Thursday, June 26, 2008

Everybody who has ever put a flag sticker on their car or worn a flag pin had better show up CHEERFULLY when summoned for jury duty

I have completed my first real week of real jury duty.

Back in 1992, I got summoned in Massachusetts while attending college. I told the judge I was carrying 20 credits that semester, which I was, and that got me excused with some kudos from the judge for being so impressively studious.

A couple of years ago, I got summoned for service in Seattle on December 26. Seriously. I decided to serve it, rather than postpone it, at least in part because it pissed off my then-boss so much. :) Turns out when we all arrived for service, the clerk couldn't imagine why anyone summoned any jurors for the morning after Christmas... all the judges and lawyers were on vacation and no trials were scheduled for the entire week. She spent an hour confirming this fact, then dismissed us all outright. Sweet way to satisfy a jury summons!

This week, I served at Burien District Court. I participated in two selection panels, both for DUIs. I found it interesting how the jury-screening questions by the prosecutor and the defense attorney telegraphed their approaches to the trial itself. Granted, two is not much of a sample size, but in both cases the prosecutors asked a lot of questions about "reasonable doubt" and whether we jurors would be willing to convict in the absence of Breathalyzer test results or other scientific evidence. Would the "credibility" of the arresting officer be sufficient to convince us that the defendant was intoxicated beyond the legal limit? Most jurors said no, the officer's word, judgment, observation, whatever, alone would not be enough. Most jurors said no, it is not possible to know for sure whether someone is drunk just by looking at them, unless you know them well.

All this really got me wondering. If it's legal for accused drivers to refuse breath and/or blood tests, and I think it might be, and if modern CSI-watching juries will only accept the results of scientific tests as sufficient evidence, wouldn't that make DUI cases inherently unwinnable for the state?

A lot of people complain about DUI laws not being strict enough, and re-offenders seeming to get away with it time and time again, unless/until they kill someone, and sometimes even after that. Is that true? Is this why?

I totally, completely appreciate that the burden of proof is, and always should be, on the state to prove its case. I'm also pretty OK with protections against self-incrimination, and the idea of forcible breath or blood tests makes me uneasy. But DUIs suck. So what do we do?

The defense attorney in our second trial said something about how the burden on an arresting officer is "probable cause", while the burden in a criminal trial is "reasonable doubt" which is a much higher standard. Both sides asked lots of questions about what a drunk driver drives like... in other words, the probable cause-type stuff. It seems to me like it would be fairly easy to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant was driving really dangerously, and I'd be a lot more comfortable relying on an officer's credibility to judge that question. The way DUI laws are set up, though, in a DUI trial it's the influence of the drugs or alcohol that becomes the key question for the jury, and it seems to me like that is the more difficult question to answer. It also lets a lot of other dangerous drivers off the hook.

The problem seems to be that our penalties are linked to the reason for the dangerous driving, which is difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, instead of linking penalties to the dangerousness of the driving itself. Sure, there may be laws against inattentive driving, driving while applying mascara, driving while juggling a cell phone, etc., but I don't think a DUI jury is allowed to return a verdict based on the quality of the driving. I think they have to decide on whether the defendant met the legal standard for intoxication. Without any scientific evidence. I don't know how that would work.

I didn't get seated on the first jury.

Interestingly, in the second trial, one of the other jurors on the panel spoke at length about being a 26-year member of AA, with numerous friends & family having a history of DUI, and he was furious about what he saw as a completely broken and worthless system that allows alcoholics to get away with DUI over and over again. He asserted that anyone who's pulled over for DUI is almost certainly guilty, and allowing them a jury trial is just a waste of everyone's time and an opportunity for them to game the system. A few others on the panel expressed agreement. After all the questioning was finished, the judge asked us if anything we had heard during the selection process might affect our ability to be fair and impartial in this case. Everyone said "no" (other than those who had already said they couldn't be impartial for other reasons).

The 18 of us were sent to the jury room, where we waited to find out which six of us would be selected for the actual jury. We waited a really long time. Like an hour and a half. When the court clerk finally returned, she dismissed all of us! I figure several things could have happened: last-minute plea bargain, last-minute dropping of charges, some kind of continuance or reschedule, last-minute waiver of jury trial in favor of judge trial... it just makes me wonder if either side blinked, and if so, which one? Was the possible "tainting" of our jury panel an issue?

