Science & Technology

Did you know you can follow this site on Twitter? I update the megnutcom Twitter account each time I publish here with the post title and a link to the post.


Yeah. I found this on my hard drive. Kind of crazy.

Out of the Loop in New York City

A pretty long article in today's New York Times, Out of the Loop in Silicon Valley, looks at the dearth of women in tech, both in leadership roles at large companies and as entrepreneurs with their own start-ups. There's no new information about why women aren't present in any significant amounts, or about why less women study comp sci or engineering in college. And after various interviews and mentions of "women like jobs with more interaction with people", it closes on this optimistic note:

Silicon Valley shows signs of changing, albeit slowly. New organizations are sprouting up for young women in tech, like Girls in Tech and Women 2.0. One-quarter of the partners at Kleiner Perkins, the venture capital firm, are women, and some of the hottest start-ups -- including Gilt, Hunch, Ning, Eventbrite and Meebo -- were founded or co-founded by women.

They could change things for the next generation of girls aspiring to engineering careers and women already entering the field, Ms. Fleming hopes. "If their success becomes visible, so girls can identify with it, they will think, 'Oh yeah, anyone can do this,'" she says.

But why would this be true? Three of the most successful start-ups from Web 1.0, Blogger, Flickr, and Six Apart (and I define successful as millions of users, transformed how people do things on the Web, two acquired for large sums of money by the biggest companies in the Valley) were co-founded by women. Not one of these companies or women was mentioned in the article, though all companies have existed for nearly a decade or more.

If an article asks "In the wide-open world of tech, why so few women?" and can't even acknowledge some of the early female leaders, how can we expect anyone else to know that there are women entrepreneurs. In the quote above, a woman says "if their success becomes visible." Key word here apparently is if.

My article at Lifehacker

An article I wrote entitled How to mouse goofy is up over at Lifehacker. Enjoy!

Apollo 11 at the Smithsonian

If I lived in Washington DC I'd totally be doing this on Saturday: it's a family day at the Smithsonian about Apollo 11!!

Touch a moon rock and then find out how it got to Earth! See the command module Columbia from the Apollo 11 mission, the first to land a man on the moon. Learn how the astronauts from this and other Apollo missions ate, played, and slept in space. Programs will be available in English and Spanish.

Here are the details:

Milestones of Flight: Apollo 11
Saturday, January 28
10:00 AM to 3:00 PM
Milestones of Flight - Gallery 100
National Air & Space Museum
6th & Independence Ave., SW
Washington DC

Sounds like fun for anyone interested in the space program.

Remembering Challenger at 20

It's hard to believe that it's twenty years since Challenger, twenty years since our confidence (we'll send a civilian!) and optimism (we'll send a teacher!) was shattered. I still remember everything about that morning so clearly.

The launch (originally scheduled for January 22) had been pushed back for days, until it was scheduled for the 27th. By that time, I was in exams at school, so we didn't have our regular schedule, only three exam periods a day. Since I had no exams at the time, I was home watching the countdown and hoping to see the lift-off. This was during my "I want to be an astronaut" phase (a phase I'll note that's never really ended for me) and I watched as many shuttle launches as I could, and this one especially because teacher Christa McAuliffe was aboard. In 1985, I'd been to Florida and seen the Challenger lift-off, so of all the shuttles, Challenger was the "best" in my adolescent mind.

The launch was scrubbed that day, I don’t remember why. Maybe winds? Maybe the cold? (Ah, "ground servicing equipment hatch closing fixture could not be removed from orbiter hatch" says NASA) I remember being disappointed. The next morning, I was up and the TV was on again, but again the launch was delayed, this time as they waited for it to warm up. And finally, I had to leave to head to school and take a math exam. I was walking from the T stop next to my high school towards the main building when my friend Kevin stopped me in front of the gym.

"Did you hear about the space shuttle?! It blew up!"

"No, that's impossible." I told him. I'd been there! I'd seen the thing! I had mounds of packets from NASA at home, all about the space program! I even knew an astronaut! But then I noticed everyone around me was talking about. I hurried into the building, trying not to think about it. As we got settled in our seats for the exam, the headmaster came on the loudspeaker and announced the accident to everyone. Then Mrs. Young handed out our exam, which I promptly flunked.

