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This one's for you, mum :-)

Or “Turning Twenty-Five in the San Francisco Bay Area”

As the quarter-century creeps steadily up on me, I’ve been having a blast seeing the sights and meeting friends old and new. I can’t help thinking back to all the things I’ve enjoyed (and suffered through!) along the way. I’ve been incredibly lucky, and I hope that the next 25 years are as fun as the past 25 have been!

The following are just a few of the things that have set me off down memory lane :-)

  • Winetasting in Napa made me reminisce about collecting Michelin stars with the Ellerays when all we (the kids!) wanted to do was see who could grow the biggest, coolest, oldest Tamagotchi.
  • A going-away party for the coolest kernel hacker around reminded me of the weekend I spent with Natasha, trying to create a working Linux boot floppy for a hand-me-down machine that didn’t have a bootable CD drive.
  • Hot-tubbing with engineers, dancers, and a girl who “does circus” was fun – but when we jumped in the (relatively) freezing pool, I was brought straight back to Ennareilly and our “punch, punch, punch-punch-punch” strategy for surviving the cold!
  • Paddling in the Pacific, well, I’ve done that before – on the other side! Remember Caloundra, and the pelicans?
  • Of course, the hour-long commute (in a very well-kitted-out bus) puts me more in mind of the camper van. Remember the ginger beer all over the camper? The flies all over the rest stop? The sugar-cane we begged for and then never got through?
  • Wandering around San Francisco, taking the cable-car to Ghirardelli Square, puts me in mind of our wanderings in Zurich, and all the wonderful times you’ve come to see me. I guess this year it’s my turn to come to you!
  • On the other hand, getting settled in the corporate apartment, checking out the farmers’ market for lunch, looking for the laundry room, and settling in to a glass of wine and a home-made dinner is more like Munich. That spag bol was great, although I’m glad to have graduated to a slightly bigger kitchen!
  • When Steve destroyed my new top in the laundry, how could I help but remember that beautiful white Susst top? And how could I help but be grateful for the thousands of loads of laundry you’ve done for me? Thanks mum!
  • Of course, the trip to Liz Claiborne afterwards? Let’s just say there are still things in your wardrobe I wish I could borrow :-)

I haven’t found anything as good as your bread yet, and I miss our long, evening dinners catching up. I hope your year on the island is as fulfilling as all our childhood expeditions were – from the Giant’s Causeway to the Wicklow lighthouse, from Kilmainham to the Cliffs of Moher.

Thank you, mum and dad, for twenty-five wonderful years. (And Eoin & Rosie, for almost 45 between you ;-) )

HOWTO: Justify ApacheCon to your boss

I’m looking forward to attending ApacheCon US 2009 in Oakland, 2nd-6th November. We’ll be celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Apache Software Foundation, with more content, more people, and more fun than ever before.

If you’ve ever been to an ApacheCon, you’ll know that there are hundreds of great reasons to go. If you haven’t been before, check out Jeremy Thomerson’s Top Ten Reasons to attend ApacheCon. (Note that the trainings aren’t just for Wicket. Naturally, we’ll cover other top Apache projects, from Solr & Lucene to httpd & Tomcat. But we also have training on everything from dealing with the media to keeping your web applications secure!)

Of course, there’s more to attending a conference than deciding you want to go. I’m lucky enough to work for a company that “gets” open source, and is happy to give me time off to attend. (Wanna come work with me? :-) )

What if your boss isn’t so keen to let you disappear off to California for a week? You might know that the value of the networking you can do at ApacheCon way outstrips the pricetag (and you know you can get a special discount if you’re staying at the conference hotel!), but “networking” is a bit of a vague proposition. Especially if your boss has to justify it to her boss, and so on.

So here’s just some of the business-friendly reasons you should come to ApacheCon:

  • Just started doing open source, and your team haven’t quite got the hang of open development, working with the community, or exactly how this “open source” thing works? Come along to the Hackathon, for a serious crash-course in collaboration–and a behind-the-scenes peek at the upcoming features of the products you use!
  • Oakland is just a stone’s throw from the Valley–whether you need to check-in with head office in Silicon Valley, or entertain a client in Napa Valley, why not combine it with a trip to ApacheCon, and kill two birds with that one stone?!
  • Two days of top-quality trainings (Monday and Tuesday) will bring you right up to speed on the technologies you need to know about, quickly and efficiently.
  • If you’re not attending trainings, the BarCamp gives you a chance to talk and learn about anything under the sun, with some of the coolest people in Open Source. If you want to know what’s going to happen in the next ten years of open development, you can’t afford to miss this. And it’s free :-)
  • What other vendor invites you along to meet the Chairman of the Board!? At ApacheCon, you can meet the movers and shakers who are shaping the products you use, creating the technologies of the future, and paving the way for bigger and better opportunities yet! (Heck, you can even get training from our Chairman!)

