[Humanist] 27.684 girls & computing -- and lower-cost technology

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Jan 8 08:50:08 CET 2014


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 684.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    John Levin <john at anterotesis.com>                         (24)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 27.680 girls & computing; lower-cost
                technology

  [2]   From:    Norman Gray <norman at astro.gla.ac.uk>                      (48)
        Subject: Re:  27.673 lower-cost technology; and 27.672 girls and
                computing


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Tue, 07 Jan 2014 09:25:44 +0000
        From: John Levin <john at anterotesis.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 27.680 girls & computing; lower-cost technology
        In-Reply-To: <20140107075352.95D38621E at digitalhumanities.org>


> That's a very interesting point. On a pre-Christmas visit to a large toyshop in the UK, I was struck by how heavily some manufacturers have invested in producing 'boy' and 'girl' versions of what are essentially the same toys, such as Nerf blasters and LEGO bricks. In many cases, it appears that the 'girl' versions are in some way the odd ones out. For example, the Nerf blasters with photographs of boys on the boxes are simply branded 'Nerf', whereas the Nerf blasters with photographs of girls on the boxes are branded 'Nerf Rebelle', with what I felt to be some incredibly clumsy gender stereotyping: the Heartbreaker Bow and the Pink Crush Crossbow in particular. Perhaps I shouldn't mention the availability of child-sized, princess-pink hunting rifles in the US. Is it only a matter of time before someone releases a pink-themed 'Linux Princess' distro in a misguided attempt to prepare girls for careers in systems administration?
>
> Best wishes
>
> Daniel
>

No princess linux distro that I know if, but how about a pink desktop 
theme for ubuntu?
http://www.noobslab.com/2011/11/pink-theme-for-ubuntu-1110-unity-for.html

See also:

Pink computer (toy) for girls:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lexibook-Computer-Secret-Musical-Keyboard/dp/B000QVZFAI

Phone cases in pink "for girls":
http://www.amazon.co.uk/iPhone-Genuine-Leather-Holder-Protectors-Pink/dp/B00AEH9A46
And more:
http://www.techij.com/2013/02/best-iphone-cases-cheap-girls.html

And what about 'Della', Dell's 'computer for women':
http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Della_computers

Tech sector is just as bad as the toys'.

John

-- 
John Levin
http://www.anterotesis.com
http://twitter.com/anterotesis



--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Tue, 7 Jan 2014 11:24:52 +0000
        From: Norman Gray <norman at astro.gla.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re:  27.673 lower-cost technology; and 27.672 girls and computing
        In-Reply-To: <20140105095252.11D425F8A at digitalhumanities.org>


Greetings.

I think these two recent threads may be intimately connected (look out for low-flying kites, below).

Dave Postles wrote:

> RPi is fine, particularly for Python coding, although you could do the
> same some time ago with the olpc (with python tutorials integrated).
> Anything which encourages the use of Linux, on the desktop as well as on
> servers and embedded, is fine with me, The problem with the RPi is still
> that it has only sold 1m units, so it's impact is fairly confined.  There
> are, of course, many other single-board PCs (SBPCs) out there.  Python is
> useful for digital humanities (especially for corpus linguistics).  I have
> a suspicion, however, that it's (RPi's) impact, welcome as it is, is being
> overhyped.

I have limited but concrete experience with RPis.  It seems to me that the thing that's special about the RPi is not that it does anything that hasn't been done before -- other such systems exist -- but that it represents an impressively managed set of trade-offs, in the service of a particular interesting target.

That target is:

  1. It's cheap: if you fry the thing, because you shorted the wrong pair of pins, it's irritating but not a disaster.

  2. It's intimately connected with hardware: as well as connectors to standard gadgetry, the board has prominent support (the double row of pins in one corner) for connections to low-level hardware, namely transistors and capacitors and integrated circuits and things you've soldered up yourself.

But

  3. It's well integrated: it's not just for the sort of folk who already know how to design their own electronics.  It's easy to get started, and the RPi Foundation have made a start on creating a helpful community round that.

Achieving both 1 and 3 at the same time is I think a significant technical and design achievement.

Thus I think it _does_ link to the picture that Willard painted:

> But
> what I knew about and reached for were the kits from which one could
> built radio transmitters and receivers, voltmeters using only basic
> components (resistors, capacitors etc) and simple tools (wire-cutter,
> soldering iron, screwdriver etc).
> 
> So I wonder, how does the Raspberry Pi compare in its extent and kind
> of influence? I was building devices from kits at ca. age 8.

The RPi is the sort of thing that young Willard could have investigated with a soldering iron and an 8-year-old eye-gleam, _and_ that is very different from what 'computing' has meant in the last few decades.

And that leads to my point.

Amongst a number of interesting points, Suzana Sukovic said:

> It seems there are a few factors at play, roughly around 3 connected areas:
> 1. Girls' interests
> 2. Cultural issues around gender and geek cultures
> 3. The way computers are presented and taught.

If the RPi is indeed different from what 'computing' has meant for the last 50 years, then it represents an opportunity to broadly disrupt 'computing'/geek culture; the RPi represents a bit of cultural barricade broken down.

In particular (and this point isn't fully worked out, so forgive some clumsiness), I think it would be possible and entertaining to use the RPi to subvert some stereotypes about gender and technology, and about the distinction between computing and electronics.  Plunging into those stereotypes...

  * Computers are about binary things (which boys like, As Any Fule Kno); electronics is much more inflected (which girls like, as any fule...), and never certainly in one state or another.

  * Computers proceed, instruction by instruction, from one stable state to another; electronics is much more dynamic, with one part of a system interacting unpredictably with another.

  * Computer systems are constructed by the composition of components with well-defined interfaces; electronics is much more physical, like cooking (which...).

And so on.  Viewed through the right spectacles, electronics could surely be presented as much more feminine than masculine, or more yin than yang (if that makes the argument go better), without any danger of the result being written off, as Suzana fears, as merely 'soft computing skills'.  And RPis mean that this subversion is more naturally backed up with practice, rather than being merely a paper exercise.  That would be RPi impact.

There's presumably a link here to the fashionably increasing visibility of 'makers'.  Also, one of my prime associations with this sort of electronics (I'm not a hardware person, and have only bumped into this recently) is Adafruit  http://www.adafruit.com/about/ , which is definitely not toys for boys.

(I fear this may be heading off at a tangent from Digital Humanities)

Best wishes,

Norman

-- 
Norman Gray  :  http://nxg.me.uk
SUPA School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Glasgow, UK





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