Thursday, 26 March 2009

Movies, London, and Cambridge

Friday March 20th:
Mike and I met a prospective MSc A.I. student to tell him about the course and show him around ECS. He was the second person we showed around. The first was a Greek guy we met about a month ago and also showed him around. The two come from very different backgrounds. The Greek is young and a fresh Computer Science graduate and the English is an Economics graduate who has a lot of work experience and is also married.
In the evening Fleur, Becky, George, and I went to watch Duplicity. I liked it and I recommend it (No Sarah you are not right; my taste in films is great; see it before judging :P)

Saturday March 21st:
Happy Mother's Day, well, as expected this year my mother's Mother's Day was a FAIL :(. It wasn't our fault because my brothers and I agreed on the gift and everything but my mother went to Tripoli to spend the weekend at Grandpa's. So, we decided to postpone the gift to sometime early this week (and the time of posting this; my mom had still not received her gift *SHAME ).
I went to London to meet Badr. The initial plan was to go to Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum, tate modern, and Science Museum. However, I was running late and some tube lines had partial or no service so we were also delayed in getting everywhere and the crowds of people on the tube were unbearable. So, we first headed the Science Museum intending to go to lunch then the two other museums afterwards. After the Science Museum we went to Oxford street to have lunch. Badr was told that there are some Lebanese restaurants there but we wasted at least an hour looking for one before we gave up and ate pizzas at some Italian restaurant. By the time we finished lunch there was no time to do anything because I had to catch a train to Cambridge. So, we shopped around in Oxford Street and then went back to his apartment so I can pick my stuff up and then I headed to Cambridge. The train that I took to Cambridge was kinda crappy - the trains that go from Southampton to London are nicer. I got to Cambridge at around 11 and took a cab to Tarek's place. We had biscuits and juice for dinner (he is single not poor :P) and after chatting and trying to solve some nail-puzzles I decided to call it a night. I slept on the couch covered with a sleeping bag - reminded me of camping as a kid; those were nice times.

Sunday March 22nd:
We went to Cambridge city center and toured around the colleges and the old buildings. We also went punting in the Cam river. I took loads of pictures because I love old buildings. Beirut - and Lebanon in general - is so different than Cambridge. There are only very few old building in Beirut or the other Lebanese cities because all of them were demolished so new building are built (and also the civil war contributed to that in addition to the many other wars and the seven earthquakes that hit Beirut...). Also, there are many green spaces in Cambrdige while sadly there are only tall building in Beirut. So, needless to say that I enjoyed Cambridge because of my passion to everything old and ancient. Tarek doesn't like it anymore; he thinks it is a very boring city and he wants to go back to London. After the tour and punting we went back to Tarek's place to collect our stuff and took a train to London. Tarek will be staying in London for a week because he has some work there. I then took a train back to Southampton. Unfortunately for me, the train terminated in Eastleigh and they had to take us by bus to Southampton. The whole trip from Cambridge to London to Eastleigh to Southampton was very tiresome ... next time; I will tell Tarek that it is his turn to commute across the country :P

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Ada Lovelace and Women in Technology

"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." — Suw Charman-Anderson

I just found out about this pledge and I took it only because as a woman in computing I know that it is not easy not being one-of-the guys. The dilemma is, I've always enjoyed ending up being one of the guys; as frankly I enjoy going all tech-savvy with guys just as much as I enjoy shopping with girl friends :).

I have always been surrounded by a majority of guys no matter what I do. I have three brothers and no sisters. In high school in grade 12 students choose a concentration and are split up into classes based upon the choice of concentration. I chose the Mathematics and Physics option though I would be the only girl in a class containing 9 guys. It was actually the opposite case in as college there were a lot of girls doing their BS in Computer Science with me and a few female CMPS lecturers as well; however I ended up doing my senior group project with three guys. At my first job there were three of us girl programmers versus six guy programmers, three IT support guys, and two design and database administration guys. At the same time I was attending MCSD (Microsoft Certified Solution Developer) .Net classes and was one of only two girls in a class of fifteen men. The track was made of nine courses and by the third course I was the only girl in a class of ten men. In grad school, I am one of two girls in the MSc of AI course and I didn't have any female lecturers; the academic and research positions are dominated by males. At my other job I was assigned to work in an area where no other girl was working on in our department in Lebanon and only one other girl was working on across all other countries in all the branches of the company. We once attended a training boot camp for the department and the two of us were surrounded by around 28 men. Talk about being outnumbered lol