Pick the ones that make the most sense to you, and put together a pitch for your boss. Check out the schedule to get an idea of the relevant trainings and tracks, and see if there’s a Meetup that would go into more detail on the projects you work with. There’s so much going on at ApacheCon, that there’s really no reason for your boss to say no!

P.S. If your boss is still a little unsure, why not offer to do a training session for your colleagues when you get home? You’ll learn more than enough at ApacheCon to justify the expense–heck, for the cost of hiring in an expert, your boss could send several people to ApacheCon to quiz a whole collection of experts!

Electronics and the family tree

My father has always been difficult to get presents for. If he needs something, he’ll buy it himself. If he knows he wants something, he’ll do the same. He doesn’t have my mother’s love of certain fabrics or patterns, so that we could just keep getting him Portmeirion china every year (sorry mum!) :-)

And so it was, that many years ago, I drew up our family tree, as a birthday present for dad. I wrote to the Office of the Chief Herald to find out about the Plunkett and O’Callaghan coats of arms. I quizzed my mother and my grandmother to fill in as many details as I could. Unfortunately, I ran out of names before I ran out of paper, but dad smiled and thanked me for the gift anyway. It ended up in the attic and some point, and I have no idea where it is now. I recently threw out the photocopies the Chief Herald had sent me, while clearing through old boxes!

Family is important to me, but I don’t restrict that to blood or legal relatives. My “family” includes a small raft of honorary aunts, uncles and cousins :-) Despite a passing interest in history and genealogy, I’ve never really done the research to find out who my family are beyond the living generations.

I would imagine that Ireland is a pretty awesome country for a genealogist to find herself in. Combine a relatively small population with religious homogeneity, and parochial records suddenly make your job more like looking for a needle in a bureau drawer, rather than a haystack. Add in a relatively small landmass, and you could quite reasonably go around the parishes and just look. Finally, a relatively low level of personal mobility – emigration aside, in an agricultural society if you inherit the farm why would you ever move? – means that if you know your family are from Dublin, or Cork, two generations back, there’s a good chance that’s where they were from three, four, five generations back.

But with all that said, I was always a bit too much of an armchair genealogist to ever go looking through the records, until about a week ago. What happened then? I discovered that the National Archives of Ireland had completed their project to digitise the 1911 census data.

Well, what a job they’ve done! You can find out more at their Census of Ireland 1911 page. They’ve highlighted some fun facts – Oliver St John Gogarty wrote “single” as his marital status, and then had to cross it out when he remembered he was married! And they have an absolutely fantastic interface for browsing and searching the data. Dad and I laughed when we noticed that the Head of Family at Dunsany Castle could not read, although the twelve assorted servants could both read and write. (Little Lord Plunkett was only four at the time – so it’s fair enough really!)

On a personal level, I’ve found the census records for George Plunkett, my paternal great-great-grandfather, the dockmaster at the South Dock in Dublin. I believe I’ve found the records for my maternal great-great-grandmother, who my mother knew as Anne-Marie Buckley Carney, but who the census records as Anne Buckley – she had been married to Patrick Buckley for just a year at the time, and they lived in a house with six windows at the front (and a stable and coach house at the back!)

It’s amazing stuff, and I think huge props should go to the National Archives for their stellar work. I look forward to doing more research when the 1901 census data is released, later this year/early next year. And if you’ve found family records, I’d be fascinated to hear their stories :-)

Ada Lovelace Day – thank you Valerie!

I had some computer troubles yesterday, so I’m posting my Ada Lovelace Day post a little late. It’s still March 24th in Hawaii though, so I think I’m alright really ;-)

Like many others, I had a seriously hard time trying to decide who to write about. I’ve been so lucky in many ways, and one of them was finding the right people at the right time.

In the end though, I had to go with Valerie Aurora. I cringe to re-read the email I sent Val, as she was known then, when I saw her book scholarship for Women Don’t Ask. But her response was warm and gracious, as I have always found her to be since. The book has certainly made a difference in my life. But Valerie has made an even bigger difference.

I’ve learned so much from Valerie, both from watching how she does things and from talking to her. She’s seriously smart, and yet she’s never once made me feel stupid. She’s tough as nails, up for a laugh, inspiring, funny, interesting, and just damn brilliant! And I still owe her dinner :-)

So three cheers for Valerie Anita Aurora. And Valerie, if you’re reading this, big props on the name change. I think you now have the coolest name of anyone I know :-)

Yummy toffee banoffi!

