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Archive for the ‘World Domination’ Category

It’s generally accepted that maternity leave is a bad thing for careers – there’s up to a year’s gap in your work history, you’ll have forgotten lots of stuff and failed to keep up with changes. Add in that you’ll have lost touch with all your important contacts, and at the end of it you’ve got a demand on your time and energy that means work will never be able to take first place in your priorities. It looks pretty bad, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I found that for the first half of my 9 months away from work, I was pretty much incapable of anything even vaguely like work. “Baby brain” was in full swing – I was so forgetful that leaving the oven on became a regular occurrence – and the birth itself was messy enough that I needed counseling for a minor form of PTSD. In the second half, however, I was craving the kind of mental challenges that work provides.

I was involved in a family-oriented charity project that needed a website, and I saw a possibility: I could write it. I’d have to learn HTML and CSS, but that sounded like just the challenge I was looking for. It was something I could do as and when I had time and felt like it, and I could drop it at a moment’s notice if my baby needed me. So I took to spending nap times immersed in W3Schools tutorials and hacking at code. In a few weeks, I had a working website and a working knowledge of (very) basic web design. At the time, it scratched the itch and it did a good thing. I figured that was it.

Then I went back to work. Over the following year, work changed a lot – my department was shrinking, but another was growing, and I moved across and up. Our online database product was being re-developed, but nobody was updating the help files. Everybody that could do something about it was far too busy doing the developing, or doing their day job, to take on an extra mammoth task. Then I saw a possibility: I could write it. I already knew basic HTML and CSS, and if one of the techies could provide a file with the corporate headers and such already in place, basic is all I’d need. The first revision is now available to individuals across nearly two hundred customers.

Instead of coming back to work out of touch, distracted and unfocused, I came back with new skills and enthusiasm that I would never have had if I’d not gone on maternity leave. My company are benefiting enormously from this, in many ways beyond the up-to-date help files. So it seems maternity leave hasn’t killed my career – it’s advanced it.

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In a few days time will be International Women’s Day. Excuse me? What’s that? We need a special day to remind people we exist? Have we not moved on from needing this kind of positive discrimination? So far as I can see, it being International Women’s Day will make no difference. Will I get a card? Will the female driver jokes stop? Will the invisible barriers to women in various careers and hobbies suddenly disappear? Will any of the oppressed women of the world get any increased respect and recognition on or because of this day? No, of course not – for one thing, it’s far too broad a subject to be of much use in specific situations. We have an entirely pointless Special Day just to hang around and devalue all the meaningful Special Days. Well, I can’t say that I feel particularly Special.

Yesterday was St David’s Day. Here is a Special Day with some history and at least some meaning. Hurrah for all the Welsh people celebrating their heritage, and hurrah for the Christians remembering their history.

The Specialness of recent days that means most to me, however, is that on 1st March, it was Self Injury Awareness Day. This day is important because self injury is very misunderstood, and if its existence can help people understand a little better, then it is a good thing. People assume that if you’re going to cut yourself deep enough to bleed, there is something fundamentally wrong with you and you’re going to cut yourself deep enough to die. Over the years I’ve known a few people who have self harmed. I know from having been around them that it is not a mental illness, it is not just teenage angst, it is not a failed suicide attempt and it is not, in and of itself, a problem – it is a coping technique. They don’t do it for kicks and giggles, they do it because they feel driven to do it by some other, underlying issue. Sometimes, the emotional pain inside is easier to deal with if it’s translated into physical pain outside. So if you discover that someone you know has deliberately hurt themselves, don’t act shocked and horrified, don’t run for an ambulance, and don’t assume that they’re going to do any serious damage. Instead, be prepared to listen and try to understand what’s behind it. You might find their reasoning surprisingly rational.

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Paper Penguins

It’s amazing what you can find going through old boxes of stuff. This time, among the memories, tat and assorted stuff, I found a mini origami kit. I can now make origami penguins. I expect paper penguins will suddenly appear all around me as I practice my new fold, and soon I shall have a small army of them. I doubt any of them will dance, though.

