Take Apart A Computer: Follow-Up Post

(If you’re here because you want to know what to do with your shiny new Linux DVD, you can skip about the first third of this.)

Today I attended Take Apart A Computer Day, hosted by the Women In Computing club here at UNI. This was kind of a beta test run for a potentially larger event later on.

I worked together with two other girls (if you ladies are reading and want your names here, let me know–but I don’t generally mention names on this blog unless asked, for people’s privacy) on a huge old box. We have no clue if it worked beforehand (the consensus after two professors and all three of us took a crack at testing it was no), but it definitely isn’t working now, so I guess that’s a success. After all, the event isn’t called “Put a Computer Back Together in Full Working Order Day,” and we did get it apart. Eventually.

So, we learned a couple things from the beta run for next time:

  1. Test all the machines beforehand–after moving them.
  2. The test monitors that the computers also need to be tested on a known working box, so we know our testers work. Nothing like screwy monitor settings to make you crazy wondering what’s up with the computer.
  3. Two people is probably a good number for working on a computer together… three is a bit much. Having a partner makes things easier, but six hands is pretty awkward even if the people are friendly.
  5. Juice boxes! Yes, this is kind of a tradition with me now: bring juice into a place where it would be very bad to spill juice. But they were still all consumed! On the other hand, we need more people willing to take home pizza that’s been sitting out for a few hours…
  6. Having extra Linux install DVDs to hand out is a good thing! Not necessary, but good–people are curious!

Anyway, I’m sending this post around the WIC mailing list (er… Google group? It’s different from the CedarLUG list, which is legitimately an old-fashioned mailing list). About five of you folks from this event now have Linux test/install DVDs. If I remember right, I handed out a Xubuntu, a Mint, two versions of Debian, and… something else? Maybe that was it.

I’m pretty sure I’ve used each of them at one point, and they should all work even if they’re not all the newest and greatest; I think they’re all the long-term-stable releases so they’ll be fine. If they don’t work for whatever reason, don’t sweat it; email me or whatever and I’ll make more, or if you have blank DVDs lying around (or are willing to buy a pack for $5 at an office supply store), you can make one.


Anyway, when I give people techie stuff, I like to make sure they can easily figure out how to use it. (Doesn’t always happen, but I try to.)

So! If you’re curious about Linux and maybe just got a DVD from me, here’s a guide to all the guides I’ve written on the subject:

If you didn’t get a DVD or yours turned out to be a non-functional dud, here’s how to make one.

If you don’t have an optical drive in your computer, or want a more permanent plaything than the DVD, here’s how to make a virtual machine instead.

If you’re confused about the Linux ecosystem, here’s how I learned what I know.

If you’re just confused, period, here’s the FAQ I wrote for another event which involved lots of Linux newbies.

If you just want to run Linux off your DVD to play with it a little, it’s simple. Stick it in the optical drive of your computer, and restart the computer. While it boots, tap F12 (it’s probably F12, but keep an eye out for what key you’re supposed to press for menu options during your computer’s boot sequence) and select “Boot from CD/DVD” in the menu.

The difference between doing that and making a virtual machine is that a virtual machine will save any files you create from session to session (unless you do magic to configure it otherwise). An install DVD won’t save anything, so you get a fresh, clean system every time you start it up.

If that’s not working for you, email me in the list or comment on this post and I’ll try to help. If that still doesn’t work for you, bring the offending computer to the next WIC meeting if it’s portable (let me know what you’re doing so I make sure to come), or invite me over to your place if it’s not/if you can’t attend the meeting. I will help you get a Linux running if that’s something you want.

I’ve installed Linux on some weird old machines and gotten at least workable solutions out of them. Sometimes a setting needs to be tweaked or Google needs to be scoured for information. Sometimes a certain distro just doesn’t like your hardware, and you need to try a different one or download extra driver files or plug your computer into a wired Internet connection or something weird. Such is technology.

That’s usually not the case though. Most installs these days go really smoothly, especially with Mint or Xubuntu.

Speaking of installs, CedarLUG–UNI’s Linux Users Group–is holding a Backup Day pretty soon, and an Install Day sometime after that. If you want in on that, here’s the web site (I coded that! The penguin at the top is a bit of a giveaway…). Subscribing to that mailing list will get you updates on those events, and the occasional computer puzzle.

Happy Linux-ing!