Once you’ve made it once, you’ll never again need a recipe for banoffi – it’s a fantastically forgiving dish :-)

Step one, somewhat unintuitively, is the middle – the toffee. This basically involves cooking a can of condensed milk until it turns into caramel :-) My mum always used to make this on the stove, but I never bothered to enquire about the details while she was still making my desserts. There’s plenty of scary stuff on the internet about exploding the cans, so I used the method described by Ian Dowding in his “Original Banoffi Pie Recipe“. Ian says that Banoffi wasn’t so much invented as it evolved, so I don’t feel too bad about the vast differences between his recipe and what I came up with…

Find a saucepan big enough to fit a few cans of condensed milk (gezuckert, available in Migros, yay!), but small enough to fit in the oven. You’ll need two cans for one banoffee pie, but it keeps for approximately forever :-) Preheat the oven to 140C. Put the cans in the saucepan, and cover them with water. Boil the water on the stovetop, put a lid on the pot, and transfer it to the oven. Leave it there for 3.5h, and be very, very careful taking it out – it will be hot!

While that’s going on, you can make the base – empty a packet of biscuits into a freezer bag, and bash them up with a rolling pin until they’re just crumbs :-) Melt up about 100g of butter, and mix it in with the biscuit crumbs. Fill the bottom of a (lined!) springform pan with the biscuit mixture, and let it settle.

When the toffee is ready – be careful, don’t slice your finger on the can! – empty two cans of toffee onto the biscuit base, and spread it around gently til the base is evenly covered in toffee. Slice the bananas, and lay them out on the toffee in a double layer. Sprinkle a little bit of lemon juice over the bananas if you have it, to make sure they don’t get brown too quickly. Clingfilm and pop it in the fridge until you’re ready to go.

When you’re ready to serve, whip up a pint of cream – with a small amount of instant coffee, if that’s your thing – and spoon it out over the bananas. Sieve a sprinkling of cocoa powder over the top, and you’re ready to go :-)

Tasty++! And once you have the toffee made, it’s super-quick too… Just don’t even try to count the calories :-)

Why I’m taking the Ada Lovelace challenge

Costigan Quist says he’s not taking the Ada Lovelace challenge. But I think he’s missed the point, and in my own rambling fashion, I’ll shortly explain why.

Before I do though, what is the challenge? Suw Charman-Anderson set up a pledge on PledgeBank, saying “I will publish a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people will do the same.” Within a week, 1,000 other people signed up, and I can’t wait for 24th March, to read about all those amazing women! The pledge is still open to sign up, and there’s more about the background on the Finding Ada blog, if you’re interested.

Costigan says he’s not in, because the women he knows in technology are just as anonymous as the men. He says ‘all I can do is to say of someone “she’s achieved the same as a man, but she’s only a girlie – well done you!”‘. Which, to give him his due, he recognises as rather patronising :) I think he’s missed the point big-time though.

“Blog about a woman you admire” doesn’t mean “blog about someone you think should be famous”. There’s nothing wrong with being an unsung hero – or heroine! But women have a greater need for female role-models than men have for male role-models. And Ada Lovelace Day is about showing women that there are role-models out there. A role-model doesn’t have to be someone famous, or even necessarily the top of their field. A role-model is just someone who occupies a role to which you aspire. It’s someone who does something that you would like to be doing, or gotten somewhere that you would like to go…

Ada Lovelace Day isn’t about saying “she’s achieved the same as a man, but she’s only a girlie – well done you!”. I don’t even think it’s about giving the women we blog about their 15 minutes of fame. It’s about showing the women who need female role-models that those role-models exist. It’s about showing the men who need a role model – male or female! – that there are role-models out there for whatever it is you want to do, or be, or have. Maybe they are famous. Maybe they’re completely anonymous. Maybe they don’t even know that they are a role-model to someone. But they’re there.

Maybe what they’ve done is stupendous. Maybe it’s fairly ordinary. A recent example I came across was someone desperately wanting to know if there were any women who’d gotten promoted to a particular level while they had a young child, because the person asking could only find male examples of people who’d gotten promoted to that level while they had a young child. And there were women who could say “yes, I have”. And that made a difference. They were doing the same things as the men around them. They got their fair due. But this isn’t for those women. It’s for the people who are asking. Who want to know if it’s even possible. Who just need, on whatever level, to know that there are women out there who’ve done it.

And Costigan, even if it’s only namechecks, knowing that there are role-models out there makes a difference, to many, many people.

Make Poverty History

One of my Joost friends twittered the other day, with a message that I think bears repeating.

It doesn’t matter what happens to the banks, the economy, my job/house/savings. Every one of those things could disappear, and I’d still be better off than most of the world’s population.

With the Irish Budget announced yesterday, and the “economic climate” we can’t get away from, there seem to be a lot of people very worried about what the future holds.

What have you done today, to make the future better for the people for whom your worst nightmare is better than their greatest hopes?