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It seems so. For years we common folk have been copying music privately for personal use – from putting LPs onto tapes to putting our CDs onto iPods, all so we can listen to what we think we own instead of having to pay for the same thing two or three times over. This seemingly reasonable act is, under current UK law, a criminal activity. But it seems that is set to change. Following the Gowers Review, the government has been considering various potential tweaks and changes to the law, and today they responded to a related petition on their new E-Petitions site. They are “currently considering how such an exception should be created in UK law” and their whole (if brief) response can be found here. I will watch with interest how this small victory plays out, and wonder what others we may see.

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I’ve been thinking

I know, it’s a dangerous thing to do, but sometimes I can’t help it. Several things have triggered this particular spasm of thought, including Kat’s blog post about Women in IT, Aq’s blog post about compromise and a discussion on the LUGRadio forum about ethics beyond software. They’re all about the same basic principle: making the world a better place.I’m a big believer in ideals. I don’t believe we’re ever likely to reach them (not least because people will never agree on what they should be), but I do believe in working towards them. So I’ve been thinking, what do I do to help the world move towards my ideals, and is it enough?

I use Linux at home and have done for a couple of years now because, among other things, I like the fact it’s Free. But is my install Free enough? Maybe Aq is right, and I should purge my system of all non-Free packages.

I believe that women can be just as capable as men at technical stuff, so I help people around me with technical stuff so they get used to the idea – I’m becoming the one people turn to in the office when things like the projector break. But should I be more proactive, rather than just taking the opportunities that arise?

I like to do my bit for the environment, so I reduce/reuse/recycle waste and have energy saving lightbulbs. But should I be doing more?

I could do everything in my power to forward these aims, but firstly I’m not convinced zealatory helps and secondly I like being able to do stuff like drive to Wolverhampton for curry with a small corner of the Linux community – and community is another ideal I hold in high regard – even though I know the exhaust fumes are Bad and Wrong. I like the convenience of microwave meals occasionally because I can spend my time doing something other than cooking, but they use a lot of packaging and I’m not convinced about their content. Too many of the things I like have negative consequences somewhere along the line, so it looks like I’m not going to be living the ideal life any time soon. I’m not sure I’ve come to any conclusions, but I think I’ve decided that the question isn’t “am I doing enough?” but “have I got the balance right?”

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I honestly don’t get why people like football, but people do, and to some of them, it really matters. They dedicate a lot of time and energy to supporting their club, they get a lot out of it, and that I can appreciate.

Some of my mates are heavily involved in the Notts County Supporters Trust, who have recently decided that they’re going to pursue a majority share holding in the football club they love so much. This would take a small corner of something that is very much about community out of the hands of the big, bad corporate world and put it into the hands of the people who genuinely care about it. It is therefore an idea that I intend to support, and I shall be heading across to their paypal account shortly to transfer the cost of a round.

Russ’s response to them mentioning it was even better, and I wish I’d thought of it first. He offered to donate money in return for them trying out new Free Software programmes. Dave is now addicted to Battle for Wesnoth, and the Notts County Supporters Trust are now a little bit closer to their goal (no pun intended).

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OK, so I do Live Action Role Play, and it’s incredibly sad and geeky, and I’m taking over large chunks of a world that doesn’t really exist, but how many of you have your own personal army? My character has now been made Prince Bishop, I’m now in charge of one of the oldest and best known groups, The Prince Bishop’s Men, in the largest and best known LARP system, Lorien Trust.
The Prince Bishop's Men

In between poncing about in my silly blue hat, leading my Boys in Blue onto the battlefield armed only with a small knife, making speeches to large groups of guys in kilts and generally showing off, I have to be all responsible and make sure those other people in the photo, and the dozen who didn’t happen to be around at that point, are having fun. So recently I’ve been very, very busy. Normal service should be resumed shortly.

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