Pretty awesome to see our justice system at work, even clunkily.

And that is patriotism, bitches.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Birthday contact lens emergency averted

So, today's my BIRTHDAY and I've been having an amazing day... an awesome surprise present in my office (photos forthcoming), "Happy Birthday" sung at me across the hallway by my teammates, a fun lunch with friends, and a great dinner and movie planned with even more friends and family this evening.

Last Wednesday, I finally got around to ordering some more disposable contact lenses. I'm really terrible about over-wearing every pair I get. They told me my order would be in in a day or two.

This morning, one of my old lenses was irritating the heck out of me; I assumed I had a bit of fuzz in it or perhaps a scratch on my eye, which happens often enough and works itself out. As the afternoon wore on, it got more annoying, until finally I pulled the lens out to figure out what the heck was going on.

It had a little RIP in it.

No wonder it was irritating!

Never had one of THOSE before.

Well, hell, I didn't have any spare lenses, certainly not right there at work. Even my backup glasses were back at home... 25 minutes the opposite direction from work AND dinner.

I put the lens back in and tried to ignore those rough edges. No dice. By that point I was panicking about it tearing in half completely and the little fragments getting lost on my eyeball... or whatever.

As a last resort, I called my eye clinic and asked if they might HAPPEN to carry my prescription in stock in their supply of samples. "Toric?" "Yup." "No chance; those are special order only." Bummer. So I made plans to leave work early, drive back home, dig through the house for any old yucky lenses I might have forgotten to throw away, and as a last resort pick up glasses.

Great. We've got birthday dinner reservations at a restaurant with a patio, on one of the first beautiful sunny days of 2008 in this town, and I'm going to be stuck in my scratched-up winter glasses, no shades, squinting through dinner and then is it even worth it to try to GO to a movie after? Grumble. Glasses all weekend? Grumble. My own fault for putting off ordering backup lenses, but still.

I was about to head out for home when I glanced at my cell phone. Missed call. From University Vision Clinic. Like, 5 minutes prior. They couldn't've been calling me back... I didn't give my name when I called. In fact, I think they called WHILE I was talking to them...?! Voice mail: "Hi, this is [a different guy from the one I talked to] at University Vision Clinic. Those new lenses you ordered are in, you can pick them up any time."


Took me like 30 seconds to get 'em and another 30 to put in a fresh pair.

Sunshine, dinner, movie, VISION. Might be the best birthday present of all. ;)

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Feminist technology theory as it is realized in a Guitar Hero III Pro Face-Off

Big news first. There's a vendor booth here where they're running a contest: beat one of their employees at Guitar Hero III Pro Face-Off, win free software (developer tools). I was too chikin yesterday, but today I showed up determined to play. That's when I found out their real GHIII player had to go home, so other booth staff are subbing in for him. The new rules? "You pick the song, you pick the difficulty, but no Expert. And if it's an upper-tier Hard you're pretty much gonna win." Heck. If I'd've known that yesterday....

Anyway, I picked the hardest song I can beat on Hard: Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Pride and Joy". I knew I was in trouble when I didn't complete one single Star Power phrase in the entire song. Beat him anyway, with 80%, which isn't a score I'm happy with, but not bad for a Pro Face-Off in front of strangers with no warm-up. :)

When we were finished, someone from the little group of spectators called out to the booth staffer: "You got beat by a woman!"


Didn't like that.

I prolly should've challenged the heckler to a duel right then & there. You know, on all the afterschool specials they say even if you fail epically, you'll win their respect. I dunno. Not my style. Whatever.

I filled out all the paperwork for my free software, and got my photo taken for the booth's "Wall of Shame" screen saver, which I gotta go back and check out later. That's awesome.

As I walked away, another conference attendee walked alongside and complimented my performance. "You really pounded him! Nice job. Do you play at home with your kids?"

Wait. What?

Super nice guy. Paying me a compliment. Loved it. But I cannot imagine that the hundred developer dudes here who've beaten the booth staff at GHIII got asked if they learned to shred by playing with their kids. The guy before me who pwned him on Iron Maiden didn't get that question from anybody.