I never really had a woman role model in computing or technology because I always thought that women lack nothing to be in those domains. Also, I used to get pissed off every time someone (male but much more if female) recites the gender stereotypes that women are not good or not smart enough to be in those domains! One of the stories I can never forget happened when I was working on a project for a Computer Architecture course. We were supposed to wire some gates on a board to produce an output for some function; so I was sitting on the coach with wires, diodes, a board, a big battery, and wire-bending tool. A close girl friend of mine saw me and expressed "What is this that you are doing! That is so not something a girl would do!!" I was furious because that stereotype came from a girl and a friend but I very calmly smiled and answered "Well I like it, whether girly or not, and I don't think that as a girl I shouldn't be doing that". Other stereotype remarks came from men as well; one of whom was supposed to fix the Internet connection at home and he needed me to browse to the Control Panel under Windows so he asked me if I knew how to use a computer; I was shocked - maybe because at the time I was fresh Computer Science graduate who thought that most things I knew were about computers - so I sarcastically replied "I think so", so he asked me if I will be fine if he guides me verbally to what commands need to be input; so I said that we can try. After finishing the 'task' I informed him that I was a Computer Science graduate and he was a bit embarrassed lol

Back to Ada Lovelace; the first time I heard of her was in class; only a few months ago frankly. Personally I was impressed and pleased because of all the early inventors and Computer Scientists we were being told about she was the only female. It didn't take long before I had the chance to cheer up one of my females friends using Ada Lovelace's achievements. We were having dinner and she was saying that her course-mates on the Computational Fluid Dynamics MSc always blame the fact that she is a woman whenever she doesn't understand any of her lessons quickly. I directly said, "well, your course-mates haven't heard about Ada Lovelace for sure!". I also told her about Prof Dame Wendy Hall and how she was the Head of ECS and then she became president of ACM and was also president of BCS before that. Over time, I have apparently developed an interest in finding out - and bragging - about female Computer Scientist achievers; something which I previously took for granted. I still believe that being a female in Computing is nothing special and shouldn't be judged and stereotyped; but now I enjoy when it is celebrated :) What can I say, women love attention; don't we? ;)

Final note, I took the picture above on Saturday in the Science Museum in London. My friend and I were in the Computing section and as I came next to the machines invented by Charles Babbage I directly told my friend about Ada Lovelace. A few steps later the above invention was displayed with Ada Lovelace's picture and I just had to take the picture after exclaiming "Oh Look! There she is!" :)

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Week of March 8th

Sunday March 8th:
I had Sunday Roast with Ji. It is a traditional English meal that people usually eat on ... Sundays - duh :P. I had agreed with her on Friday to have lunch together, so all weekend I knew I was gonna have Sunday lunch with her which was a weird feeling because it reminded me of the feeling I used to have during weekends at home because I would know that my family always has Sunday lunches together.
I then went shopping with Sheena, George, Becky, and Fleur - to ASDA of course *roll. I bought a new oven casserole because I had dropped the one I had before and it broke. I also bought a new dish because I broke two! OK, so I am clumsy ... :$ and this doesn't even count as news :P. The news is that I washed the new casserole and put it on the dish rack to dry. Then I was putting away the dishes and I took out two dishes and turned my back on the rack only to hear a crash and see George's puzzled looks. The new - washed and UNUSED - casserole had fell on the ground! Sometimes I feel so stupid because I am so clumsy :(. I later bought another one ... let us see how long this will survive :P

Monday March 9th:
Reena and I went to an event organized by BCS (British Computer Society) and WES (Women in Engineering and Sciences) for the occasion of International Women's Day. It was an OK evening. I was handed the task of giving raffle tickets to a free prize draw. The prize was a book published by BCS. I didn't win this time :P. The evening wasn't a big success because the organizers expected 50 people to show up and only about 15 came! There were two talks by two women; the first was a lady from WES who talked about the evolving role of women in science and technology over the past 100-and-so years. The second was a lady who described how they changed the IT structure and applications of the company that runs the airports and flight management. The second talk was really boring for me and I couldn't wait for it to finish. After the talk we had dinner and did a bit of 'networking'.
There is one thing I want to add. An English lady asked me where I was from and I said Lebanon. She then looked at me - in a strange way - and said: "I see you are keeping yourself warm; it must be really cold here compared to what you are used to". That frankly pissed me off. OK so I know that most people are ignorant about the weather and geography of Lebanon and think that it is some hot desert; and I sincerely don't expect people to even know what Lebanese is or where it is. But what pisses me off is when people make assumptions about things they don't know about then declare those assumptions in a not-so-friendly-way. But, I kept my cool and didn't say anything because Reena started talking about something related to the whether blablabla. Then I told the lady: "That reminded me of one winter when we were children and my grandmother came to take care of me and my brothers because my mom had to stay in the hospital with my youngest brother since he was sick and also my dad wasn't in Lebanon because he was travelling. Anyway, it was a very cold winter - we do get cold winters in Lebanon - but it was the first time my grandmother took care of us. So, she was afraid that we would get cold so she would dress up in a lot of heavy clothes. One day she dressed my brother in 7 blouses and sweaters! Can you imagine that! We still joke about it till now!" The lady was dumb-founded ... good thing I didn't tell her that my grandmother made my brother wear three trousers and three hats as well LOL