How to make a Linux CD

A CD or DVD with Linux on it is a useful thing to have! There are quite a few things you can do with it:

  • You can try Linux out without installing it. Just putting the CD in the optical drive and running Linux from there won’t touch your main operating system or files. Using it like this can actually help you fix a Windows computer–you can still access the hard drive and back up all the files that are on it from Linux even if Windows is acting weird. (You can also use it to kind of crack into your machine if you’ve been locked out for some reason, but don’t try it on a network because the sysadmin will notice and flip out. You didn’t hear this from me.)
  • You can install Linux alongside or instead of your main OS–be careful about your files if you’re doing a wipe-and-install, of course, and be careful about partitioning your drive too. Make sure you have a backup of at least everything important if you do it this way!
  • You can also install Linux on a virtual machine, although using the .iso file you download from the Internet and burn to the CD works just as well for this.

So how do you make one? It’s pretty easy:

Get yourself a blank CD or DVD.

Some distros won’t fit on a CD and you’ll have to use a DVD. If you don’t know what this means yet, get a DVD.

Pick a Linux distribution (or “distro”).

There are lots of different “flavors” of Linux. They might look a little different, or be designed for special systems or specific groups of users.

If you’re new to all this, I suggest Mint or Xubuntu. They look a lot like Windows, so they’ll seem familiar, but they’re way better! And they’re a breeze to install. Normal Ubuntu I wouldn’t recommend as a first distro, actually; the user interface it comes with is kind of clunky. The only difference Xubuntu has is that it looks simpler and that makes it a little easier to use.

If you’re curious or you’ve tried this before, try searching around for a distro that’s particularly suited to you. I’m quite fond of Debian, but I’ve been playing with Elementary, which looks more like Mac OS X than the normal Windowsy-looking interfaces.

Mint and Xubuntu are great general-purpose distros. Xubuntu is probably the better one on older computers–I’ve made a ten-year-old box on two gigs of RAM run like a decent computer by installing Xubuntu. If your computer is THAT old, you’ll want 32-bit; otherwise, use 64-bit.

A word about some terms you’ll see. Unless you’re developing or testing for the distro as a project–in other words, if you’re a normal user–you won’t want to use the development versions. Anything that says “nightly release” or whatever, stay away from using as a main operating system because it’s still in testing.

“LTS” means “long term stable.” That is a GOOD thing to download. It may not be the very most recent version, but it’s a well-tested one that’s going to be supported for a reasonably long time.

You can also just get the most recent stable release. Those or LTS releases will be fine.

Download the .iso file

Either from the Internet directly or as a torrent. Googling the name of your distro should make it pop up. Where possible, always use a download link suggested on the project web site. There are probably multiple “mirrors” to download from; try to choose one that is on the same continent as you.

Any computer with 4 gigs of RAM or more should be using 64-bit operating systems. That’s probably what you want unless your computer is really old.

If this is your first time, I’ll make it easy on you. Here’s the download page for the latest Mint (64-bit, Cinnamon desktop), and here’s the download page for Xubuntu.

A torrent is a more reliable way of getting a distro if you have a torrent client set up. They’ll keep going even if they’re interrupted, and they’re less expensive for the maintainers. However, the clients are kind of tricky to set up, at least in my experience. There’s nothing wrong or sketchy about torrenting Linux distros–you can use torrent clients to get hold of sketchy Internet stuff, but that’s not what we’re doing here, this is super innocent and it’s just another way to get your .iso file.

Burn the .iso file to the CD

You probably know how to do this on your computer. If not, Google it. It’s pretty simple.

Label the CD, and maybe put it in a paper sleeve

Lots of people forget to do this, and it’s really confusing! Make sure you mark your CD with the distro name (e.g. Linux Mint), the version number (e.g. 18), and whether it’s 32- or 64-bit (probably 64).

Optional but fun: Burn more CDs for your friends


“Did you get it to do that thing you were trying?”

“I figured out how to install programs!”

“I found a tutorial about the command line!”

“My resolution is acting funny, anyone have ideas about that?”

This is why Linux User Groups exist. Get enough nerds in one room playing with a shiny toy and something fun is going to happen.


Happy hacking!

My idea file

If ideas were actually worth something–as people say when they say things like, “I’ve got a $10M idea”–I’d have been rich a long time ago.

Since they’re not, their worth is mostly in the sharing. So I’m dipping into my project ideas file and pulling out wads and wads of what is unfortunately not cash, because there’s no way I’m going to get to everything.

Most recently updated June 29.

A phone app that splits restaurant bills among a group of friends

People complain about this all the time. Let’s make our smartphone into a somewhat more objective judge, kill the argument, and maybe help our wait staff get better tips.

I kind of want to do this one. Most of the issues are in UI design. It doesn’t seem too difficult. Maybe this should be my next GitHub project.

edit: of course, this has been done, and it looks like exactly how I would have done it. I wonder if it’s on Android though.