At lunch, K & I got talking about assumptions, and how initial assumptions are generally based on past experience, and hell, even I would have to assume that a random girl I meet, even here at TechEd, probably doesn't shred on Guitar Hero and probably doesn't aspire to be a software architect. Can I blame other people for basing their assumptions on what we all observe together as the most common realities? Certainly not.

In our most recent architecture session, I looked back through the roomful of ~300 attendees and saw that I was one of only two females in the entire room. That percentage of women who are here at TechEd at all (you know, the ones in the Women in Technology Luncheon I blew off yesterday), almost none of them are in the 400-level architecture track. I noticed this, and I was proud to be one of the only girls in the room. I have started to feel like the more profoundly outnumbered I am, the more likely I am to find the content rigorous and interesting... the more likely I am to be exactly where I want to be. And that was before Guitar Hero!

I'm very seriously really hoping I'm the only girl on the Wall of Shame screensaver and will be disappointed if I'm not. I'm sure a girl who plays GHIII is perfectly capable of beating the booth staff, but I don't expect the girls, even here, to be likely to play in the first place. Even I make that assumption.

So perhaps it isn't the assumptions that cause the problem... as long as you're open to being wrong, open to individuals being individuals.

"No, I don't have any kids." Random TechEd dude was perfectly delightful after that, rolled with the punches, kept up the conversation. Well done, random TechEd dude. It's true... I only look like a girl. I don't really talk or act like one. I like it that way.

But it isn't really enough to throw "girls" under the bus and argue that I only need concern myself with people's assumptions about me: "sure, girls are lame, but I'm an exception." Not cool.

"Beat by a woman" implies that the crowd expected me to suck... even after I finished playing. In their eyes, the fact that I won didn't prove anything good about me... only something bad about the guy I beat.

And that's why you TechEd dudes are not fully off the hook for how you think about us girls. Even if 95% of the females you've ever met or heard of don't show any interest in actual software development, even if they all end up on the BA or PM or UI tracks, even if they don't game, it doesn't mean girls are bad at the tough technical stuff. It just means they tend to be no-shows. You don't know why that is. You can't actually assume anything from that, and you shouldn't.

And that's why I have to keep being a girl here at TechEd. And that's why I, who am wearing a skirt today and everything, am gonna go see if I can beat that guy again. ;)

Update: it has been brought to my attention that kids, regardless of gender, are generally way better than adults, regardless of gender, at Guitar Hero. This is the sort of thing I would have been in a better position to have known if I had kids... and it is a worthy and valid point to consider. Perhaps developer dudes don't get asked about their kids because the answer ("my kids pwn me at Guitar Hero") is obvious. :)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Roller coaster

Been looking longingly at SeaWorld Orlando's Kraken coaster, which is clearly, hugely visible from the south windows of the Orange County Convention Center. $70 admission to ride one damn coaster. It mocks me, there on the skyline.

Here inside TechEd, session offerings are listed at three "levels": 200-Intermediate, 300-Advanced, and 400-Expert. When I sat down with K to plan our schedules, one of the first things he did was filter all the courses for "400-Expert" and pick from those. I was horrified, firmly believing that I had no business attending anything labelled "Expert" level.

Yeah. OK.

I accidentally went to a couple of 400-level sessions. They were amazing. Fast-paced, chock full o' useful information, learned tons, and got it.

Then I went to a couple of 300-level sessions. Slow. Kinda repetitive of stuff I already knew. Made me wish for more 400s.


Either the "levels" are totally inflated, or, hmm, I'm kinda expert.

So who needs the Kraken when there are such wild roller coasters right there at TechEd?

Sketchy programming day

Conference presentation programming, not code programming. Well, maybe both.

I could tell I wasn't the only one who found this morning's offerings to be somewhat dissatisfying... I bailed out of two different classes, hoping to write code (DIY Hands-on Lab!), only to find the wireless network getting utterly hammered by other attendees having, perhaps, the same idea.

Dilemma of the day

The "Women in Technology" Luncheon conflicts with a lunch-hour session on C# lambda expressions.

So... do I choose to be a girl today, or a coder? Stay tuned.

Update: Even worse. The lambdas session was full, so I skipped both and wrote code. Wonder what that means.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Core competencies

Unfortunately for the health of this blog, the best lectures won't get the best blog posts because I'll be busy listening to them.