It's hard to believe it's been twenty years, and that during that time, human space travel has become no more routine. In fact, we've lost a second shuttle, and the whole necessity of manned space travel continues to be called into question. But there's no doubt in my mind that we'll continue to explore the final frontier. Eventually we'll return to the moon and head to Mars, and hopefully farther. We'll continue to explore the worlds beyond our own, and when we do, we'll carry the memory not just of the Challenger crew, but all those who've lost their lives doing something amazing: heading into outer space.

I've joined the RSS Board

Though this was announced nearly two weeks ago, I've been distracted so much with other things I've failed to mention it on this site: I've joined the RSS Advisory Board. With the continuing (and surprising to me!) growth of RSS, I'm looking forward to working with the others to help make RSS easy to use and easy to understand, for the techies and the non-techies alike.

On using email to create an account

To Whom It May Concern (most likely being application developers):

If you're going to design a site or application online, and you want to validate the email address a new user has entered, by all means go ahead and send a "validation email." Only for God's sake, send it immediately!

On Saturday (please note: Saturday was three days ago, which is like twelve dog days or five hundred internet days!) I tried to sign up for a Bloglines account because I decided to bite the bullet and start using an RSS reader again. Well, in the time it took for my "validation email" to arrive (which was, as you may have surmised, three days!) I created a Google Reader account, populated it with my various feeds, and started using it. In fact, in the three days I've waited for the Bloglines validation email, I've already tired of Google Reader and pretty much given up using an RSS reader again! By the time the email arrived in my inbox late this afternoon, I thought, "Gah, I can't be bothered. I'm done using RSS."

To all the application designers out there: if you're going to send the email, send it right away. This goes for all you password-recovery people too. I don't care if I get my password for XYZ app five days from now. When I can't recall my password, I most likely would like to "recall" it as soon as possible, so I can do whatever it is I'm trying to do (log onto my bank account to pay a bill, save a recipe, post in a discussion, etc.). Sending it hours, or worse, days later doesn't do me much good. Time is of the essence! Don't we all know this by now?

Frustratedly yours,

Ajaxian fun

I had a really great time earlier this week in San Francisco at the O'Reilly Media and Adaptive Path Ajax Summit. It was just the thing to get my brain jump-started into programming mode, and I feel like for the first time in a very long time, I've got lots of ideas of little apps and do-dads I want to build. Now if only I could find the time!

Categories are back, and better!

If you've got sharp eyes, you might have noticed that categories have made their way back onto entries. As part of my "slow but steady" redesign process, I've recategorized all my entries into topics more manageable than I had before. I haven't set up any category archive pages yet, but will at some point soon. I don't know whether this will be useful or not, but it seemed like a good idea to me.

I talked my way down Memory Lane

Before I left for Ireland, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Halley Suitt for an audio series she does called Memory Lane. We spoke about everything from my trip to computer camp in fifth grade (NERD!!) to the founding of Pyra and the rise of blogging. It was a lot of fun speaking with Halley and I think it's one of the best interviews I've done, and by done I mean talked a lot while Halley gently nudged the conversation down interesting paths.

The whole thing is available here: Memory Lane interview with Meg Hourihan in various formats (Windows media, MP3, etc.). It goes about an hour and weighs in at 27MB. My favorite part is at the end, when I talk about bloggers not really being media consumers but more media regurgitaters. It's my new favorite way of describing what bloggers are doing these days.

Have you taken the MIT weblog survey yet?

Take the MIT Weblog Survey Cameron Marlow (creator of Blogdex and a friend) is running a survey about weblogs. If you're a weblog author, it will take you about 15 minutes to complete and asks some straight-forward questions about when you started blogging, what you link to and why, etc. Don't worry, no essays are involved, you just check some boxes and click some buttons. Please consider taking a moment to participate if you're a blogger. With surveys, like parties, the more the merrier! And diverser!

I finally understand podcasting

When the first podcasts started, I was on sabbatical on Nantucket and not paying much attention to what was happening online. Towards the end of last year, when I began to re-engage with the web, I tried to grok the whole podcast thing but just couldn't. As much as I love to express myself on this site, I couldn't picture myself making audio posts available for download. And as much as I enjoy reading many other sites, I couldn't imagine listening to people talk about breakfast or parking their cars. I've never been able to test my podcast assumptions because I've been using a dial-up internet connection for a large chunk of this year, but now I think I finally get it.

