Should You Risk Your Personal Data Just To Play A Video Game?

tg-might-magicIt had to happen. The manufacturer of software I use was breached and had data stolen. Such is a day in the life of a computer nerd. What ticks me off is that this is for a game I’ve played since 1986 and, up until now, I never had to risk my personal data to do so.

The company is Ubisoft, maker of fine games like Assassin’s Creed. But I’m talking about Might & Magic Heroes 6, a fantasy role-playing game. I have played this game since the very first Might & Magic in 1986, back on my trusty Apple IIe with extended 80-column graphics card and DuoDisk, because THAT’S HOW I ROLL.

Related article: PCMag: Ubisoft Database Hack Exposes Email Addresses, Passwords

Thirty Years Of Gameplay
I have played every iteration of this game to the present day. Every version of Might & Magic, every version of its sibling Heroes of Might & Magic. I’ve played it on the Apple II, on the Mac, on PCs under both DOS and Windows. I have played it off 5.25″ floppies. I’ve played it off CD. I’ve bought the expansion packs. I’ve bought the gold editions with the sexy maps. I have played the hell out of this game, and I have spent a lot of money doing so. Take a look at the picture above. That’s just some of the stuff I’ve collected over the decades of being a loyal Might & Magic customer.

In nearly 30 years of gameplay I never needed to give whatever company owned Might & Magic – New World Computing, in the beginning, then later 3DO and now Ubisoft – any kind of personally identifying information (PII). I bought the disk or CD in the store, installed it, played the game. That was it.

Now I’m A Marketing Drone
But now, my playing the game must be a data point in the vastness that is the modern-day marketing engine. My information must be scrupulously tallied, even if the company hanging onto it doesn’t take care of it. And now, because of their inability to safeguard my data, I have to take all the usual precautions: change passwords, check my computer, monitor my online accounts and my bank accounts for hacktivity. All to play a video game.

Except I Knew The Risks Going In
I knew, before I bought Might & Magic Heroes 6, that it would require me to install uPlay, Ubisoft’s “helper” app which, like other gaming companies’ apps, is basically a required DRM wrapper. So I researched uPlay to find out the scoop about their security (like you do).

I found out they’d had some incidents of bugs and whatnot, no more so than any other company, but nothing on the order of a Sony or a Blizzard. Again, being an infosec nerd, I knew this meant exactly nothing as far as whether Ubisoft might suffer a breach in the future. Of course they might. Anybody might.

But… I really wanna play Might & Magic…

So I Took Precautions To Secure My Gaming Environment
So I decided to buy Heroes 6 and put up with uPlay – with caveats. NOT on my main computer. NOT using a credit card or, heaven forbid, a debit card. Virtual computing and prepaid gift cards. The computer is scrupulously patched, operating system and applications, its antivirus updated before every gameplay, and firewalled to a fare-the-well.

I also use strong passwords that are Unique. On. EVERY. Site. That means the password I was using for uPlay was never used anywhere else and never will be again. Here’s the latest version of my super-duper password article if you want to learn how.

And None Of That Matters Because We’ll All Get Hacked Eventually
And I knew, as you should know, that all of this means exactly nothing as to whether I personally could suffer financial loss or identity theft due to a data breach, from this site or any other. I probably already have. So have you. All this does is mitigate my chances.

So when the word came out – yeah, the company that makes one of my favorite games got breached – I sighed and followed Ubisoft’s instructions for password change, and grumbled about having to divulge my PII just to play a game. But I wasn’t worried about my credit card, or my computer, and that’s peace of mind you can’t get from companies that siphon your data.

Needless to say I have no intention of purchasing the Xbox One – requires an always-on connection, plus camera and voice control which Microsoft pinky-swears you can turn off? Thanks, I’ll pass. And I’m starting to take a much closer look at independent games, where the developers are more interested in your patronage than your marketing data.

Will I play the next version of Might & Magic? I haven’t decided. I suppose it will depend on how DRM-y and data-mine-y it is.

(Also, Ubisoft – can you add back the Sylvan town type? Sanctuary’s fun and all, but I miss my treants and elves. That’d be great, thanks.)

