An update, a project, a new book

I apologize for this post coming a week later than I’d planned! To be honest, life happened and I forgot I’d left you hanging until I got an email about a reader’s comment on it. Sorry about that!

No more suspense, then. Saturday’s event was a complete success! We didn’t have all seventy kids, though. We had thirty-five or so again, and since we’d scheduled for seventy, they were a lot more spaced-out. It was a lot more laid-back than the day before (when we’d scheduled to pack the house), and let us work with smaller classes. Which, as any teacher will tell you, is an easier crowd to handle.

This time, we also handed out live Linux CDs with mass-printed disclaimers on them about not installing on the host computer, etc etc, disclaimer of warranty/responsibility/legal cya stuff. We also passed out slips with the URLs of my FAQ and the GitHub where the game I used lives. (I’ve been meaning to write some decent non-techie documentation for how to use that thing…)

I had originally volunteered to be part of the Hour of Code portion of the event on Saturday, rather than the Linux part, but stuff got a little mixed up. The teacher who was going to take the Linux event hadn’t looked at the Hour of Code activities for a year or two and hadn’t realized that it had changed; it now looks like Scratch or Alice, not a text-based activity like she’d thought. She’d planned on letting the kids play around with Scratch (because it’s a good intro to code, which is why HoC uses a similar system) on their Linux live CDs.

When she emailed me with her plans a day or so before her event, I didn’t connect the dots immediately–it took me a few hours before I emailed back to warn her that she had a duplicate activity on her hands, and by then it was rather late. She showed up on Saturday as we were starting to prep the Linux room (I was kind of early and was helping another teacher who had been in the building for a while). I warned her again about her duplicate and she pulled up a computer to look at the HoC activity. But before she could really panic, I reminded her again that I had a different setup that I’d already used, and which had worked well. So I swapped places with another volunteer who was going to help in the Linux room (he went to HoC instead) and kind of took over working my system.

And that’s how I ended up mostly in charge of that event again. Combined with the Raspberry Pi she’d brought, I feel it’s safe to say it was a really good experience for everyone involved.

Mind, this teacher is totally competent and a great teacher–she’s no newbie, she just happened to be relying on old info and I just happened to have something good up my sleeve. I got to squeeze more use out of my script game, and I earned major brownie points with someone I respect. 😉

As the participants fiddled with the game, I stood up and gave a little background info about Linux and the open-source world. I’m actually a decent speaker, believe it or not, when I’m speaking on something I know well. I’m still a much better writer than speaker, but I’m reasonably good at giving impromptu lectures if I know the subject matter. I read audiences fairly well, and though I have plenty of other fears and self-doubts, public speaking isn’t really one of them. (What I’m actually awful at is video. I can’t read a camera. It’s not a good audience.)

The people liked my game so much. A good number of them thought it was funny–one of the older girls got to the part about forfeiting your firstborn son to Microsoft (it’s deliberately campy) and couldn’t stop laughing until I gave her a juice box. Her friend, in turn, discovered the potential to create text-based adventure fanfic. (What have I done??) It was only too difficult for one person, a young girl about eight years old who put up a valiant but losing battle against it until I redirected her to the games that came with the operating system instead and she started playing Potato Guy. (It’s a virtual Mr. Potato Head. The kids seemed to like it a lot.)

One of our other volunteers, a second teacher with minimal (nonexistent?) Linux experience, seemed to not like me very much on the first day. Don’t ask me to name her, because I won’t. I think we got off on the wrong foot, and it was exacerbated by the reality of how disorganized the first run through the activity was, which had been partially preventable if my (and everyone else’s, honestly) brain hadn’t been scrambling around like a drunken monkey. It’s not like we had a dress rehearsal for this sort of thing. I think the kicker was that I’d dropped her online class earlier this semester, and it’s hard not to take that personally; I know that it was because of work overload from my other classes and how well I don’t do with online stuff, but she couldn’t know that.

Whatever the cause, she seemed to kind of radiate disapproval the whole day; I tried to meet her halfway in my speaking to her, trying to apologize for the disarray, but I guess she wasn’t in a good mood. I gave up and got on with what I was doing. The second group was much better handled, at least.

But on the second day, she came back with what seemed like new respect for me, even before I took things over. Maybe it was the presence of the other teacher (the competent Linux teacher), who already had respect for me; maybe she’d spent the previous evening trying to fact-check my FAQ and decided that I was competent after all; maybe she decided that the way I bounced back on the second group the previous day meant I could run things all right after all. Maybe she’d just taken that second cup of coffee and the barista complimented her outfit, so she was in a better mood. There’s no way of knowing, I guess. But she was a lot more helpful then.