A Great Irish Tradition

In ten days time, Stephen and I will be moving to Zurich, Switzerland. Don’t be too surprised if you never got the memo – life’s been rather busy, and I never really had time to send it :)

Some quick answers to the questions I keep getting asked:

  • I’ll be starting work as a Technical Writer in Google Zurich, and Stephen will be continuing the job he’s currently doing, from a new location. A technical writer is, according to Wikipedia, “a professional writer who designs, creates, maintains, and updates technical documentation”. I describe my line of work as translating between geek and English.
  • Yes, the photos you’ve seen of the office are real – it has a fireman’s pole, and a slide, and meeting rooms that look like anything but. No, neither of us speak French or Swiss, but I speak reasonable High German, and if my experience in Munich is anything to go by, we’ll survive just fine with English anyway.
  • We’re planning on being there for “a while”. We don’t really know how long just yet. It could be three years, or five, or fifty. Probably somewhere in the single digits, but we’ll see how it goes.
  • Google have provided us with a generous relocation package, and the nice men will be coming to take our stuff away this time next week. Accommodation will be provided initially, as well as assistance in finding our own place.

If you’re around, we’re having a barbeque at my parents’ house on Saturday, starting around 4pm-ish. If you need directions, please let me know. If you didn’t get told about the date previously, sorry for the short notice, and please don’t worry if you can’t make it. We’re leaving, but Zurich really isn’t that far. You can come and visit us if you like, and I’ve already got my tickets booked for my first trip back home.

Technology and Miracles

I’ve been enjoying twitter for a while now – but the ease with which it allows me to write down individual thoughts means that this blog has been rather neglected.

In the last few weeks though, I’ve been thinking more and more about the various bits of technology, none of them things that would have been available to my parents – or even to someone, say, ten years older than me – that make my life easier, more pleasant, more fun. There are so many of them that it’s hard to know where to start, but these are just a few of my favourites.

When I was born, contraceptives were only available on prescription in Ireland. At first glance, you might say “but that’s still the way” – after all, you still need a prescription for the pill. But in January 1985, you needed a prescription for any kind of contraceptive (other than, presumably, the rhythm method/abstinence!). Earlier this year, I got the last contraceptive prescription I hope to need for a long time – and had an Implanon rod embedded in my arm. It took me a couple of weeks to get used to it, and probably a month before I completely stopped worrying about it popping out through my skin! But I’ve found it an absolute dream since then – and it’s one of the things that makes me so glad to live in the age I live in :)

When I was a very small child, I got my first pair of glasses. I believe mum still has them somewhere – they’d fit a medium-sized doll just about perfectly, they have amazing curls at the ends of the arms to keep them hooked over small ears, they’re just so funny to look at now! I’ve had all kinds of different glasses over the years – big, pink ones; small metal ones; frameless, full framed and half-framed… But apart from one short period after an operation, I’ve always worn glasses. So when I met Rosie in town and I wasn’t wearing any, she thought that maybe I’d had surgery! Not quite – although when I woke up this morning and could see clearly, I did begin to wonder myself! What I’ve got are “continuous wear” contacts – designed to be worn for a month at a time. I’ve only had them for a day or so at this stage, so it remains to be seen whether they’ll work out – but it’s definitely a change!

Finally, when I was growing up, one of the regular tasks that had to be done around the house was the hoovering. When I moved out, I discovered that it still had to be done, but now I couldn’t foist it off on my siblings every other week ;) I hate hoovering, but I also hate the dust bunnies that build up in the corners and under the couches. So yesterday, our new pet did its initial exploration of our living room & hallway. Animals aren’t strictly allowed in our apartment complex, but the landlord didn’t seem to mind too much when I explained that Poomba the Roomba would be coming to live with us. Poomba is a “vacuum cleaning robot”, and I’m in love! Not only does he uncomplainingly hoover, he also sings a happy little tune when he’s done, and a somewhat sorrowful one if he gets stuck! He can clean a (pretty large) room in about 45 minutes, and if he misses a spot, his spot-clean mode works wonders in just a few minutes. He does have a tendency to randomise shoes and scatter shopping bags, if they’re left out while he’s running around – but he’s definitely our new best friend!

The more I write, the more things and toys I think of that make the way I live so different to how it might have been if I’d been born at a different time. But for now, let’s just leave it that I’m so very glad to live in this time, in these places. Life is such an adventure!

Get Naked!

Shane introduced me to the idea of CSS Naked Day via PlanetApache, and it’s today – so for one day only (unless I forget!), this blog is CSS-free.

I’ve been interested in the issues of designing websites that work well in non-standard/text-based browsers/readers etc since I started in uni. Although I’m not a design person at all, and my templates were all written by other people, I’m pleased to see that they’re still usable without CSS. (It’s something I usually check – but it’s been a long time since I changed theme). It does looks kinda funky, with all the text on one side, and the background image in the middle, but it really doesn’t seem that bad (to me!) in terms of information flow, browsability etc.

So, do you look good naked? ;)