Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ruby on Rails Docs Done Right

The official Ruby on Rails API site uses the same tri-frame layout employed in the Java API site, except that the Java site's show-classes-by-package feature doesn't apply. The way to search either of these is to use your browser's "find" feature (ctrl+F). I find this setup rather irksome.

Fortunately, Vladimir Kolesnikov has brought us railsapi.com, a searchable Rails API site. It's available to use online or to download and use offline. The search returns matches by relevance and picks up on inexact matches.  Below are links to the online API.

Rails version 3: http://railsapi.com/doc/rails-v3.0.3/

Rails version 2: http://railsapi.com/doc/rails-v2.3.8/

Thanks, Vlad!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why So Few Women in Computer Science?

I've previously posted on why computer science makes a great major for women. Given the advantages, why don't more college-going women look into it?

A blog post by Dr. K considers the possibility, as brought up by Dr. Margaret Burnett, that the abrasive metaphors found in computing (e.g. "killing" a program, "zombie" processes) may turn girls off of computer science. That's one I've never heard before. As a tomboy child flanked by brothers, growing up in a Dungeons and Dragons household, I don't consider myself a good judge of this hypothesis.

A comment on the post points to the unattractive "nerdy" stereotype associated with computer experts. I think this a more likely deterrent: even brainy girls tend to have a bit too much vanity (at least on the basic personal hygiene level) to want anything to do with that image. But if the "geek chic" trend keeps up, that image problem could be solved any year now.

As for the terminology, I think the problem isn't that girls find the computer nerds' jargon disgusting; it's that they find it alien and intimidating. You see, they generally haven't been brought up speaking the language.

According to my observations, a lot of nerds first gained computer expertise years before they and their classmates could take high school programming classes. They got it during middle school years while hanging out with their computer nerd friends, programming games on their home-built computers in an atmosphere of male bonding. I played video games with my brothers quite a bit when I was a kid, but when my older brother invited his buddies over and they learned QBasic together, I didn't feel like I belonged there. So I didn't learn programming until I stumbled upon a C++ tutorial years later.

A lot of the guys who end up studying computer science in college come from the nerd-male-bonding background I've described. They spout all sorts of jargon that I, the n00b programmer that I was when I entered college, had scarcely heard. I understood logic and math, and I was ready to learn, so I wouldn't say I had a real academic disadvantage. But the social climate had me feeling left behind sometimes. Many of us girls have the smarts that it takes, but as freshmen most of us aren't gutsy enough to stick with a potential interest if we don't have a network of support. That's something I think is missing for young women who might otherwise consider C.S.

What discussion have you seen on why there are so few women in computer science? What do you think of it, and how can we make the field more welcoming?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Today I Stalked Myself

Today as I was reading up on Internet safety, I got to thinking, how vulnerable am I? I've shared some information on the Web; I feel no need to hide my blog posts and comments. But I don't want someone going to my hometown address and harassing my parents, nor do I want companies stuffing their mailbox with junk mail. So I stalked myself. I'm pleased to report that my full home address can't be found on my social networking sites or anywhere else on the public web, and I've eliminated one reference to my neighborhood within my hometown.

Do you have anything online open to public view that you wouldn't want a stranger to see? I encourage you to stalk yourself, before someone else stalks you. Try this with your kids, too, and teach them about Internet safety.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mankind has Built Hands

Mankind has built hands
Of silicon and copper
Of myriad ones and zeroes
That reach across the world.

Hands serve and entertain us.
They beckon to temptation,
Applaud, or point in scorn.

Hands clasp in trust and friendship,
Build and hone tools together,
And even mend a patient's life.

As we reach across the world,
Do we lift our fellows up?
They still count on our hearts of flesh
To show compassion
With these hands mankind has built.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

It's Easy to Lie Online

Fooling computer systems usually takes some technical know-how, but using the Internet to fool other people is elementary. No authenticity checks keep me from setting up an email account under any name I choose to use, and then registering for social networking sites such as Facebook. Since I use any name, pictures, and information I choose, I could masquerade as practically anyone, imagined or real.

Adults as well as children need to exercise caution; some people we meet online may be disguising their identities or their true motives. A friend in need might ask to borrow money; an online friend, once she owes you money, might block you from ever seeing her log on again. In-person acquaintance reveals a person's tone of voice, facial expressions, and other nonverbal cues; only a great actor can fake these. Typing a lie is much easier.

There are some valid reasons, such as online dating, to meet and form friendships with people over the Internet. These activities require precautions. I'll emphasize this precaution: Before you entrust an individual with personal information that could be exploited, be sure that you have formed a sufficient friendship with that individual in person.