I rarely see people change their mind the way she did, and to me, that engenders respect in return–not stubbornly holding on to an ill opinion of someone like a lot of people do. I don’t know her very well, but I was pleased to have her help. So few people have the willingness to change a poor opinion of someone. I’m not trying to be condescending or even implying that I’m any better than average about that. Just… major kudos.

Anyway, that’s enough about the STEM thing.

I’m still kind of designing and turning over the job site in my mind. (I talk about the idea and my design changes for it here.) I want to build it, but I’m not sure where to start. I have basic, slightly dated knowledge of HTML and CSS, and of course I know Python, and I’d like to build the site on those. I think I’d rather not use big frameworks or anything like that–no Django, no Rails, DEFINITELY NO .NET, although I’ve cloned Django and I might poke through the code for ideas if I need to. I want to keep my code fast and lean and I want to know what everything does.

My experience with web design has been pretty limited since I was 13-15. Even this blog is just a plain old WordPress site. Still, it’s not the front of the web site I’m worried about; it’s the backend. Databases? Files? Search? It’s the real code design stuff that I just don’t have the experience to be confident with, which school can’t teach, and the backend stuff, that school won’t teach because it’s too preoccupied with showing you how Microsoft’s latest product “solves that problem for you” and teaching that instead. Paradoxically, this is a very good argument for trying to get into it and screwing it up so badly that I learn.

I’ve got notes in my design notebook about the stuff I plan to do better, which is a lot easier than actually trying to do it better. But I need to get to the latter sooner or later.

I’m reading a new book. It’s called The Charisma Myth–it’s all about how charisma isn’t inborn and can be taught, and then turned on and off like a switch. It’s a really good book.

It says that charisma is composed of three main components: presence, or how in-the-moment you are and how focused you are on other people when you speak with them; power, or how much influence you have to potentially change people’s situations for better or worse; and warmth, which is how compassionate and empathetic you are towards people.

Basically, others assess 1) whether they have your attention, 2) whether you have the power to do stuff for them, and 3) whether you seem like you’d want to. If the answer is “yes” across the board, you have their immediate attention and they want to be around you.

Then the book goes on to say what actions you should take to increase those three qualities. Focus on the feelings in your toes to bring you back to the moment and increase your presence. Visualization and thought exercises to increase your apparent power and warmth. So much of charisma is in body language, and body language is so hard to fake, that you have to learn to manipulate your brain into feeling confident and powerful, and warm and full of goodwill, so that your body language follows. None of those are bad things and none of them change your personality–they just make you kind of a more attractive person to be around. They make others feel better about talking to you.

The book goes on to explain that there are four styles of charisma (actually, it hints at more, but these are what it touches on).

  1. Focus: people are drawn to you because you pay attention to them, because you seem genuinely interested in what they have to say and respect their ideas and opinions.
  2. Visionary: people are drawn to you because you have some big idea you’re intent on bringing about, perhaps something that promises to improve people’s lives. They feel inspired by what you say and more creative after talking to you.
  3. Kindness: people are drawn to you because you broadcast loving acceptance of them for who they are. They feel they can be themselves around you.
  4. Authority: people are drawn to you because you’re in charge. You seem like an impressive decision-maker with some sort of power, so they think you might be able to help them or do things for them.

Everyone has some kind of charisma to some degree, often a mix of them. You shouldn’t try to adopt a style that is alien and unnatural for you, and you need to be wary that you use the right style in the right situation. You should also try to cultivate as many as you can, so you’re adaptable.

I naturally have a fair bit of visionary charisma, particularly in my writing. (But you knew that, didn’t you, you clever thing?) But I think I’ve been walking around with a lot more authority than I’ve realized. I think that’s a big part of why people were so wary of me in high school and thought I was unapproachable. I wear nice clothes–I don’t generally leave the house in sweats or yoga pants unless I’m sick or in costume, and I’m lucky enough that my family can provide me with more expensive, good-quality clothes.

I used to be able to sneak into the school library to sit out a period I technically wasn’t supposed to have free under the usual rules, without leaving the paper trail of signing in, by walking past in my wool trenchcoat with a gait that suggested I was supposed to be there (I copied the quick, confident walk of the school administrators). The librarian rarely looked up, and when she did, she ignored me. Even though I had turquoise hair at the time. My body language just said that I was not to be stopped and bothered, so she didn’t. And when I sat around reading and knitting, nobody thought I was out of place.

This mostly went away when I got to college, where nobody knew I was underage until they got to know me a little better and had already seen that I wasn’t so unapproachable. And the average level of confidence is higher around here, so I didn’t stand out quite so much.