On a related topic, as a geek woman who’s pretty damn done with all the harassment and shenanigans we’ve had to put up with lately, I have another bone to pick with Ubisoft over Might & Magic Heroes 6. But that is a topic for a future post, so stay tuned…

Iron Man 3: Don’t Take Password Advice From Iron Patriot

Iron_PatriotSaw Iron Man 3 over the weekend and it was an enjoyable romp with just the right amount of explosions and mayhem. There’s one little thing that caught my attention, however, and that’s Rhodey’s laughably insecure password.

All those fancy HUD displays and we’re still relying on 1990s AOL-style passwords? Where’s the single sign-on? The two-factor authentication? The retinal scans? The fancy Kree or Shi’ar technology that uses DNA instead of passwords?

Here’s what you can learn about password security from Iron Patriot.

Don’t use common knowledge about yourself as part of your password.
Rhodey’s the superhero formerly known as War Machine and his password is WARMACHINEROX. Yeah, that’s not easily guessable. When he’s forced to change it he’ll probably rotate it with IRONPATRIOTSUX (with an X). And use the same password on Facebook.

Don’t use a password that doesn’t have special characters.
This one didn’t even have numbers. I’m surprised he didn’t put an exclamation point at the end because everyone knows that turns an insecure password into a secure one. Sort of like Silent E.

Don’t use an easily guessable password.
Really, Tony? A totally guessable password and you still had to ask him what it was? I bet Jarvis could have cracked it in about two seconds. On a side note, you didn’t give Jarvis a password cracker? What kind of script kiddie are you?

If that’s the kind of password Rhodey uses I bet he’s no good with security questions either. “What’s your favorite color?” “Red, white, and blue.” Oops, account cracked!

In reality that password conversation should have gone like this:

“Rhodey, what’s your password?”
“Okay, Tony, it’s capital X zero one asterisk lowercase g caret…”
“What the hell is a caret?”
“It’s that upside down V above the 6. Anyway, caret uppercase L uppercase Y seven one nine lowercase j…”
“The HUD in my suit doesn’t have a caret.”
“Yes it does, Tony. Hit the caps lock twice, just like a smart phone.”
“Pepper must have put that there. What’s after the caret?”
“Uppercase L. Then uppercase Y seven one nine lowercase j…”
“Did you say seven one nine or seven nine one? Oh, never mind, just email it to me.”
“But Fury sent a memo saying we’re not supposed to email passwords anymore. It’s not secure.”
“Screw him! Send it to my Gmail.”

By which time the bad guys have incincerated them and the point is moot, not to mention pwned.

The Avengers really need to invest in some better network security. Seriously, Tony, you can’t have Stark Industries buy up RSA or something? I bet Reed Richards has something tucked away in a box. Or you could ask Hank McCoy if he has something up his furry sleeve. Or maybe Spider-Man swiped something from Doc Ock (before Ock became Spidey… oy).

In other words there are ten million better ways to authenticate to that system besides WARMACHINEROX or any other persistent password. I wag my finger at you, Iron Patriot.

And please, don’t anyone use WARMACHINEROX or variations as your real-life password. I hate it when they use actual passwords in movies because then people are all, “I’ll be clever and use that! No one else will think of it!” Except the other billion people who have seen the movie.

(Another thing about Iron Man 3? No obnoxious adoptee jokes – bonus.)

Related Tech Tips article: How To Create Secure Passwords (Revised Edition)

A Grownup Gamer’s Guide To Kids And Video Games

kids-internetAs a tech support specialist I’m often asked about kids and video games. To a non-tech-savvy parent, the world of video games is as confusing as a foreign language. What are they playing? With whom are they playing? Are they safe online?

So I wrote this guide as both a parent and a gamer. And what I’ve learned is that you don’t need to protect your kids from video games – you need to protect them from the violent video game culture.

Are all video games violent?

No, as those of you who play Words With Friends know. Some video games are fine for kids. I would even go so far to say that some video games are good for kids, and I’m one of those annoying parents who won’t let her kids have “screen time” except on weekends.