Todo-list app

But not the normal kind. What we need is something a little more interactive. We need to make todo software with a messaging protocol in the back that lets other people request additions to your todo list. You would then be able to accept or reject them. Designing this software would take a lot of user research and understanding of psychology, in order to program the right features. For instance, should the person requesting a task be allowed to see when it’s scheduled to be done, or what priority it has? There are both benefits and awfulness in that suggestion. (Mostly awfulness, I think.)

I think it should also have priority, deadline, and/or likely completion time data attached to each list item, and if the user indicates that a certain time slice of their day is open, it should suggest the optimal task or tasks to fill that spot. The algorithm might well be kind of tricky, though; it’d have to work around not always having all three data points.

Also, it would probably be fun to add game elements to this app. Maybe it should award points for tasks completed, and award more points for higher-priority tasks. This probably would result in people losing productivity due to playing with the app and fiddling to get more points, though–like breaking up tasks into tiny pieces they can “accomplish,” or ranking everything as high priority. You could choose to only award points for tasks set by other people, but then they’d rank everything so as to give you the most points, thus making their task appealing to complete.

(Software development has seen time and time again that if you award points for stuff, even if they’re worthless, people will do crazy things to get them. No one has much of an explanation as to why.)

Oh, speaking of which. You’d probably have to come up with some way to make people not mark all their assignments to others as super important–some way to weight each person’s additions to others’ to-do lists so there’s a normal distribution of priority among what they send, and they’re not marking everything important. But that causes its own problems.

This is a really neat piece of software for design issues. I kind of like it. Also, Paul Graham has asked for someone to build this a couple times (although he didn’t go into this detail).

Air conditioned motorcycle helmets

I don’t ride motorcycles, but I’ve noticed people tend to not like wearing helmets on hot days. Why don’t people make full motorcycle helmets–the really protective, full face shield kind–with air conditioning? We have, like, those single-can fridges; can’t we put a rechargeable battery in a helmet and make it work? I know batteries are heavy, but… so are those helmets, anyway.

Low-commitment freelance comics

A web site that connects comic writers with comic artists, for the purposes of making one strip at a time. Comics don’t have to go on hiatus because one of the creators has fallen ill or quit.

ReceiptStash (I have dibs on this one)

An app that stores receipt data instead of forcing businesses to use so much wasteful paper. Bonus points if it’s attached to the user’s debit card # rather than a username, because this would mean it could be used as a tool to recognize card theft. It’d also be really easy to load the data for use in a budget tracking app, which might solve a lot of people’s problems in that area.

Penguin Phone

Make a cell phone that runs Linux. Not Android, but pure Linux, with a command line and a filesystem and no unnecessary pre-installed apps.

I think our phones could do more “laptop stuff” than they currently do. Sometimes you need to make little corrections to code–fix broken links and so on. Why not use your phone? It’s as powerful, hardware-wise, as a computer. Why isn’t it as powerful software-wise?

Happy Nickels

When people experience something that makes them happy, they like to post about it on social media. (Along with a lot of other, less happy things they post about.) What if there were a social media app that was intended first of all for phone use, where every time something made you happy, you pull out your phone and post about it on this dedicated social media app.

But to do so, you have to donate a nickel to charity, in order to share your happiness with someone else. No one cares about a single nickel. You can’t buy anything with it, really. It isn’t important. Until you get a million people posting and spending nickels three times a day. Ideally, this app would be monitored to make sure that people were only posting things they’re happy about, so it’s a pleasant social media app to peruse.

True Cloud Computing

A web site that stores an individual’s computer settings in a lightweight format. Like, a Dropbox for the files, a simple word processor, some games, some other apps. Like a phone that just runs in a browser and everything’s stored on the server. Kind of like Chrome OS, without the attachment to an individual machine. It needs a really good API for people to develop for it, too. You could make a Linux distro that makes the browser part more transparent–it would still be different from Chrome OS, because Chrome OS starts from the individual computer and works onto the Web (and it’s not accessible everywhere) and this would start on the Web and just happen to work with an individual machine–any individual machine.

Real-Time, Real-World (I really considered making this one but it’s set aside for now)

A game where you take care of a third-world/impoverished family, and you can buy upgrades to get them technology that makes their lives better. What you buy actually goes to buying that technology for third-world families. If like 300 gamers buy a steel food cabinet or a well or a hygienic latrine or medicine for their virtual family, a real family somewhere gets the same thing.

Sheet Music Is Annoying

An app for musicians that displays sheet music, chords, or tabs, and can be controlled by a pair of Bluetooth-enabled pedals which flip the pages without the musician using his or her hands. Actually there are lots of ways to do this.

RSS, Get Off My Desktop

RSS, but not broken any more. It should use browser extensions or web pages rather than desktop software. It should use Internet history by date and caching to determine what content a user has seen.


