Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rage, rage

As promised, the GeekDinner rant:

I went along to the Cape Town GeekDinner last night, hoping I'd learn something, and meet some interesting fellow geeks, and generally interact face-to-face with a community that doesn't make a habit of it. It's been a year since my permanently-scarring attempt to infiltrate a CLUG meeting, and I was hoping this would be a slightly more welcoming group of people.

Which they were. It was all going ok, until there was a mostly naked women offered free when you buy space in Teraco's data centre. The presenter showed the data centre layout, the state-of-art generator and fire supression system... and a mostly naked women. Pointing out that, when you buy a whole cage, you get one of those free.

Hold on, what??!

/me turns a deep shade of red, and begins clawing the tablecloth.

What was most disturbing was that none of men around me seemed to see what I was unhappy about. Let me put it this way: Imagine if the presenter joked that you get a strong, strapping member of a marginalised race group free with your server (to carry you there on a litter. or, whatever else you desire. He is yours, after all, he came free with the server). Would this be appropriate? socially acceptable? the norm? No, of course not - I regret even having to use this offensive and degrading example.

So, you wonder why there are so few women in IT. duh.

Please realise that this rant is not, in fact, because I am uncomfortable with this kind of raging misogyny. Those of use who have been lucky enough not to be discouraged by families, sexist teaching, and being locked out of the computer science "clubhouse", are all too familiar with it. What does bother me is that it only perpetuates a view of women that most men hold, consciously or not. I bear no malice towards the friendly guy who, when I tried to ask what Ubuntu version (Kubuntu, EduBuntu, Ubuntu / Dapper, Edgy?) was being passed around, explained to me that "oh, it's just a Linux distro". However, I really am getting tired of having to prove myself every single time I meet new people, just because I'm female and work in IT, and your social conditioning doesn't expect my existence.

To the GeekDinner crowd: I hope you get it right next time. I would have loved to explain to everyone there exactly why I wanted to lynch the guy from Teraco, but I'll settle for this: Please open your eyes to how you view women, and how your actions reinforce stereotypes that the world would be much better off without. And, when you realise there's a problem, and see others engaged in exacerbating it, stick your neck out for a change. As the Encouraging Women in Linux HOWTO points out,

Every time a woman sees a sexist joke or comment, she feels angry, left out, and belittled. Every time a woman sees a man stand up against this behavior, she feels included and valued.

For a change, I'd like to interact with this community as geek first, women second.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Devil's Actuary

Came across this during some hard drive spring cleaning - it was lurking in my first-ever Debian install. Written for a short story competition in 2nd year.


It was a bright spring morning, alive with birdsong and a gentle breeze, when the actuary had his first visitation from the devil. This event, which lasted a little over a minute, would not have been remarked upon by even the most observant passer-by. Few people risk a second glance at a dark-suited man with a forked tail, reddish and smoking slightly, draped casually over the back of his chair.

The actuary, sweating slightly, was suffering from a severe hangover. One minute he was working late at the office, comfortably siphoning off the retirement funds of little old ladies, and the next he was accosted and dragged to a smoke filled bar by a gang of marauding co-workers. Thinking back, the sudden increase in paedophilia accusations against jolly old men and intra-office flirtation should have warned him that it was Office Christmas Party time again.

One thing led to another. Force-fed on expensive brandy, forcibly rebuffed by inumerable voluptuous secretaries, he had ended the night grateful to have no memory of it.

That morning, things had taken a turn for the worse. For one thing, the office airconditioning unit seemed to be malfunctioning, radiating a fiery heat that smelt slightly of sulphur. Outside, the birdsong had taken on a desperate quality, interspersed by the low hunting mewls of thousands of jet-black cats. If he has listened closely enough, the actuary would have heard tiny avian death rattles, and the growling of larger feline stomachs. The devil took great care with atmospherics. Punctually at 9am, a billowing cloud of acrid smoke filled the actuary's office. As it cleared, he realised that a small, wiry man had appeared. The man coughed viciously for a moment, then brushed off his
suit and pulled from his briefcase a grubby document. "Right," he said, "Let's have it then."

"W-What?" stammered the confused actuary, noticing as he spoke the deceptively sharp pair of horms protruding from his visitor's head. It had become very hot, and he was struggling to think clearly. "Your Soul, please, without delay. You mortals underestimate the precise nature of timing in the torture business. I have a man stretching on the automatic Rack back in hell, and if I leave him too long he will die. That's not really the point of eternal torment, is it?"

"A-a-automatic Rack?" asked the actuary, shaking quite uncontrollably. "Oh yes, hell is very advanced, you know. We have such a surplus of Atheist engineers, really quite convenient. They suffer terribly, he he, when they find out they aren't God. You should see what they've done with the pit of serpents, really very efficient... You do know that you sold me your soul, don't you? It was last night, and a damn mess you made too, all that beer spilt on the contract. I must say, I'm looking forward to having you. We always need actuaries. People are very fickle in their beliefs, we really can't predict or manage that risk without you." The devil winked. It was not a friendly wink. He fingered somthing on his belt that looked like a very small, very sharp drill. The actuary had begun to lose hope that its presence evidenced his visitor's interest in woodwork.

"Oh, yes," the devil continued, "You're going to tell me you were drunk? If your mother, who I have incidentally had the pleasure of meeting personally, by the way, I believe she was an fornicator? Very unfortunate. We have ways and means and whips and chains for that sort. Anyway, she should have taught you that alcohol was the devil's poison." The drill-like item was being waved closer and closer to the actuary's shivering body, and the devil revved it every now and again.

"You know," said the devil, "I think you'll enjoy hell. I do. Nothing beats wailing and gnashing of teeth when it comes to job satisfaction. Being the evil incarnate is something i'm really passionate about." He revved the drill again, and smiled to reveal the foul glint of his razor-sharp teeth. "I used to be an actuary, you know, but that was hardly evil at all. I only did it for the money."