You may be interested in Seymour Papert’s book The Connected Family which discusses how families can benefit and learn from technology in positive ways. I like the Lego series, for example, because it encourages cooperative play and problem-solving. Little Big Planet does, too. Even good old Sonic has his place – there’s nothing wrong with letting your kids run a little hedgehog around mazes collecting rings. Studies have shown that playing video games has a relaxing quality to it, producing the same sorts of brainwaves as in deep meditation.

But I’m not about to let my kids play Bioshock Infinite or Call of Duty. Just as I would recommend your kids watch Doctor Who (TV-PG) but not Game of Thrones (TV-MA) even though I watch both, I wouldn’t recommend your kids play the more violent video games out there. It’s a matter of appropriate content.

How can I find out if games my kids are playing are appropriate?

Read up on the titles they like. A web search for “(name of game) parent guide” will bring up the info you need.

You can also go by the ESRB rating on the cover. These work just like movie and television ratings. There’s a nice ESRB Ratings Guide you can use as a reference.

How do I tell my kids that I don’t want them to play a particular game?

Don’t be afraid to say no. If you’re not sure if a game is appropriate, watch them play it. You might even play it with them! Your kids may try to tell you “everybody’s playing this” but I assure you, and them, that they can find games that are just as fun to play without the gore and violence. There are some things that simply have to wait until you’re an adult, and mature-rated video games are in that category.

Can kids talk to strangers through video games?

Yes. These games often involve speaking to other players via headset (voice) or in-game chat (text). That other player could be the kid next door, or some creep halfway across the world.

So how can I let them play with friends but not with strangers?

Um… you don’t, not if they’re playing a multiplayer game across the Internet. Most throw all the players into one big electronic arena. That’s why supervision is essential; it’s like letting your kid loose in a big city without a grownup.

You can, however, run your own game by connecting multiple consoles on your own network (called a LAN party; LAN means Local Area Network). That’s much safer because you know exactly who is playing, but you physically have to get together – oh no, human interaction!

What is the “violent video game culture” you mentioned?

You’ve probably heard of rape culture thanks to the recent high-profile cases that have been making the news. There has been a backlash in the geek community over geek women and the inappropriate comments and situations we often have to face. When geek women complain over sexist remarks in professional settings, we are frequently vilified and even harassed both on the Internet and in real life. It’s a sad state of affairs and, while many people are fighting against this, it is still a very real risk.

You can find more here:

As you can see this culture of misogyny and harassment is widespread in certain violent video game circles. In short, there are people out there who get their kicks through cyberbullying and continual harassment. This is not something to which you want to expose your kids.

How can I make playing video games both fun and safe for my kids?

Encourage your kids to play in a safe, supervised environment. Why not set up a rotating Game Night or LAN party with other parents? The kids can play the games that they enjoy, and you know they’re really playing with friends and not random Internet creeps. Who knows… you might even find yourself wanting to join in!

How do I set up parental controls for video games?

All modern gaming consoles have parental control features. Here are instructions for some of the most popular consoles.

On a computer, you can use the built-in parental controls for Windows and Mac, or you can use a third-party service like Norton Online Family (works on PC, Mac, and mobile devices). Bear in mind that parental controls can be bypassed by a savvy kid. If you really want to lock down your network, you can configure your router to block games. You’ll have to look at your specific router’s instructions for that.

How can I make my kids understand the importance of video game safety?

Your kids will probably feel betrayed that you don’t want them to play certain games anymore. They don’t understand why Lego Star Wars is okay but Bioshock is not.

Explain why these changes are necessary for their protection. Visit sites like NetSmartz together. Talk about online dangers and what they can do to avoid them. Explain that you’re going to follow video game ratings just as you do TV and movie ratings. (Put the onus on the ESRB, they won’t mind.)

Meet your kids halfway. Ask to join them in their world of video games so you can see what intrigues them about it. You might be surprised to find you enjoy video games yourself. There’s nothing wrong with Mom or Dad enjoying a game night of their own.

