as much”. Throughout the talk he produced at least 5 sentences in which he associated women with empathy, and men with technical knowledge. And this was where I thought things got harmful.

In case it is not immediately clear, let me explain. Sure, more boys are interested in computers than girls. Sure, on average girls have better interpersonal skills than boys… So what, exactly? Are you really willing to hire people based solely on this trivia? More girls can draw pretty pictures than boys. Yet somehow both me and my sister (who studies English) suck at drawing, painting and just any kind of hand crafts. I actually cried in arts classes in primary school. One of the very few things I can draw is a tank, so here is one for you to admire:


A tank by Justyna, inspired by a tank by Alina

Of course I voiced my concerns (this is what I have been doing recently, I might share in another blog post all the good my formal complaints have brought me so far) to oppose these simple equations (girls = empathy; guys = technical knowledge). I should have expected the answer I got: “statistics is on my side”.

Yes… Here it comes.

1. Statistics is a scientific discipline.

When you say “there are more X than Y” you are not applying statistics.

I could also argue about the difference between statistics and probability theory (which applies in this case), but this would just be picking up on words.

2. What it true in the street is no longer true in a job interview.

OK, so more guys are programmers. If you had to choose a person in a street to create that database system for you, and you were not allowed to talk to the person first, your best guess would probably (!) be a guy. But in a job interview situation the probabilities change completely. Those are not random people in the street, those are people who read the job posting and decided they fit the profile (by the way, is empathy mentioned in the job description?). They are the selected group that match the profile. You have them in your office. Talk to them instead of guessing based on features like gender or skin colour! If you want to check empathy, show them photos of koala cubs whose mother has been killed by dingoes, and see what happens… Or something else along those lines.

3. There are few mediocre female programmers.

This is only partly relevant and less documented that the things I wrote about (my gut mostly), but I want to say it. There are programmers who suck, but there are not so many female programmers who suck completely. This is because with the amount of discouragement a girl gets when she tries to pursue something technical, when she is hopeless at this, she learns it quickly and quits. I knew a few (few) girls at university who cheated they way through. They either dropped out, do something else now, or got the MRS degree. Men who suck at it are much harder to break ;)

The last one is not entirely serious. It is a joke. Almost.

I am not entirely sure what the finish this post with, everything seems tacky. Maybe like this:

Try to see the person behind the stereotype, especially when they have made the effort and found their way to your job interview. There are empathetic, eloquent men, and there are sociopathic female hackers. Are you willing to overlook any one of them?

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Buy Your Kid Yourself a Lego Mindstorms Robot

20 Apr

I first saw a Lego bricks set when I was a little kid. I do not remember if it was in a Pewex shop before 1989 or in one of the first privately owned shops of the nascent capitalism – probably the latter, as my family did not really have the kind of money necessary to buy stuff in a Pewex. I remember being amazed by those colourful bricks, the thoughtful designs, and the possibilities that opened in front of you if you used some imagination. I collected Lego sets, saving money to buy them and always asking to get those castles and pirate ships for my birthday (for some reason I hated the Paradiso system targeted at girls). I was never good at planning investments, so I did not keep the boxes or instruction books which would probably be worth a fortune today. I ended up with two huge baskets of unassorted Lego goodness in all shapes and colours. For two years now we have had a little Lego fondness revival with my husband, so here is what our attic currently looks like:

The attic

The attic

If you are about my age, you probably know Lego. If you are technically inclined, you may also know Lego Technic, the more advanced kits with movable parts, like this monster my husband built and now chases me around the house with:


Dawid’s monster truck

Technic is not the top of the Lego evolutionary ladder, though. As early as 1998, a completely new idea, originating from MIT, was introduced: Lego Mindstorms. The set consisted of a programmable brick and a set of sensors and motors. I am not going to discuss the historical first version of Mindstorms (called RCX) here, also because, honestly speaking, I only saw it once in my life. The current edition is called NXT 2.0, and rumour has it that a new EV3 kit will be available Fall 2013.

A Lego Mindstorms robot may look like this:

A domesticated Mindstorms robot

A domesticated Mindstorms robot

Here is what you get when you buy a Mindstorms kit:

  • The programmable brick: in the photo, this is the white thing with a screen.
  • Four sensors:
    1. Ultrasound: you the “eyes” of the robot in the photo? That is the ultrasound sensor, capable of detecting objects in front of the robot and the distance to them (in centimetres or inches).
    2. Sound: this sensor is a microphone which tells you how loud the environment is (in decibels or per cents). In the photo it is the one on the left side of the screen.
    3. Touch: the robot in the photo has it attached at the back. Hidden from our view is an orange button on the sensor. The sensor has two states: pushed or not.
    4. Light/Colour: hidden in the photo, I think it is under the robot to check the floor. Depending on the version, it is either a light sensor (telling you, in per cents, how light or dark the environment is) or a colour sensor. Even with the light sensor you can tell the difference between, say, red and blue, but this may require some calibration.
  • Three motors: in the photo, the robot has two independently moving wheels (using up 2 out of 3 motors), and a claw which opens and closes with the movements of a third motor (ratchets are used to make the two sides of the claw move symmetrically).
  • A number of traditional Lego and Lego Technic elements, different for different editions.

