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Fashion, Tech, and Everything in Between


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Startup Spotlight: MeU, a Versatile Wearable Display

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This is the information age. We as a society consume information at a faster rate than at any other time in known history, and it’s become kind of a chicken-or-egg scenario: which came first, the demand for information or the supply? Either way, devices that deliver information quickly, easily and in bite-sized packets are seizing the markets by storm, especially when they serve a dual purpose as a public statement. One such device is MeU, a wearable LED display that attaches to fabric and displays your custom information through your clothes. I had the pleasure of meeting Robert Tu, founder of MeU, at his office in Toronto, where he demoed MeU and gave me the inside scoop.

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Beginning as a graphic design project at OCAD University, MeU was originally conceptualized as a way to distribute urban informatics in a social way by displaying real time data about the world around the wearer to those in the immediate vicinity. Inspired by the popular transit apps that tell users when the next vehicle is scheduled to arrive, one of MeU’s early applications was to display that information in real time on the back of the wearer’s shirt.

As you can see, the original LEDs were sewn directly into the fabric, limiting the versatility of MeU. After further iterations and tech tweaks the product has evolved into a full panel that can be inserted into most pieces of clothing with a velcro strip. Protected by sweat-wicking cloth on one side and clear plastic on the other, the panels and hidden lilypad Arduino (the brain of the device) are safe from moisture and the elements.

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MeU is fully programmable through the partner iOS and Android apps, and is appropriate for many uses, including fashion,

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I asked Robert to make me a shirt with my logo on it, and the results are pretty awesome! It was very quick too, the whole process took five minutes. He downloaded the image, converted it to the 16×16 pixel size and uploaded it via the app to the shirt!

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Today marks the official launch of MeU’s Indiegogo campaign, crowdfunding and providing makers/arduino fans/DIYers with the first chance to buy the MeU Square and dev kit! Robert and his team are calling all makers, developers, hackers, Arduino fans, and DIYer’s, to join the MeU community by contributing to the campaign and sharing their creations online at the hashtag #meuleds. You can also follow their crowdfunding and creation journey on the MeU Facebook page or by following @the_MeU_LED on Twitter!

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Swimming in the Desert

Techies off duty!

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What would a trip to the desert be without a good swim? Once Sarah arrived in Phoenix and joined me in our lovely suite in the Crowne Plaza airport hotel, we started off our trip with a dip in the pool. It was incredibly warm in Phoenix, 30+ degrees celsius every day, and because Canada is freezing by comparison we made an effort to swim as much as possible, winding down after long conference days with drinks by the poolside.

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The Crowne Plaza hotel does a great job of creating a private oasis in the middle of Phoenix’s sprawling outskirts. It’s like stepping into a pocket of the tropics, complete with palm trees and all.

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OUTFIT:

my bikini: La Perla

Sarah’s bikini: Body Glove

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GHC14 Day 2 – Megan Smith, Maria Klawe and Satya Nadella take the Stage

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Summing up the morning keynotes in one emotion: awe. The surprise speaker that GHC had kept a secret until she walked out on stage was, as I expected, the new CTO of the United States of America, Megan Smith. What an inspiring and well-spoken woman! And though Satya Nadella’s interview stirred up quite a bit of controversy on the net, I was impressed by his support and bravery in being the first major tech CEO to speak out in support of women in tech on such a broad scale. Yes, he said what he said, but the internet seems to have forgotten all the other great, positive things he said in his interview, including his feelings that he enjoys working with women, that “working hard is something that is worth doing,” and “each one of us has a few superpowers.” But I’ve written a whole other post on that issue, so check that out and let me know if you agree!

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This is probably the only tech conference in the world to have a long line for the women’s bathroom and none for the men’s. How refreshing!

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Until now I haven’t really shared much from the sessions I went to. These pictures are from one of my favourite sessions, lessons in graphics from a Disney engineer! She showed us a lot of behind-the-scenes images and before and after stills from Disney’s Frozen.

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When not in sessions, Sarah and I spent a lot of time in the Google lounge, charging our phones at the charging stations and taking advantage of the comfy chairs and lego block stools for those necessary feet-up moments. Being on your feet all day at a conference is no easy feat – notice that I ditched my Day 1 heels and wore flats on Day 2.

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And then of course there was the ever-enticing career fair, which somehow managed to hold new surprises and more companies every time we visited. Below are some of the most entertaining booths we found on Day 2: HBO’s virtual reality Game of Thrones experience using Oculus Rift, Pinterest’s beautiful DIY-inspired booth, and an unexpected temporary tattoo booth hosted by Simple, a digital bank. Yes, that’s why I tweeted about getting a tattoo from a bank that day.