Speaking of which, the number-one question I get about video games is:

Wait… you’re an adult and you play video games? Why would an adult want to do that?

Why do adults like any hobby? Because it’s fun and stimulates the imagination. Many of today’s games are more like novels than arcade shoot-em-ups. You’re missing some good stories by not playing video games. (I’m thinking specifically of Dragon Age and Mass Effect, if you want to know. But there are many others.)

I’ve noticed that, for adults, video games are classified as socially acceptable or not acceptable. If I mention that I play FarmVille (which I don’t, simply because it’s not my cup of tea), that is socially acceptable. If I mention that I play Tales Of Graces (a Japanese fantasy role playing game) that’s not acceptable.

Part of it is that most non-gamers aren’t familiar with the latest titles. But another part of it is that grownups playing anything beyond a select few games is apparently weird. I don’t get that, but I never stopped playing video games. I’ve been gaming continuously since the days of my Atari 2600 and I still do so today.

Do you have questions about kids and video games? Ask in the comments!

How Tech Companies Can Market To Women Without Looking Like Idiots

grumpycat-boothbabesThis year’s CES 2013 didn’t disappoint when it comes to advertising technology via scantily clad women and sexist ads. I’ve composed a handy guide for tech companies on how they can do a better job with TEH LADEEZ.

Don’t talk down to women about technology
We might understand it better than you do. If your spiffy new ultrabook has twelve gigabytes of RAM, say, “Our spiffy new ultrabook has twelve gigabytes of RAM.” Don’t say, “It’s got plenty of room for all your family videos.”

Don’t base your product’s selling point on its looks
I’m not buying your phone because it’s pink. I’m buying it because it does what I want. If you patronize me by covering it in pastels and flowers, I am much more likely to walk out the door and buy your competitor’s plain black phone instead.

Don’t dumb down the technology
Believe it or not, some women actually use the full processing power of their computers. If the only difference between the women’s and men’s version of your product is that one of them is pink with a processor that couldn’t power a toothbrush, go back to the drawing board.

Don’t use booth babes and dancing girls
The only “booth babes” we want to see are female employees of your company, dressed professionally and ready to answer technical questions. You’ll gain far more customers by demonstrating that your company is friendly to women than by associating your product with naked girls in bodypaint. Trust me, your female employees will be REALLY happy that they don’t have to spend yet another expo cringing and apologizing.

Don’t use sexual innuendo in your advertising
It’s not cute. It’s degrading and it implies that your company is full of juvenile twelve-year-olds who still giggle at penis jokes.

Don’t tell us how your product will help us get our shopping done
We’d rather know if it supports NFC and how long the battery charge will last. Oh, and whether or not your system is vulnerable to malware (looking at you, Android).

Do ask us what we want
We’re happy to tell you what technology interests us as women, but you need to ASK US. Don’t assume. Study the mistakes of other companies and put measures in place to avoid similar incidents. Pay attention to what goes on in the world of geek women. Refuse to participate in conferences that don’t include women speakers or anti-harassment policies. Speak up when sexism occurs at conferences or online. Refuse to stand by while women are subjected to online harassment that threatens them with rape and murder. Hire female employees and make sure you’re cultivating a corporate culture where their opinions and efforts are equally valued.

Do you have any tips on how tech companies can market to women without looking like idiots? Share in the comments! (Remember, comments moderated against spambots. Trolls, flamebait, and other shenanigans will not be posted.)


How Much Of Our Children’s Narratives Should We Share Online?

Social networks abound with the intimate details of our lives. Family photos, vacation plans, concerns and celebrations – all of it becomes part of our ongoing online identities. It’s one thing when you’re posting about yourself, but what about when you post about your kids?

As I browse various social networks, I’ve come to realize that people are just plain sharing too much stuff. I cringe when I see baby pictures because I know pedophiles steal them. I wince when a friend posts “Greetings from vacation!” because I know burglars use the same social networks to find empty homes to rob. I want to scream when people say, “I only friend people I know” or “I use the same password on Facebook and Twitter” because I know cybercriminals create fake profiles and hijack real ones.