Podcasting isn't (just) about listening to your friends talk about their day on your iPod. It's about time-shifting: being able to download and listen to programs when you want, e.g. four episodes of Fresh Air while you're cleaning your house. And also time-travel: imagine when the BBC or PBS release their archives and you can listen to a BBC interview with the Beatles from 1965, or something to that effect. It's about mobility: loading those episodes on your iPod (or player of choice) and listening while you're driving or out jogging. It's about ease of production: you can produce a podcast now with existing publishing tools, and it's going to get a whole lot easier as more tool makers add this functionality, and new tools like Odeo are released. And finally, it's about that old chestnut: the democratization of media. The old barriers to entry are being demolished, and it's easy to produce and distribute not only text but audio and video as well. And as we've seen with blogging, that can lead to some pretty exciting new content.

It's taken me a while to get my head around this podcasting (perhaps because I needed to take it out of the sand first) but I'm pretty excited about it now that I'm finally paying attention.

Minor changes around here

I tweaked the subway design a little. That mega-giant black header was just too depressing! So I toned it down a bit, trying to keep the theme but making it feel a bit lighter and cheerier around here. Hopefully the new design will make you feel cheerier as well! As always, let me know if there are any problems in your browser.

Also: snowflakes!!!

Saying no to a wind farm off Cape Cod

An op-ed in today's New York Times by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., An Ill Wind Off Cape Cod, argues against the creation of a windfarm in Nantucket Sound, off the coast of Massachusetts.

AS an environmentalist, I support wind power, including wind power on the high seas. I am also involved in siting wind farms in appropriate landscapes, of which there are many. But I do believe that some places should be off limits to any sort of industrial development. I wouldn't build a wind farm in Yosemite National Park. Nor would I build one on Nantucket Sound, which is exactly what the company Energy Management is trying to do with its Cape Wind project.

I too have been opposed to the Cape Wind project ever since I read about it. Kennedy's article is worth reading to consider what would be lost by placing turbines in the Sound, and it's not just the view. I remember taking the slow ferry (and only ferry at the time) to Nantucket as a kid and reaching that point where you couldn't see the land behind and you couldn't yet see Nantucket ahead. I felt like I was out in the middle of nowhere, only ocean in all directions. It was thrilling and exhilarating and scary all at once; I knew I was actually going someplace. Seeing, "130 giant turbines whose windmill arms will reach 417 feet above the water," from the ferry would certainly change the trip. Save the Sound and build them further off shore. Save the birds and the fish and the whales and the local fishing industry. And save too the sense of adventure for those traveling to the Far-Away Island.

The wonders of a digital memory

Today Jason wrote about memory and digital lifestyle, and then this afternoon I found a half-written entry I'd begun about the same topic earlier this year, which I shall now post as if I'd never forgotten about it and had it saved in my digital scrapbook, aka computer:

The amazing thing (OK one of the amazing things) about living a digital media life is the way all kinds of stuff is recorded, even when you don't think about it or mean it to be. For example, I have a lot of ICQ chats saved from 2000, back before I switch to AIM. I would regularly save them, and tonight I was reading through an old one when I stumbled across this message:

Meg 3/27/00 10:42 PM i was laughing hysterically for a bit and had tears coming out of my eyes.

jason 3/27/00 10:42 PM why were you laughing hysterically?

Meg 3/27/00 10:44 PM oh because i had headphones on an ev came over to talk, so i put them around my neck and while he was gabbing away, my brain took over and said, "ugh, these headphones are choking me, i'll move them...hmmm...but where? hmmm...why not over my ears, that'd be the perfect spot" so while ev was talking to me, i just put my headphones back on without even realizing what i was doing...he was pissed...

It's funny because I don't remember that at all, yet it's here in this textual "memory" of mine, and I have MBs and MBs of those memories. Rarely do I revisit them, and when I do, it sure is a trip. I bet there are so many Pyra stories that I've forgotten that would seem so much more interesting now.

From phone numbers to daily office happenings, it's handy to have technology record this stuff we simply don't have the capacity to keep track of ourselves. And in my case, even when we do, I forget about it again.