So, what can you do with a Mindstorms set? Well, you can build a robot: anything you imagine, or a design from a page like this, or a regular Technics design, to which you add your sensors and motors (and, yes, the huge brick which changes the balance slightly).

And then… You can program it.

There are three ways to do the programming. The most basic is performed on the brick itself. You can pick from options like “go forward”, “turn left”, “wait for the touch sensor to be pushed”, “repeat” etc. to create very simple programs – even a very young child can do it. This works provided you used the default ports for the sensors and motors (so that “go forward” means turning the left and right wheel and not turning one wheel and moving the claw).

Programmable brick menu

Programmable brick menu

A step further is the graphical interface programming. This is fun and simple, but opens possibilites far greater than you would imagine (well, maybe it is just me: I was surprised to first see what people can achieve with it). Programming in this environment (pictured below) means dragging and dropping elements on the board and connecting them in the desired order. There are sensor reads and motor actions, but also logical elements like loops and conditionals. The “code” below is a simple line follower program. You can see an external loop and an internal “if” statement conditioned on the colour sensor read.

Mindstorms graphical interface programming

Mindstorms graphical interface programming

Finally, you can program the robot “normally”, with code. Some languages (like NXC: Not eXactly C) can be run on the default firmware, some, like Java-based leJOS NXJ, require you to change it.

OK, it probably sounds like fun, but why do I think it is worth mentioning? Apart from the fact that I have just spent a weekend teaching NXT basics to children (see the short report from GeeCON 4 Kids) – Lego Mindstorm are a great educational tool, and not only for kids.

The first think is quite obvious, but I am going to say it anyway. What was considered advanced computer literacy 10 years ago, today is the very basics. I am not saying everyone will or should be a hacker in the future, but is very likely that some programming skills will be required for a number of jobs. If you are not a programmer, you might have noticed yourself that your friends who can program are able to do some tedious tasks 10 times faster than you by writing short scripts. But even more importantly: on the most basic level, programming equals logical thinking. Programming means having to plan your actions and predict their possible outcomes. Programming means dedicating time and patience to look for the correct solution. Sound like a skill set you would like to see in your child, doesn’t it?

Here is a video from the GeeCON 4 Kids event. These guys decided to build a line-follower robot which at the end kicks the ball. Not the masters of spacial design, but they almost succeeded… Enjoy :)


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Bittersweet: Standing Up for Myself

16 Mar

It has been a month and a half since I changed jobs. Time flies, the decision seems good. I am learning a lot. I have visited Warsaw twice, I have tried Korean cuisine and gone to my first Korean class. I have enrolled for the Poznań office foosball tournament singles AND doubles, and found a good tournament partner too. I have enrolled for a new Coursera class. I have already gone on a sick leave, together with my husband, and I have spent long hours watching him play Final Fantasy 13 (something I had promised long time ago, when he was struggling with his master’s thesis). Next weekend I am going to Kraków to help with the GeeCON 4 Kids event (train connections are a distater though, I will have to go by car). You understand why it has been so long since the last post, right?

The office environment is wonderful. Huge kitchen, good coffee machine and tea selection, decent canteen, nice people, and have I mentioned foosball? But there always must be something, so here it comes.

I am the only female programmer at the Poznań office at this point (but there are a lot of female linguists, so I do not feel completely singled out). In the previous post I mentioned that one guy who had a lot to say about women and IP addresses. Well, the following days proved that he has to say a lot to say about women in general, and feels this weird Tourette’s-like urge to constantly express those beliefs aloud. In the days to come I learned, among other things, that women have difficulties telling a screw nut from a screw and that they cannot read maps.

I managed to suppress the anger, telling myself that that was just one young, immature guy who does not think before he speaks. I knew it was time to react when I heard yet another guy explaining to anybody willing to listen that I the woman, and not a male collegue, should have been sent to an international electronics fair to represent the company at its impressive fair booth. I realized at that point that the boundaries lay exactly where I set them, and not a step further. I did not even had time to think it all through when a team meeting was called. And in the middle of the meeting… The “IP” guy decided to start yet another one of his sentences with “as a typical woman would, she…”.

So I spoke up. I said what he kept saying was both offensive and harmful. I said that it is false to assume all men are the same, or all women are the same, or all programmers are the same. I literally said “people are different”.

Of course, the room went quiet. Of course, the guy said he meant no offence (I said I was aware of that, but he still said those things).

Then it all stopped, and for some time I was happy about it and quite pleased with myself. Only yesterday did I realize that it was not his sexist comments that had stopped – he simply stopped speaking to me, at all! I meet the guy every other day. He does not look at me, he does not speak to me, even if he plays foosball at the other side of the table, or when I say “hi” when we pass each other in the corridor.

Cool, huh?

Still worth the effort, right?

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