My question is this: How much of our children’s narratives should we share online?

I find myself coming down hard on this issue, as a writer and as an adult adoptee and advocate for adoptee rights. I believe the narratives of minors should be not be shared, or should only be shared minimally, until the minor is of an age to make his or her own decisions. I’ve spoken on my adoptee rights blog 73adoptee about the question of who controls adoptee narratives (here and here, for example). Many adoptive parents and prospective adopters blog intimate details about an adoptee’s origins before that adoptee even has a chance to know for themselves! I know how I’d feel if the personal details of my origins had been spread around in public before I was old enough to voice my opinion. It’s up to me to decide what to share of my story, and how much, and when. (It’s also up to me to decide what I should know about my adoption instead of having agencies or governmental bureaucracies deciding for me, as eloquently described by my friend Amanda over at Declassified Adoptee.)

We can also see this in the furor over Liza Long (the “Anarchist Soccer Mom”) and the intimate details she shared about her son in the wake of the school shooting in Connecticut. Some have lauded her efforts to improve mental health, while others have chastized her for oversharing her son’s story. I have to say I’m leaning toward the latter. How would you like it if you were in that kid’s shoes – unable to share your version of your own story? How would you like it if your parents were telling the universe about your academic problems or physical ailments or mental health?

When you talk about your children online, you’re not making private comments to your Aunt Martha over tea in her parlor. This is the Internet. It is global, and it is permanent. What happens when that child becomes an adult and wants a say over how his or her narrative has been shared? How can they reclaim their narratives later on? Will Facebook take down the posts? Will Twitter and Blogger and Instagram delete that information? Will all the engines that have archived the data also delete that information? The backup tapes? The locally cached copies?

I think we all know the answer to that.

Such information can also be used for cyberbullying. Let’s say you’ve got a kid whose parent posted about a bitter divorce. Don’t you think, when that child is a teen, that other teens might try to dig up as much dirt about them as possible? How is that going to make the kid feel? How would YOU feel knowing the information you shared was later used against your own child?

As an IT expert, my advice to parents has always been: Share minimally. Don’t post family photos on social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – not even with the privacy controls locked down. I don’t care how convenient it is or how many of your friends are doing it. Those privacy controls never stay locked down. Bugs are found or hacks occur or switches get flipped and you suddenly discover that your precious five-year-old’s face has been Photoshopped onto raunchy material and spread around the underbelly of the Internet.

I try not to blog about my kids except in a generic way. I occasionally describe events, like our family Doctor Who cosplay for Halloween, but I don’t share their names or personal narratives. I ask questions, as any parent does. Sometimes I do it on the Internet. But I strive not to badmouth my kids or speak publicly about private information. No, not even in private chat. No, not even in email. It’s basic common sense.

Kids may not be adults, but they are still people, and when they become adults they have to deal with the repercussions of the decisions made for them. So do your kids a favor. You’re the caretaker of their information, not the owner. Safeguard it until they are able to take care of it themselves.

What do you think about the sharing of childrens’ information online?

(Comments welcome but moderated against spambots. And if you’re only here to argue with me over adoptee rights, don’t bother – go over to 73adoptee or other blogs like Declassified Adoptee and Musings Of The Lame and First Mother Forum to learn about the adoption reform movement.)

Image courtesy of pat138241 /

Fake Geek Girls? You Think Women WANT This Job?

Apparently the science fiction community is being flooded – FLOODED, I TELL YOU – by fake geek girls: women with insufficient geek cred who are only pretending to be geeks for the attention.

Say what? Being a female geek is a tough job thanks to the cretins who are put out that female geeks won’t, well, put out. Do you really think it’s likely that women are going to volunteer for this?

Do you think women are lining up waiting for their big chance to struggle with an uphill career? Face sexual harassment at cons? Get stalked online? Be treated like a maidservant or a cuddlebunny or an NPC instead of a peer of equal knowledge and experience?

Women aren’t supposed to be able to fix computers or name all 79 original episodes of Star Trek. It goes against the natural order of geekdom. The genre that prides itself in being “strange and unusual” thinks it’s too strange and unusual to include women.