Tuesday March 10th:
I was intending on going to a talk about swarm robots organized by the IEEE chapter in ECS ... but I totally forgot D'oh! I don't know what is up with me these days - I am very forgetfull!

Thursday March 12th:
ECSWomen and Careers Services organized a Coffee and Cake event. I went along and enjoyed coffee, cake, chatting with people, and a tour in the careers services building. They are moving out of their current small building to new offices next year and they needed to hear people's opinions about how they can improve their services and what services people need from them.

Saturday March 14th:
I went to the zoo :P. Fleur, her uncle Mac, her grandpa Opa, and I went to Marwell Zoo. We spent the day there and then had lunch in Winchester. It was a really lovely day with nice weather and a great company. Fleur's grandpa is so nice and cute ... but hey, I think all grandpa's are cute :P. I miss my grandpa :( We took a lot of pictures of all the animals. I found the nicest were the leopard, flamingos, arabian cats, and lemurs - no wonder I don't get all excited about regular cats and dogs ... it is the leopards and other animals that are interesting to me LOL

Mother's day is in a couple of days and as previously mentioned I was the one who came up with all the ideas for gifts. We have settled on the presents; let us hope the two men in Lebanon (dad and Yahya) are capable of following gift-purchasing instructions :P LOL

A Closure, Finally ...

My tears rolled down my cheeks instantaneously, my head was stricken with internal pain, and my lungs started gasping for breath. I had just seen the picture of my relative's grave. I was reading some notes on facebook and mistakenly clicked on his daughter's notes and was immediately faced with a white tombstone with his name engraved on it. It was a harsh reality-check that I have refused to admit for almost 4 years now. His memorial is coming up, it will have been 4 years since he was buried on April 7th, 2005. I re-lived that shock because I had never visited his grave; more like always rejected to visit it; perhaps because subconsciously visiting it was an admittance that he has died; something which was too painful for me to believe. Seeing the picture can maybe finally make me oblige myself to be convinced that he has died; maybe it is the closure that everyone got and that I refused to get.
His death raised a lot of question inside me. Questions that I was desperate for answers for. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is it always the nicest, purest, loveliest, most honest, and one of my favourites. He was my third-favourite relative ever - and I have a lot of relatives; only my grandfather and one of my uncles came before him. Other questions I never thought I would be asking in regards to a loved one ... and I am not sure that answers to them would satisfy me. Why did they have to kill him that way? Why did they have to throw his dead body in the sea? (Are we in some silly Soprano's episode where if you are a threat to the big man's bank account then you are running the risk of sleeping with the fish!!!) Why did they have to torture him for endless hours until his face and body were distorted beyond recognition? When his body was found - picked up by fishermen - the police needed a family member to identify the dead body; my uncle was one of the very few people who saw the dead body ... he tried to identify his cousin and friend in that body ... he couldn't ... no one could ... he could only confirm his identity from his fingers and his wedding ring ... The family then took a decision that no one is to see the dead body because such a sight of a loved one is unbearable; they even made sure that the coffin was locked for the funeral so that none of the women of the family would be able to open the coffin in a moment of grief wanting to say to a close goodbye ...
... I googled news about him a few days ago but I couldn't find any articles because the newspapers in Lebanon don't keep online archives for more than a few weeks; I did however come across a website that had a news article saying that his body was found ... it also had a picture of his body laying flat on his face ... I got furious because it is not legal to post pictures of dead people without their families' consent! I also got another headache because I recognized the back of his head and his very grey hair ... I can deny it no more no matter how hard I want to ...
Today, as his memorial approaches, I tear up every time I remember and I wonder if I will ever forget the detailed memories of the days of that April ... but this upcoming memorial there is a different thing, there is a certainty I can't escape ... this memorial - and unlike the previous ones - I know that his death was real, I know that I can no longer lie to myself, and I know that I have finally believed that he is not coming back because he is not in this world any more ... he has died and left this cruel world that didn't deserve him ... what remains now is us and our attempts to convince ourselves that he is in a better place ...

