Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How do you spend your time?

Now that my days are largely my own, this is becoming a significant question, that factors into the issues of time, money, gender.

As an undergraduate, I didn't have a computer of my own. I used the campus computer labs to write papers, code homework assignments. Most of the labs, I worked with hardware during the lab period, and not outside of it. In fact, the one exception to that "rule" was EE 207, Digital Logic, where purchasing the hardware was a required part of the class, and I could bring it home (or to the Band Lounge) and work on it anywhere.

Is it any surprise that EE 207 was one of my few Engineering Lab A's? Another was my senior year robotics class. We 7 students were the only ones using the lab... did I even have a key? I remember some late nights working on the code, running down the hall to tell my grad student friend to come see our robot play tic-tac-toe, or other assignments.

The Geek Feminism page uses an expansive definition of "geek," as people who get super-excited about things. The things may vary, from computers, robotics, technology, to science, biology, history, fashion, fiber-crafts, or science fiction and other pop-culture fandoms.

Fifteen, twenty years ago, money was a major issue in my life. I was doing my best to Always Borrow Conservatively on my student loans, knowing that I would need to pay them back. And so I didn't purchase a desktop PC, or a laptop. And when I took Microcontrollers, and they made the ~$70 kit optional... yeah, I used the school hardware.

On campus I use PCs, and signed in to Unix machines for programming.

When I graduated and went to work, all that I had access to were Windows machines. As I saved up to purchase a house, we went without internet at home, and used the library or my lunch hour for fun browsing.

As I look back at what my career has become... all of that is time, lost.

I've followed some online discussions of Linux, I stay on top of the news articles... I once purchased a built PC and installed RedHat on it, used it some.

About that time, I first started hearing about Lego Mindstorms, as a way to get into robotics at a semi-reasonable price (I believe the kit ran $100-200, but when you ARE employed, that might be reasonable for a birthday or Christmas). So I got it for my birthday.

We didn't get batteries. In 2005 I bought our first family PC, a windows E-machine, in order to finish my M.A. project while the campus computer labs were closed, and I loaded the Lego Mindstorms software on it. No time to work with it much, when I wasn't at work I was usually working out, or active in the community.

Two-three years ago, I finally got a laptop of my own. I dual-booted it with Ubuntu Linux, but because I was in Grad School again, I just used the Windows side.

Life moves on. We finally bought batteries for the Lego kit, and have assembled a roverbot. I've tried installing the RIS to the PC-side, and don't have a driver for the tower. So here I am, writing this post from the Ubuntu side, preparing to load a Virtual Machine that could be set up with Windows XP and the RIS.

It takes time, to troubleshoot hardware and software problems. Today, it's probably more time than I "should" be spending, as I need to get my resume loaded to the state employment site.

One of the issues I'm running into, applying for software-type jobs that fit my interests... is that reading the literature is not the same as working on the systems. In part, using Ubuntu Linux and working to get my Robotics Invention System 2.0 set up *is* skill development. It's "making things." But contrast it with this very important Atlantic article: "Why I Am Not a Maker."

I have these thoughts that I can blog photos of our bots, make a YouTube video series on working with MindStorms, Raspberry Pi, Arduino. Maybe even try a Kickstarter to do all of that as STEM outreach.

The kicker is, I *KNOW* I can do all of these things. I know I am more than capable of figuring them out. In the past I have prioritized my time on these other things, in varying order:

1) My work, what I get paid to do.
2) Relationships with the people who mean the most to me.
3) Community-building. Teaching, volunteering, STEM outreach, Professional Organizations
4) My health and fitness
5) Formal professional development. Classes and degrees that can be documented on a resume.

Hobby tinkering didn't fit into those categories, in the past. It tended to be something that took MORE time away from my important relationships, it didn't bring in income, and it didn't seem to fit on a resume.

That's finally beginning to shift, as this tinkering begins to fit more than one of the above criteria. What 7-year-old doesn't like Legos?