What’s interesting is how certain levels of female geekdom, over time, have become reluctantly tolerated. I can remember when being a female Doctor Who fan was considered weird. Today, girls are allowed to be Whovians because it’s assumed they’re only doing so to watch David Tennant’s rear. (Clearly ridiculous. We’re ALL in it to watch David Tennant’s rear. Matt Smith’s, too.)

Similarly, girls are permitted to like comic books, but only if they emit the pre-requisite cooing over Loki and dress in provocative superhero cosplay for the benefit of the men around them.

As a geek woman, I like what I like and it just so happens that most of it is geeky. I didn’t start reading Hitchhiker’s Guide so I could impress my boyfriend. I haven’t spent 20+ years in technology because Windows is soooo cute when it crashes.

The idea that women would willingly subject themselves to the misogynistic crap that comes standard with female geekdom seems unlikely at best. Somehow I can’t picture a woman secretly fine-tuning her knowledge of python or Cerebus just so she can bask in the attention. Because the attention she’s likely to get is going to be negative – “You can’t like that, it’s for GUYS!”

Most female geeks I’ve met don’t want male geeks to know the extent of their geekdom. They hide it, because once people find out you’re a female geek, you’re never good enough.

Like when a male geek finds out that you, a female geek, like something he likes. Then you get subjected to the big interrogation – Which episode did this happen in? Who guest starred in season 2? How many spaceships are in the background in such-and-such scene? You have to prove that you REALLY know your geek in order to be accepted as a geek, and even then you’re never truly accepted.

It’s the same in IT. Women in technology are constantly having to prove we know our stuff even better than the men do. Yet we still have to put up with the doubt expressed by those around us: Why are you here? What makes you think you belong?

Geekdom is the love of something you’ve found, the adoration that makes you cry out to everyone around you, “YES! This is an AWESOME THING and you must experience it!” Why is that okay for men and not for women? And why are female geeks so threatening that some feel the need to invent the idea of “fake geek girls” so that any women who claim geekdom can be readily dismissed as Not Geek Enough?

Here are some blogs from people who are talking about fake geek girl syndrome and what it represents. Food for thought.

What do you think of the fake geek girl phenomenon?

image via I Can Haz Cheezburger

Ada Lovelace Day 2012: Saluting The Unsung Women In Technology

This week we celebrate Ada Lovelace Day, in honor of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Around the world today, people are talking about women who have inspired them.

I wish to dedicate my post, not to one specific person, but to all of you unsung women out there who are slogging through careers in information technology – despite the harassment and abuse.

You know who you are. You’re the help deskers, the server admins, the programmers, the network engineers. You do the same jobs that the men do, and get paid less for it with less recognition. You make hard choices between career and family, and are expected to do so without complaint or rancor. You’re stressed out and dissatisfied, and you’ve had it up to HERE with the rampant misogyny in the conference room and expo hall.

And yet – you love the technology. You love troubleshooting. You’re really annoyed at that network problem but damn if it isn’t satisfying to solve it. (Thinking right now about the time the thicknet trunk went down and it turned out some idiot had hung his coat from a vampire tap…) Maybe that guy on the third floor still can’t figure out how to print from Word, and maybe that lady in accounting keeps locking herself out of her account, but that’s okay. You’ve got the trouble tickets and you’re gonna own them.

I’ve been reading recent stories from some of my sisters-in-tech, and I am appalled. It seems sexism and discrimination against female techies is getting worse. Please read these, think about them, then ask yourself if you are contributing positively or negatively to this situation.