The Magic Seven core competencies for architects was, for me, greatly encouraging. (I'm trying to reassure K that the stuff I found exciting wasn't precisely the same stuff he objects to on principle.)

A lot of the Magic Seven, I already have.

I have at least a little bit of all of the different types of them.

Some of the things that separate architects from developers are the same sorts of things that cause me not to feel like a true developer sometimes. You mean there's a name for that?

Many of the competencies that I don't have, or need work in, I can think right now of very specific problems I'm having on my project that are caused or worsened by those very things (or the absence of them).

Finally, even supremely competent architects fail. In the middle of an ongoing epic fail, it's pretty much impossible to know whether the architect could have prevented the failure by successful deployment of core competencies, or whether the whole thing was doomed from the start, but one hopes to be able to learn something someday looking back. (Hopefully not looking back from the business end of an espresso machine, though.)

Friends don't let friends drink Kool-Aid

The thing is, software + services is almost certainly the right model for us (the place where I work) whether we "like" it or not. :)

And yes, a major draw of "cloud computing" was its Microsoft-killer potential.

But it's still funny-sad to see how hard Microsoft propagandizes for desktop client software plus services, pretending as though their very life didn't depend on it (and as if they weren't also scrambling to get cloudy just in case). "Software plus services! What a great idea! Oh, no reason."

Pre-conference seminar for Aspiring Architects

Turning software development into a true profession has been a wishlist item for years. If only we had a governing body, unity, standards, education and career paths to follow, networking, community, leverage. Some of my hotheaded friends even threw the word "union" around for a while. Now it's gotten even more specific: turning architecture into a true profession. In all the same ways. Which seems kinda odd considering the original software development profession thing hasn't been solved either. (At least, I don't think it has... hope I didn't miss a memo.)

Having said that, the presentation by the founder of the (non-profit) International Software Architects Association (IASA) was really interesting and useful. He's a good speaker, and he addressed so many of the things I struggle with... sure seems like I'm not the only one trying to get my brain around this.

"Architects are technology strategists." (I heard a lot of keyboarding in the room after he said that one, but I'm still contemplating what it means.) "The best developers don't always make the best architects," and vice versa. I do not think that actually means a bad developer can be a good architect, but it does seem to contradict the notion that an architect is someone who's been a developer for > n years for some employer-specific value n. Following that idea, "can architects be made?" From scratch? Is the architecture skill set a refinement of the developer set, or is it something else entirely? IASA guy says the latter. Interesting.

I'm glad for the focus on professionalism, rather than yet another list of articles and/or tools and/or frameworks... not necessarily because I think the pink-unicorn-dream of turning software into classical engineering or medicine or what have you is likely to happen, but because even short of a full-blown professional organization, talking about the professional issues seems to be the right path toward applying architectural ideas to real problems.

Who are you and what right do you have to call yourself an "architect"?
What do you need to know to be any good?
Once you learn that, what's next?
How do you get the support you need from your employer?
How do you get them to listen to you?
How do you prove your value to your employer?

P.S.: I had some doubts about whether Microsoft really was going to be totally on top of every single little detail at this conference. (TechEd veterans may point & laugh at the n00b now.) I needn't've worried. They've got it all covered. E.g., I guess OCCC doesn't necessarily have wireless coverage throughout the center, which seemed like a major oversight, but, duh, Microsoft brought in their own.

Resistance is futile: Microsoft TechEd NA 2008

"But this is Microsoft! Why wouldn't they have their pre-eminent developer conference of the year in Seattle?"

The fact that I've now seen two business-suited Orange County Convention Center staffers zip by on Segways suggests an answer to this question. OCCC is mind-bogglingly huge. The quantity and density of hotels in the immediate vicinity similarly challenges the imagination. And, finally, here in Orlando there's stuff to do. Hell, that's all Orlando is, is stuff to do. The whole thing definitely puts the Washington State Convention & Trade Center into perspective: a very tiny perspective.

I've only been here an hour, and I've already seen exponentially more females than I expected. I have a feeling this is not so much a measure of any different ratio than I expected, but rather of the huge size this conference is going to be.

I shall be trying to stay attentive to what they're teaching here, shying away from Kool-Aid but remaining open to actual knowledge. :) I shall also be trying not to fall apart from feeling way in over my head. Stay tuned.