Category Archives: Education

Saudi girl gamers create their own convention

gconIn a country where women are banned from driving or even going out on their own, it’s no wonder that Saudi Arabia has a thriving girl gamer community. Where there are geeks and gamers, there will be conventions, but females were also stopped from attending regular gaming cons, so they formed their own, according to a NPR report.

GCON is in its fourth year, and 3,000 Saudi girl gamers attended the con, held in a Riyadh hotel convention center. Tasneem Salim and Felwa al-Swailem are GCON’s organizers, and they managed to not only expand the convention into a second city but also garner the sponsorship of Playstation and the Chinese mobile tech company Huawei. Since 50 percent of gamers are female, GCON has the potential to expand and increase even further in size.

Attendees play games like Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty and Uncharted, cosplay their favorite characters and receive encouragement to aim for STEM careers. Like gamers everywhere, they invest hundreds of hours in their favorite obsession.

“They call themselves geeks,” said al-Swailem. “There’s no embarrassment. I call myself a geek, too. I don’t think it’s a terrible thing.”

Cultural restrictions are slowly loosening on women in Saudi Arabia, with new voting rights and talk of some women being allowed to eventually represent themselves in society. For the next generation, gamers may be leading the way and leveling up to a better life.


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‘Star Trek’ legend gets closer look at the final frontier

nichellenichols‘Star Trek’ legend Nichelle Nichols moved one step closer to her iconic role of Uhura on Tuesday when she flew aboard NASA’s SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. The science center is built aboard a modified Boeing 747, and is the world’s biggest flying observatory, boasting a telescope that views the skies through an open door in the aircraft.

Nichols even participated in a Twitter Q&A during the flight, discussing details about the tech of the telescope and the craft itself, noting that the cabin was pressurized so they didn’t notice altitude changes even though the observatory door is open at 37,000 feet, and answering a fan who asked if she planned to taunt William Shatner about being closer to space than he was. (“I sure am!”)

She was also asked a question near and dear to most geek girls’ hearts concerning how to get more females and people of color involved in STEM careers.

“I think science has to be taught in schools as an exciting topic to children so that they can become more engaged as adults,” she replied.

The SOFIA flight is the culmination of a decades-long partnership with NASA, since Nichols has been active in encouraging minorities to be part of the organization’s space program. Her work both on and off the screen helped two women pioneers, Sally Ride and Mae Jemison, achieve their dreams of going into space.  When asked if her ground-breaking role on ‘Star Trek’ sparked her interest in space travel, she replied that she’s always had a passion for space. Here’s wishing she has many more years of sharing that passion with generations to come.

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Filed under Education, News, Science, Space, Television, women

Artistic Surprise is Key to Next-Gen Lovelace Test

160405716_d922229704_zFirst there was the Turing Test, then the Lovelace Test. Now there’s Lovelace 2.0, an intelligence test for the next generation. While the focus of Turing’s methodology was all about the fake out, this test requires a computer program to gaze into its own navel and come up with something unexpected.

The first Lovelace Test, named for geek pioneer Ada Lovelace, theorized in 2001 that instead of tricking people into believing a computer was a human, it would be more effective if the computer could create something artistically unique, something beyond the output expected by the test’s creators.

“It’s important to note that Turing never meant for his test to be the official benchmark as to whether a machine or computer program can actually think like a human,” said Mark Riedl, an associate professor at Georgia Tech and the scientist behind Lovelace 2.0. “And yet it has, and it has proven to be a weak measure because it relies on deception. This proposal suggests that a better measure would be a test that asks an artificial agent to create an artifact requiring a wide range of human-level intelligent capabilities.”

While the original Lovelace Test merely required the original creation to be a surprise, Lovelace 2.0 sets up parameters based on the originality of the computer’s creation and not necessarily the quality of it. In essence, if the computer creates an original song, poem or other piece of art, the only thing that counts is its uniqueness and not if humans like it or understand it. Someone break out the digital berets, because it sounds like computers may have a future in artistic expression.