  • A Primer On Sexism In The Tech Industry
    “If I’d have to sum it up as one problem, it’s that many groups, but women especially, are still discriminated against heavily, while those with privilege don’t want to be seen as culpable and even like to argue that these problems don’t exist altogether. Women, in particular, suffer from tremendous social and professional challenges and pressures, as well as threats to their physical well-being, as a result of these problems.”
  • io9: The Great Geek Sexism Debate
    “Over the past few months, three of the most influential conventions in geekdom — Readercon (for science fiction writers), The Amazing Meeting (for skeptics), and DefCon (for hackers) — have been at the center of very public discussions about sexism and sexual harassment in their communities. After all three conventions in 2012, women spoke out publicly about episodes of sexual harassment and humiliation they experienced at the cons. The fallout was ugly — but also awesome. Here’s what happened, and what’s still happening, as formerly male-dominated geek spaces make way for women.”
  • New Statesman: This Is What Online Harassment Looks Like
    “As the months have gone on, and more “trolls” (or “online bullies”, if you’re a semantic stickler) have been exposed, the perception that what we’re talking about when we talk about online harrassment is “a few mean comments” or an insult or two has grown.”

I’ve talked before about the harassment, the dumbing-down of technology marketed for women, and some of my own experiences with discrimination as a woman in IT:

  • Why Aren’t There More Women In Tech? After All, Microsoft Has BIG BOOBS And Azure Girls!
    “It’s reported that Microsoft Azure relies heavily on the BIG BOOBS constant, to the extent that changing it would be a major issue. Draw your own conclusions about how much fun it must be for any women working in the Azure department.”
  • Microsoft Is Just For Men, Plus Girls In Short Skirts FOR SCIENCE!
    “Is this how Microsoft wishes to advertise itself? Well then, as a woman in technology, I have some constructive criticism for them. Let’s consider the uproar over forcing people into Windows 8′s annoying Metro interface. Let’s consider the lackadaisical response to the Surface tablet announcement. Let’s discuss the Microsoft malaise that has entered the general consciousness. Instead of coming up with penis jokes, I suggest they focus on business.”
  • Dell’s Gaffe And The Geek Girl Struggle
    “Imagine going to a computer store to pick up equipment for a customer. A sales droid with a tenth of your experience tries to talk you into hardware that won’t do what you need. You call tech support about an Internet problem and have to shout your way through four people to find someone with a clue. That person treats you like you’re in preschool, because obviously it’s impossible for female vocal chords to utter the phrase “configure the router in bridged mode” or we’ll turn into quivering wrecks sobbing for a man to fix it.”

Which is why, in honor of Ada Lovelace Day 2012, I’m offering a virtual thumb’s up to all you women in technology for grace under pressure in what seems to be an increasingly hazardous occupation. Good job, ladies. Now let’s get back in the server room and show those boys how it’s done.


Why Is Gaming Considered Unprofessional, And What Can Gamers Do About It?

Nerddom has achieved an unprecedented popularity of late, but there are still some aspects that remain anathema. Case in point: gamers, who are supposed to keep their video game playing in the closet.

Making the rounds is this tidbit about a Maine lawmaker who discusses her gaming in public instead of keeping it behind closed doors.

 Colleen Lachowicz is a Democratic candidate running for State Senate in Maine. She’s also a level 85 orc in the massively popular online game “World of Warcraft.” And for that, the Republican party says she is unfit for office.

[Lachowicz’s response] “I think it’s weird that I’m being targeted for playing online games. Apparently I’m in good company since there are 183 million other Americans who also enjoy online games. What’s next? Will I be ostracized for playing Angry Birds or Words with Friends? If so, guilty as charged!”

Many gamers, myself included, have experienced That Look when we mention we happen to like video games. Ironically, it’s the complicated role-playing and strategy games that get the most grief. If you profess a love of Farmville or Bejeweled, you’re in the clear.

But if you like fragging enemies in Halo or strategizing your way through Mass Effect, forget it. You’re a weirdo, a loser who belongs back in your parents’ basement eating Cheetos and lamenting your lack of social skills. You can’t POSSIBLY be a rational human being with a job and a life.

BBC News, reporting on the Laschowicz incident, quotes a gaming researcher:

“In my work, I’ve spoken with many people who in their regular lives have roles of significant responsibility (as doctors, managers, or educators) but who choose carefully with whom they disclose their gaming activity,” she told the BBC. “And disclosing their gaming activity is often accompanied by a degree of apology or embarrassment.”