A very new subway megnut

After years of procrastination and crappy redesign mock-ups in Photoshop, I've done the impossible and actually launched a new design for this site. Yes, it's still an homage to New York City's subways, but now it's 20/21st century NYC subway. Before it was 19th century NYC subway (no, that wasn't pool tiling). It's been somewhat tested. Shoot me an email if something looks amiss to you. Now I just need to keep the old girl updated!

Also, I forgot to add: for those who aren't familiar with New York's subway system, the M, E, G and N are all real lines. The U and T are really the V and L, with some Photoshop trickery involved. I like that there are enough to spell "Meg" without faking it.

Yay Discovery!

STS 114 mission patchI just finished watching the lift-off of the Discovery and it was so cool, especially because they have a new camera now mounted on the external fuel tank (the big orange thing) so you could see the Shuttle roll over and then you could see it separate. The fuel tank falls off and burns up in the atmosphere on re-entry, and you could watch the Shuttle just float away above it. It's pretty incredible after so many Shuttle launches to get a never-before-seen view of the process.

I love watching the Shuttle and it's always held a special place in my heart, as I saw two lift-offs when I was younger in Florida. I thought I'd written about my experiences here, but I realized that I posted about it ages ago over on Metafilter, in a thread about the launch of Atlantis (STS 98) back in February, 2001. I've reposted it below:

I actually attending two launches in the 80's, a Challenger lift-off in 1985 (STS 51-A) and the first lift-off, of Discovery (STS-26), after the Challenger explosion. A family friend was on both missions, and was actually the commander (Rick Hauck) of the Discovery. Far and away, it was the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life.

The first time we sat in the astronaut VIP seats, about 3 miles from the pad. After Challenger they moved all the viewing stands back to about 7 miles. Still, an astronaut's family and guests sit closer than anyone else, so the view is unobstructed, and there's a loud speaker right next to the stands. The ground shakes and the flame when the engines fire up is as bright as the sun, you can't even look at it.

My adrenaline rushed as they said, T-3! 2! 1! And after lift-off, as the count went up, and edged towards 73 seconds (the time when Challenger exploded), everyone went totally silent. All you could hear was the mic, saying "t plus 68 seconds, t plus 69 seconds, t plus seventy seconds.) As soon as Discovery went to full throttle up at t + 73, and the boosters fell off, everyone burst into tears and cheers. (I'm not kidding, it was really that emotional.) There was this little trail of white and off it went into the heavens.

It still is the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life.

Watching today, it still brings tears to my eyes. I'm so hopeful that today marks our return not just to the International Space Station, but to Space with a capital S -- to the moon, to Mars, and eventually beyond! Godspeed Discovery, I only wish I were onboard too!

Searching for autism's causes

There seems to be a lot of discussion lately about what causes autism (see, for example, this recent column by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Vaccines and Autism: Looking for the Truth? Study the Amish). Most of what I've read focuses on preservatives in childhood vaccinations as the cause. But an interesting op-ed in yesterday's New York Times, The Male Condition, by Simon Baron-Cohen (the director of the autism research center at Cambridge University) hypothesizes that genetics, rather than environmental factors, may be the cause of autism:

One needs to be extremely careful in advancing a cause for autism, because this field is rife with theories that have collapsed under empirical scrutiny. Nonetheless, my hypothesis is that autism is the genetic result of "assortative mating" between parents who are both strong systemizers. Assortative mating is the term we use when like is attracted to like, and there are four significant reasons to believe it is happening here.

The reasons he outlines sound pretty compelling to me, and I look forward to seeing further research that could support his assertions.

Another autism report

Reader Josh sent a link to the Immunization Safety Review Committee's 2004 Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism whose description reads in part:

This eighth and final report of the Immunization Safety Review Committee examines the hypothesis that vaccines, specifically the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and thimerosal-containing vaccines, are causally associated with autism. The committee reviewed the extant published and unpublished epidemiological studies regarding causality and studies of potential biologic mechanisms by which these immunizations might cause autism. Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism finds that the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism. The book further finds that potential biological mechanisms for vaccine-induced autism that have been generated to date are only theoretical.

The 214 page report is available for download as a .pdf for ~$35. And to be fair, I haven't been following this issue closely, so I don't know what's "right." I'm just interested in the issue, especially these days as more and more of my friends are starting families.

Older Entries