I hate how job sites are laid out. They’re mostly just designed and commissioned by MBAs, and they suck because their search doesn’t work and the format isn’t effective. I think I could do better if I put my mind to it.

I think they should be laid out so that when someone posts a job, it feels like filling out a social media profile, and when someone looks for a job, it feels like shopping at an online site. That sounds obvious when you say it, but if you look at job sites, they really aren’t laid out like that.

Even Dice relies on kind of awful tags and whatnot–for example, “senior level” means very different things to different employers and you don’t know what you’re getting. Even on Dice, it’s hard to filter out the jobs you’re qualified for. Nobody can decide on a standard set of job titles, either, so someone searching for “Junior Python programmer” might totally miss the listing for a “Python Charmer” or “Code Ninja” or whatever weird thing they’re calling their job.

Their search is terribly broken, too. I’m a programmer, not a registered nurse–so why have I seen postings for RNs while searching for a job? That has actually happened, I think more than once.
There’s a lot to fix here if I put the time into it.

Jazz Band Beeping (this idea is something I want to see happen, but I don’t know how to do it personally)

Fast food restaurants and hospitals have one very annoying thing in common: repetitive beeping sounds. These are annoying to customers, and stressful to patients, workers, and nurses. But why beeping sounds? There’s nothing special about them that any other noise couldn’t do.

So, if you want to change it, here’s an idea.

A restaurant or a hospital room might have several different machines. Maybe two or three, maybe eight. To distinguish them, you assign each a musical instrument that would fit into a jazz band–violin, harmonica, cello, drums. You give the bass to the one that’s always running. (There’s always one. Heart monitor or whatever.) You assign the local network (the room or the restaurant) a metronome machine that keeps the instruments in sync. All the other machines in the room get their own instruments to represent them, and the nurses get instruction that hearing a harmonica is a Very Bad Thing, and hate harmonicas forever after that.

Aside from harmonica hatred, it would make those environments much more relaxing. Jazz is unstructured enough that as long as the rhythm is maintained, musical instruments popping in and out of the melody are A-OK.

The trick with this is that it would need generous funding, because you’d probably need to get a hold of medical equipment, which is expensive, and/or fast food equipment, which is expensive and often proprietary and secret. But I think it’s one of those good ideas that sounds really weird when you first hear about it.

This one probably exists as an open-source project somewhere

You know what would be really cool? A script or gedit/Sublime extension that changed your text so it fit within eighty columns. Same for code, it should be able to recognize file extensions and put in the appropriate thingy to continue the line of code. That sounds a little more difficult though.

(Ooooh, maybe I’ll write this one in Clojure later.)

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.




Friday’s STEM event is over

There’s another round tomorrow, twice as big. I’m not sure how well we’re going to handle that. This group was big enough!

They were mostly 7th graders. There were three HS freshmen in the group, I’m told. They all looked really young and the main group was huge–ostensibly 35 kids, but it seemed like more. After Hour of Code, they were divided into two groups between the virtual reality room and my Linux room and spent half an hour in each. Both rounds, the group I got filled nearly every working computer in the room.

And they… liked my game?

When I learned I was getting a younger group than I thought I was getting, I started wondering how a really nerdy text-based adventure was going to go over. But they either liked it enough or wanted to impress me enough that things went really smoothly. I’m not questioning it.

I’m exhausted. I’ll update with more details later.

I made a thing!

I wrote this text-based adventure script to introduce some basic Linux commands. It’s mainly for the Linux thingy I’m doing on Friday with the Plant Yourself In STEM event, but it’s probably useful to more people than that.

I only got the idea earlier today (err… yesterday now), so I haven’t spent a TON of time on it. I spent more time writing the story than putting it into the code, which is brain-dead simple (validation of specific, static commands). There are certainly more commands I could include and better ways to write it out there, but right now it’s functional and goofy and not boring or over-technical. I’m quite pleased with it.

It lives here and it’s MIT licensed, so you can play it for yourself and/or improve it as you please.

There’s a cool new open source project in town

It lives here and it looks neat 😀

It’s called braindump (also capitalized BrainDump), and for now, it’s a note app on that web site. However, the creator, Levlaz, says it’s just a proof of concept; he wants to make a “notes platform” out of it. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but he’s planning to elaborate about it later, over at his dev blog.

For your code curiosity convenience, braindump’s website and GitHub repo are linked over at my Links page, so you don’t have to hunt down this post if you lose a bookmark or whatever.

It is certainly not perfect. To me, this is part of what makes it fun, though–that it’s alpha-release, small enough to tinker with, easy to see what it’s supposed to do, and that it still has bugs to hunt down.

Have fun, readers! 😉