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PS: My trip to Phoenix for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing has been sponsored by Dalhousie University and Syncfusion, my official corporate partner! A HUGE thanks to both, I am so grateful.

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Syncfusion is the enterprise technology partner of choice for Windows development, delivering a broad range of software frameworks and tools. Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, Syncfusion has more than 10,000 customers, including large financial institutions, Fortune 100 companies, and global IT consultancies. Find out more in my announcement post about our partnership, and find me at Grace Hopper to get your FREE software license!


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How Women in Computing may be Debilitating their own Movement

I dream of a day when we no longer need events for women in computing. My experience at Grace Hopper was wonderfully positive but, unfortunately, the same cannot be said for some of the male attendees and speakers.

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It’s an unfortunate and sad fact that, when gathered, a large number of minority representatives will automatically antagonize the other side. Simply tracking the #ghcmanwatch tag on Twitter throughout the conference showed that the Grace Hopper Celebration was most definitely a women celebration, not an equality celebration. And while the event was certainly a time and a place to celebrate all the amazing things that make women in computing powerful, being a proud woman and an advocate for women in tech is not a reason to be anti-men and to turn every thing our male allies say into a perceived attack on women.

The goal is equality. At least, it should be. 

What are we really fighting for, as women? We’ve seen that in the past, when men were (and in some cases, still are) dominating the boardrooms and offices, and women were confined to the lesser roles. That clearly did not work, and we are slowly but surely working towards a world where that is no longer the norm. But then why does the feminist movement sometimes feel like it wants to be a movement towards total female domination? We know that having one sex in power does not work: it should not be about pushing the men out, but rather getting more women in and moving towards a more equal, neutral society.

 

The above tweet shows a BINGO card handed out prior to the male allies panel, which encouraged women to find the flaws in what the men were saying. Clearly, whoever made these cards was not going in to the allies session with an open mind, and wanted to encourage the women in the audience to look for the negatives instead of listen to the positives and see the positive intentions. Images like this were not uncommon on #ghcmanwatch and, speaking to some of the male attendees, I saw the effect that the antagonizing comments, posts and tweets had. One man said, “this is precisely why men don’t want to be part of the conversation,” speaking to the fact that his words were twisted when he tried to show support. This may make our male allies feel that, no matter what they say, it will be taken poorly or twisted out of context. At the male allies panel on Day 1 of GHC, the men on stage were visibly uncomfortable, and you could tell by the slow, careful way in which they spoke that they were making a conscious effort not to offend or say anything that could be taken out of context. Yet their words still were twisted, and their intentions even more so.

 

And now let’s address the big controversy that apparently has the whole world up in arms. Though Satya Nadella’s interview stirred up quite a bit of controversy on the net, I was impressed by his support and bravery in being the first major tech CEO to speak out in support of women in tech on such a broad scale. Yes, he said what he said, but the internet seems to have forgotten all the other great, positive things he said in his interview, including his feelings that he enjoys working with women, that “working hard is something that is worth doing,” and “each one of us has a few superpowers.” When Satya Nadella said you shouldn’t have to ask for a raise and told us to trust the system, he meant that, when the system is working correctly, the employer appreciates and the employee feels appreciated and you can move up the ladder without having the conflict of asking for a raise. I think he forgot that not every company works the same way Microsoft does, and was speaking as though the 8,000 attendees were his own employees. Because that’s the way it is at Microsoft: open, honest and fluid. People change roles often and move around the company based on what they and their managers feel is best suited to the unique situation, and the result is a very positive, natural approach to promotions and the raises that accompany them.

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But of course, unfortunately for Satya, he wasn’t speaking to a room of Microsoft employees, he was talking to thousands of people, both in person and online, many of whom were waiting for him to slip up, simply because he’s a man. After the event he apologized publicly and in an internal email to employees, saying that he answered the question wrong and really did not mean that women shouldn’t take charge of their careers. Good, right? The situation should end there, maybe fizzle into the history books and be remembered as a small blip. But no, there are still petitions out their rallying for his resignation, tweets saying he hates women, and articles being written that paint him in a privileged light, as though he didn’t work hard to get where he is today.

The antagonizing, mean and downright deflating comments shared during GHC built up a negative wall between women and men, and though some people, myself included, shared our thoughts about the backwards nature of these interactions, many men still said that they would not be coming back to the conference next year. So, in trying to be inclusive and promote women in computing, we must make a conscious effort not to reverse our progress through unwarranted controversy and attacks. In balancing the scales of gender in technology, we must strive for a positive, uplifting environment for all those involved.