Photo: Andrew Becraft

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British Computer Museum Acknowledges Women

If you still believe the old trope that computers and electronics have always been a man’s field, think again. Women have always been involved in computer sciences, and the National Museum of Computing in Great Britain has made it official with a gallery devoted to women’s contributions. While we had Grace Hopper and Hedy Lamarr, they had Mary Coombs, the first female programmer, and Kathleen Booth, who literally wrote the (the first) book on Assembly programming.

The above clip is a very brief interview with Joyce Wheeler, who used the EDSAC computer, a room-sized computing machine built in 1949 for Cambridge University. The clip is part of a series on Computing Heritage, so when you have some time and want some knowledge, sit down with your popcorn and enjoy all the nerdy delights.

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Caroline Willard Baldwin Day

If you check those daily history sites like we do, you may notice that tomorrow  (June 20)  in 1895, Caroline Willard Baldwin received the first ever PhD in Science awarded to a woman by an American university.

That’s a remarkable achievement for the time. If you’re a female geek, you may also wonder about the rest of Caroline’s story.  We certainly did, and spent an afternoon tracing her life through the Internet. Thankfully, it seems that everyone bought into that “information superhighway” line years ago, because one clue led to another, and another, and yet another. While it’s not the complete picture, we can tell you Caroline was an extraordinary woman and an extraordinary mind.

Caroline was born in San Francisco on June 30, 1869. She was the only child of Army vet and miner Alfred Baldwin, one of the pioneering members of Santa Cruz County in California, and Fannie Willard, who was noted for her intellectual pursuits. Fannie must have been quite a woman in her own right, because in addition to public schooling, she rounded out young Caroline’s education with lessons in language and other subjects.

Caroline went on to become the first woman to receive a Bachelor of Science degree from the School of Mechanics at the University of California in 1892. She was so bright, she was one of the student speakers for the commencement ceremony at the University of California and placed third in her graduating class at Cornell University, where she received the famed doctorate in 1895. She wrote “A Photographic Study of the Arc Spectra” for the Physical Review journal of experimental and theoretical physics in 1896, and you can still read and download it today at the Internet Archive.

Three years after receiving her doctorate in physics, she married Charles Theobald Morrison and had two children, but she didn’t just pack her degrees away and take on the only role of wife and mother as society would expect at the time. Not only did she teach physics at the California School of Mechanical Arts, she also co-created the entire physics course there, authoring it with George Merrill. She was also active in a number of charities, and her favorite hobbies included “mountain trips” and “automobiling,” according to the 1914 Women’s Who’s Who, proving that her quest for adventure involved both mind and body. She left this earth far too soon, and her January passing is noted in the May 1928 issue of the Cornell Alumni News.

As Paul Harvey would say, “Now you know the rest of the story.” We just felt such an accomplished, history-making woman deserved more than one line on a webpage. By the way, if any of you write steampunk, she would make an awesome heroine.


Filed under Education, History, News, Science

Teen Grad’s Math Papers Add Up to Fashion Expression

Work or wardrobe? Could be both, if your grades are good.

You’ll be sorry you basted your homework with gravy and called the dog when you see what 17-year-old Kara Koskowich did with her leftover papers.

She sewed them together to create her graduation dress, a nifty little number decorated with solved equations from a previous term. The Canadian teen even positioned the math in an “explosion” pattern so the problems and diagrams seem to burst out from the center of the dress.

Koskowich admits there were some variables in the construction, namely the fact that she is a procrastinator and barely finished the frock before the ceremony.

Her friend, Maura Pozek, made her own dress from plastic bags, which looks like a lovely ballerina-style skirt from a distance. Pozek said that even though their dresses cost nothing and everyone was dressed to the nines, she and Koskowich were the most popular kids there. That’s the power of geek, girlfriend, and the amazing lure of creativity and individuality.



Photo credit: Flickr/Deeder

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