Friday, 6 March 2009

Things have been slow lately

So I took a WHOLE month off after the final exams. I didn't do any work for the whole of February and when I did sit down to do work I would end up facebooking or youtubing or reading the news or emailing some friends or chatting with other friends (or blogging) *shame. And when I actually tried to force myself to do work I would get very sleepy and couldn't understand a single word of what I was reading - if I had managed to read anything!
But, I have been feeling very (very very) guilty lately so starting this week I cut down on almost all my activities. I only went over to Verena's on Wednesday for dinner. Verena had invited me along with Fleur, Peter, and Sheena. Peter forgot and Sheena was sleeping so only Fleur and I went but it was full of fun. Poor Verena had cooked for five people so plenty of food was left. The food was good, she cooked pasta and though I am not a fan I liked it. We then played cards and that was a blast.
Also, I spent about two days looking for a topic to do my one of courseworks on and that was really depressing. All the titles of the papers I found were complicated and scary that I just couldn't click to read what they were lol *sigh. I finally decided to go with a topic I was familiar with so hopefully that should be good.
Also, we had a room check on Monday and my toilet seat failed LOL. No, it WASN'T dirty: it had to be de-scaled. That was a horrible chore and I actually had to scrub it for half an hour before the brown limescale was removed. There are still some but they just won't go away. I think I will leave them for now :P. I miss not having to do any chores :(.
I mailed my Mom a Mother's Day card yesterday. Fingers crossed that she receives it by the 21st, wait, fingers crossed that she receives it ever :P. Letters seem to mysteriously get lost in the mail lol. This will be my Mom's first Mother's Day without me; which means that her gifts will suck LOL (if she receives any *shame). For the past few years I have been the one who handles buying the gifts for Mom simply because I know for a fact that men are physically incapable of remembering birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions (I have three brothers, a father, and a male best friend so I know what I am talking about :P). And, if by some miracle men do remember the event in question (and by some miracle I mean they are reminded by a woman LOL) they are physically incapable of buying presents. So, I start out in the first week of March bombarding my brothers with emails till we settle on a gift. This year, however, I am not in Lebanon so I dunno how we will go about doing this. I was thinking that as a last resort I can buy her flowers and a cake online - at least she would get something.
Final note, Easter vacation is in two weeks; I don't know if I should be happy about it or dreading it because I have been procrastinating so much I may have to work my socks off for that whole month. Well, not the whole month because Badr is coming so at least I will see him a few times and also I will be visiting my brother - and if he is lucky I may cook him some Lebanese meals :P.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Changes & من عاشر قوماً أربعين يوماً (Part III)

More updates on changes :)
I have finally given in after much resistance and started to use EN-UK language when spell-checking, and I am frankly not liking it. I have to spell check everything twice; once habitually using the EN-US dictionary and another using the EN-UK one. Swapping between EN-US and EN-UK immediately produces red lines everywhere in the document. Of the major mistakes is using a z in place of an s. For example, maximize becomes maximise and optimize becomes optimise; i.e. more s's and less z's. This was a bit confusing and to make matters worse my brother told me to be careful in coursework, emails, and exams because according to him British people consider these spelling mistakes and are annoyed by them! Thanks to spell checkers I wasn't facing any issues - other than my resistance - with coursework and emails. I got confused, however, during exams. I started out writing using s's and then I started getting a bit lost "Is magazine written with a z as in magazine or with an s as in magasine; wait I've never seen the word magasine before; but still that doesn't mean that this isn't the correct spelling for the word magazine; so should I write it with an s or with a z. I know that the French word is written magasin if it means a shop and magazine if it means a magazine, so is it possible that in British English it is the same for both or is it ... oh! **** that! I will just write it as I know it" hahaha. I later checked and magazine is written magazine in both UK and US lol!

Cooking updates ;)
I know I have written about this in (more than one) other post; but the zucchini experience is a major change. Other than that one very successful time when I made stuffed zucchini in youghurt sauce; I also made it in tomato sauce. The later one wasn't as successful (and dont tell anyone but I ended up throwing half of the meal) *shame. I should call mom and re-write the recipe because apparently I didn't write down how many tomatoes to use, so yes I am blaming it on the recipe :P. I have also made my mom's special omelette AND I have finally cooked 'rice with chicken and vegetables' without burning it yeeey for me :P lol.