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Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC14) Day 1

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When I imagined going to Grace Hopper, I had no idea of the scale of the event. This year’s celebration brings a record 8,000 attendees from 64 countries to Phoenix, Arizona for a three-day women in computing conference. The attendees come from all walks of life and all skill levels, and each one has a different story to tell about their experience with the gender equality gap in technology.

Day 1 of GHC14 united attendees with the first round of speakers including a keynote from Dr. Shaffi Goldwasser, a renowned computer scientists and Turing Award winner. The sessions here are all incredible and since I can’t make it to them all I’m looking forward to catching up with the ones I miss online. If you’re interested in following the live stream of the event, you can do so here. I’ll also be posting more detailed recaps of the ones I saw once I’m back home, for now I’ll stick to the recaps!

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After the speaker sessions was the career fair, which placed the 8,000 attendees in front of a few hundred companies, a trade show-like opportunity for networking, learning about new companies, and swag collecting. Check out this photo of me with the late Grace Hopper!

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Google’s booth was (expectedly) extraordinary, with the self-driving car and Diane von Furstenburg Glass taking the lead.

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Microsoft also had an interesting and much more interactive booth, where attendees could build critters out of blocks, scan them with the Kinect for Windows (have you seen my post about the new sensor yet? Check it out on Microsoft’s Canadian Developer Connection blog!), and see them converted into graphical form, interacting with other attendees’ critters. The most interesting thing about this activity was that each critter’s personality was determined by the shape you made it in, and what colours you connected.

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PS: My trip to Phoenix for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing has been sponsored by Dalhousie University and Syncfusion, my official corporate partner! A HUGE thanks to both, I am so grateful.

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Syncfusion is the enterprise technology partner of choice for Windows development, delivering a broad range of software frameworks and tools. Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, Syncfusion has more than 10,000 customers, including large financial institutions, Fortune 100 companies, and global IT consultancies. Find out more in my announcement post about our partnership, and find me at Grace Hopper to get your FREE software license!

 


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Touchdown in Phoenix! (YYZ – PHX)

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Hello from Phoenix! Flying in over Arizona was such a surreal experience, I’ve never seen such flat cityscapes and jagged rock formations jutting out of the ground like roller coasters. I’m writing this post from my bed in the Crowne Plaza hotel, looking out the window at desert foliage, palm trees, and those weird sandy-red mountains. I’ve been here just an hour or so and already I wish I had more time to explore this beautiful place. There won’t be much time for exploring this week, with the packed schedule of the Grace Hopper Celebration. But hey, I’m here for the conference, not the scenery! Today is a downtime day, settling in to our hotel and picking up our conference passes. Yes, you read that right – I’m traveling with my good friend Sarah, who will also be blogging our journey on her brand new blog, La Vie en Code! Hooray for girlcoder bloggers, let’s grow this niche.

In the meantime, here’s a look at my trip from Toronto to Phoenix! It was not one without hassle, even though I specifically tried to avoid stress by booking a direct flight, as I mentioned in my last post about traveling for conferences. I booked the flight on Air Canada Rouge which, unbeknownst to me, is a fancy way of saying “Air Canada with no leg room, unkempt flight attendants, and only half the necessary amount of carry-on baggage space.” My knees were touching the seat in front of me without anything in the pockets, and it’s not like I’m extraordinarily tall! And I know this isn’t really a reason not to take an airline, but the flight attendant uniforms were hideous. I’m talking grey pants, burgundy sweater, abstract scarf, and GREY FEDORA. And in some cases, unbrushed hair. Anyways, I’m going to avoid Rouge flights in future, even though my flight home will be with Rouge too.

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The trip started out really well, with an hour spent lazily browsing the seemingly-infinite breakfast options available in Pearson International Airport. They recently renovated their international departure areas to include thousands of iPads that track your flight for you while you order and pay for food and drinks right at your seat. Naturally, everything is quite expensive, but that’s not unusual when it comes to airport food. In the end I went with a blueberry-lemon muffin, a double peppermint tea with honey, and a huge bottle of water…can you tell I’m getting over a cold?

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The views from the aircraft were beautiful, and the ones from the hotel room even more so! I love that the foliage is all such a vivid green even though it’s growing in such sandy soil.

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Now Sarah and I are off to do some exploring with our prep day! Two bloggers unleashed in a new city? No way we could resist.

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PS: My trip to Phoenix for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing has been sponsored by Dalhousie University and Syncfusion, my official corporate partner! A HUGE thanks to both, I am so grateful.

Syncfusion is the enterprise technology partner of choice for Windows development, delivering a broad range of software frameworks and tools. Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, Syncfusion has more than 10,000 customers, including large financial institutions, Fortune 100 companies, and global IT consultancies. Find out more in my announcement post about our partnership, and find me at Grace Hopper to get your FREE software license!

 

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