So, apparently I channel authority well? But… that’s not the most appealing of the charisma styles to me. I’d rather make people feel respected (focus) and then inspire them to go do great things (visionary). I don’t really want to boss people around. If other people rely on you to give orders, they can’t handle not having you around, and they can’t go off and do great things on their own. Besides, it’s more fun to be doing great things too rather than making other people do them. I prefer the power that comes from controlling things (like computers), rather than that of controlling people, and I’d rather persuade than barge with my ideas. I’d be okay with directing and organizing a bunch of people to do something they want to do, though. There’s a lot of overhead and grunt work in organizing a collaborative effort. But it probably wouldn’t be as fun as doing things myself.

Uh… looking back on that paragraph… I wonder if I’ve just read Ender’s Game one too many times or if there was a seriously deep reason I connected with it the first time I read it. Anyway.

Focus isn’t something I currently do well, because my mind wanders so much. Even if it’s wandering on something the other person just said, it doesn’t make them feel so great if it looks like I’m zoning out. I’ve decided I’m going to work on cultivating that.

As for kindness charisma–I actually do care about people and try to think the best of others. I also happen to be completely awful at expressing it. (It’s an INTP thing.) I’m actually a pretty warm person, but the associated body language isn’t really wired well into my brain. (Authority’s wired in instead. I’m so girly.) I tend to surprise people by doing nice things for them instead, which catches them completely off guard.

Here’s another story. I was taking a college Psych course in my senior year of HS, and I was working on knitting a super-long pink scarf as a Christmas present for one of my friends. After having worked on it during class for a couple days, a girl comes up to me and asks, “Hey, will you knit me a scarf?” In retrospect I think she meant it jokingly, but I was so caught off guard that someone had talked to me that I blinked and said, “Uh… sure. What’s your favorite color?” It took a minute for her to recover and reply. The next day, she asks, again jokingly, “Hey, have you finished my scarf yet?” I say no, I want her opinion on the color first, explaining that I don’t have any light purple yarn and offer a skein of baby blue instead. She’s taken aback but accepts it and I start knitting. I give it to her a few days later (I was really fast at that point through practice). By then of course she was totally cool with it and thanked me.

Knitting seemed to make me look more approachable, I think. A lot of people were more willing to talk to me while I was doing something so low-key. Especially working on something as absurdly pink as that scarf was. (It was a copy of the really long, bright pink scarf from Homestuck. It was like eight feet long or something crazy and took me… I think well over a month?)

I know that book isn’t technology related, except in the sense that people skills are important in this field, as in any. But psychology is also one of my interests, as are self-analysis and social analysis, so I hope my readers don’t mind my going off on tangents like this.

For sticking with this really long post, here’s a set of Muse songs. These three were among my very favorites for their incorporation of beautiful classical music. Part 3 is particularly striking.

It seems there’s also a Part 4 on YouTube that I’ve never heard before? I’ll investigate it when it isn’t 3 AM.

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “An update, a project, a new book

  1. Well, thanks for finally writing about it. Participating in these kinds of event is draining and engaging. Plus, updating blog isn’t always possible. We understand and you are doing much better than others who can’t keep their blogs updated(self-criticism) 😉 .

    I would love to read some essays from you. Plus, do discuss about the development of the personal-portfolio site you mentioned in the post. Actually, I have been learning HTML, CSS and JS for awhile but haven’t worked on real world projects so far. So, reading about the development phase of your site might help me and others to see website making from a more ‘hacker’ly perspective. You have alot going on, I think, though you also have a lot of interesting projects to do and write about. Keep hacking and writing about it.

    Disclaimer: Only trying to encourage you as well as other bloggers particularly in tech and open-source field to improve your content. Count me as an enthusiast for now and an occasional blogger who loves to read. BTW, ESR’s content rocks, you also seem to follow it, so mentioning that it’s totally inspiring(you already know that…) 🙂

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    • It’s not a personal-portfolio site… I should stick in a link for newer readers. I mean a job site, like Indeed or Monster, except written by someone who isn’t an MBA and understands job search a little better.

      https://letsgolarval.wordpress.com/2015/09/10/catching-up/

      I talk a lot about this idea, starting about halfway down that post. I talk about the job site so frequently, I tend to assume people are kind of in on my plans. But that leaves out newer or forgetful readers.

      I know you guys really like to read about my dev work (thank youuuuu, I’m still not totally used to so many people wanting to read my writing), and I’ll definitely keep you posted… the problem is where to start. How do you handle that much data? :/ The backend of this is still kind of an amorphous cloud of code in my mind.

      Oh, and I have a category for essays. It’s linked in the sidebar (which is at the bottom of the page if you’re on mobile). I was taking a class where I was going to have to produce a bunch of essays, but I ended up dropping it, mostly due to the workload of my other classes this semester.

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