Miriam Ruiz
random thoughts on technology and life

{April 29, 2008}   MAGIC: More Active Girls In Computing

Ira Pramanick talks in her weblog about a mentorship program targeted towards middle and high school girls to foster in them a positive attitude towards computing. The program is called MAGIC, which stands for More Active Girls In Computing, and tries to address the issue of the low number of girls entering the computing and high tech world.

As they say, it is a serious issue caused not by then lack of talent, but due to a bunch of discouraging factors that exist in our culture and society. Right now, women represent only about 28% of the technology workforce. I don’t know if a mentorship program dedicated to these girls would be enough to increase the number of women participating in the technology workforce, but it will probably help to improve the situation. It would be nice to import the project model into Spanish speaking countries if it’s successful.

The Mentor Qualification Process is quite strange anyway. It might be that we europeans have cultural differences, but I find some of the questions there quite disturbing, like “Are you willing to be finger-printed and screened?”. I don’t exactly know what they might want such a sensitive data for.

{April 18, 2008}   Birth Day, Lovely Day

How could I express how happy I am? It’s raining cats and dogs here, but it’s such a lovely day! Congratz to the other new Debian Developers :)

{April 16, 2008}   Nuevo gobierno: 9 ministras, 8 ministros

Por primera vez en España tenemos más ministras en el ejecutivo que ministros. El nuevo gobierno salido de las urnas contará con 9 ministerios dirigidos por mujeres, frente a 8 dirigidos por hombres. Entre los primeros, los medios de comunicación se han ocupado en destacar que es la primera vez que una mujer está al mando del Ministerio de Defensa. Aunque no me gusta mucho entrar en temas de opciones políticas, ya que no estoy plenamente de acuerdo con ninguna de las opciones políticas representadas en el parlamento, sí que he de reconocer que me siento orgullosa de que un gobierno español actúe realmente en pro de la igualdad y de la justicia social, y no sólo de palabra. La pasada legislatura se caracterizó, entre otras cosas, por unas decisiones muy valientes en política social, y espero que esta nueva siga en esa misma línea. Según el líder de la derecha italiana Silvio Berlusconi: “Zapatero ha hecho un gobierno demasiado rosa” y “En Italia sería imposible formar un gobierno como el de Zapatero porque aquí prevalece el hombre sobre la mujer“. Bueno, pues aquí no. Pese a estar en desacuerdo con muchas de las decisiones políticas del partido actualmente en el poder, especialmente su posición respecto al tema del canon digital y la propiedad intelectual, he de reconocer que me siento orgullosa de pertenecer a un país a cuyo gobierno sí le preocupa la igualdad.

{April 16, 2008}   More on OOXML: ISO tries to recover lost credibility through press notes

After the unfortunate show that Microsoft and ISO provided us recently, ISO’s response is a FAQ note about ISO/IEC 29500 (OOXML, that’s it) in which they threaten Microsoft with the most severe of penalties if they’re tricking on as. Funny. In that statement, they try to answer all the issues that initially were concerns but that now has turned into proven facts about the OOXML standard and it’s approval, and to try to recover some of their lost credibility. It’s sad to be commenting on this, words don’t come easy, as if to say. Microsoft has already proven who’s the one in charge here, who owns the committees, who takes the decisions and in which terms, and nothing happens. It’s gonna take more than to publish a FAQ note saying how well you did it and to threaten Microsoft to behave or else. No one seriously believe you at the moment, you know?

A funny thing is that ISO dismisses any responsibility about standardization, and relies on the market taking the decisions for them. Microsoft has said many times that they consider something positive and healthy to have multiple standards for the same, and let the market decide. Now ISO declares to think along the same lines: “After a period of co-existence, it is basically the market that decides which survives”. We don’t really need an organization for standardization for that, do we? We already have the market for that. Will ISO apply the same policy for every standard from now on? Like, say, having a couple of competing standards at least for every need, and let the market decide?

ISO tries to recover from their credibility loss with this note (“the standards development process is credible, works well and is delivering the standards needed, and widely implemented, by the market“), without much success at least in what I’m concerned. If they keep trying to convince with press notes instead of with real acts, no one is gonna believe them ever again.

{April 07, 2008}   Dunning-Kruger effect

People who have little knowledge tend to think that they know more than they do, while others who have much more knowledge tend to think that they know less. That’s what Justin Kruger and David Dunning (both of Cornell University) demonstrated in a series of experiments they carried out.

Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill, fail to recognize genuine skill in others and fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy. If they can be trained to substantially improve their own skill level, these individuals can recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill.

In one of their investigations, they discovered that 98% of university professors believed they were above the average, while that is obviously impossible statistically. Bright students, far above the others, considered themselves below their real skills, standard students saw themselves as above the average, while real bad ones were fully convinced of being among the best. In fact, the worse the person was, the most their conviction was that they were right. Even more, the most incompetent ones were incapable of realising the superiority of others, and they tended to think that the answers of the tests were the wrong ones, and not themselves. “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”, quoting Charles Darwin.

Most of the people react to this study with a smile, thinking about the incompetent people they know and how well this study describes them. It should be noted that everyone is incompetent about many things, and this effect affects all of us.

How can a person realize that they’re wrong? The lesson that comes out of the study is that it’s really hard to find out, according to Dunning. His recommendation is not to trust just one’s own thoughts, but to ask for other’s opinions, especially before taking important decisions. Nobody should ever stop trying to improve and to learn, because it’s really difficult to know when to do it.

{April 03, 2008}   The European Commision and OOXML

After the approval of OOXML as a standard by ISO, it seems that there are two months for appealing the decision. The European Commission, Europe’s top antitrust authority, will investigate whether OOXML, as the format is known, is “sufficiently interoperable with competitors’ products”, as well as if there have there been any irregularities or attempts to influence the debate or vote. If national ISO bodies return evidence that Microsoft attempted to influence the votes to secure acceptance of OOXML, it would strengthen the Commission’s antitrust case.

According to Thomas Vinje, legal counsel for the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), “Even if the votes were legitimately won, which I doubt, OOXML is not an open standard because it isn’t fully implemented on competing platforms, and its future shape is subject purely to Microsoft’s control”. “Granting ISO status to OOXML doesn’t begin to resolve the competition law questions the Commission is looking into”. Lets hope the European Union investigates and clarifies all this.

“An appeal would have to be resolved before publication of a document as an International Standard”, said Roger Frost, spokesperson for ISO. In other words, if an appeal is filed, it’s conceivable that final publication of OOXML as a standard could be delayed. Lets hope ISO appealing process, if followed, is less irregular than the approval one. Maybe I can still recover my trust in ISO. Lest see how it goes.

{April 02, 2008}   ISO/IEC DIS 29500 (OOXML) is now an International Standard

Today is a sad day. Corruption has won over rationality. ISO sucks. I guess I lost all the trust I had on the standards organizations. OOXML is a standard covered by many patents, ambiguous enough for Microsoft to keep the real specs closed, far worse than the previous ISO standard for the same task (ODF), and approved in a very suspicious way, in a process full of irregularities, which I hope the European Union will investigate.


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