But, she added, having a gamer run for office was a “heartening” development. “This would seem to run contrary to the other stereotypes that we love to assign to gamers: that they are lazy, antisocial people who don’t have a ‘real life’,” she said. “Maybe this will trigger some dialogue about our perceptions of gamers and the role that games can and should play in modern society.”

People can and do lose their jobs for being gamers – not for playing on company time but because their personal hobby supposedly shows they’re not “professional” enough. That’s when stereotyping nerds moves from simply not-funny into the realm of discrimination.

I was with a bunch of other parents at a school event recently. I didn’t know these parents well, and because I tend to live in a universe where gaming and cosplay and incessant watching of Doctor Who is considered “normal”, I sometimes forget that to other people, it isn’t.

One of the parents begins complaining about her teenage son. “He’s playing all these video games. I don’t know what to do.”

The other parents nod. I make the mistake of asking, “Which ones?”

She blinks. “What?”

“Which video games?”

“Um… some military ones. Call of Duty, I think. And some fantasy game.”

I give the wise nod of a gamer. “Skyrim, probably.”


“Skyrim. It’s a very popular fantasy RPG.”


“Role playing game. Skyrim is a popular fantasy role playing game. Not one of my personal favorites, I’m more into Dragon Age and Tales of Symphonia.”

By now the other parents are staring at me like I’ve got leprosy. The parent I’m talking to edges away. “So anyway,” she says to the other parents, “I’m trying to figure out how to get him to stop.”

I figure I’ve already put my foot in it, and it sounds like the kid needs some backup. “Video games are fun. As long as he’s meeting his responsibilities, why not let him play?”

Blank stares all around.

“Have you ever played a video game?” I ask. “A real video game, not Tetris or Scrabble. Not all of them are violent gorefests, you know. Not all of them are appropriate for every age level either, but that’s no reason to ban all games.”

The parent asks, “You actually play these games?”

“Yes. I actually play these games. They’re fun and I enjoy them. Your son probably does, too.”

Silence. The topic quickly turns to something else. I shrug and silently wish the kid luck because it sounds like he’s going to need it.

As a female gamer, I’ve noticed women are especially ridiculed for their gaming. Adults are not supposed to play video games. Women are not supposed to play video games. Middle-aged moms with kids are especially not supposed to play video games, much less brag about how they trounced the Arishok in single combat on nightmare level as an apostate mage in Dragon Age 2.

(Cone of cold, baby. I’m just sayin’.)

Honestly I think a lot of the problem is that people decide you’re supposed to give up all that childhood stuff when you become an adult. Unless you happen to live in the fandom world, which I suspect many of us do because it gives us the freedom to be kidlike about things like video games and Doctor Who and comic books.

Pure and simple, these people are jealous. They envy their fellow adults who are brave enough to embrace supposedly child-like things. It’s why people covertly read YA novels instead of admitting they like them. “I’m only reading Hunger Games because it’s so popular.” Uh-huh. Admit it, you keep a copy of A Wrinkle In Time under your pillow… and you STILL cry at the end.

What we as gamers need to do is make it known that you can be a gamer AND a professional (even – gasp! – a professional gamer). I’m a professional freelance tech writer. I’m also a level 35 spirit healer mage. Why is this a problem?

To my fellow female gamer Colleen Lachowicz I say: You go, girl. Kick some serious ass on behalf of gamers everywhere, in World of Warcraft and in the real world. We could use more of that.


Why Aren’t There More Women In Tech? After All, Microsoft’s Got BIG BOOBS And Azure Girls!

What is with all the misogyny lately? Has it been there all along and it’s just making the news at the moment, or is there a resurgence of negativity toward women in IT?

The latest mistake from Microsoft is once again at the level of a third-grade joke. Microsoft has apologized following the discovery of a hexadecimal string in the code of Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualization software.

The hex string is 0xB16B00B5. That would be BIG BOOBS, for those who never played childish games on calculators in grade school. Personally I never found it amusing beyond 07734 (“hello” when you turn it upside down). This particular string, amusingly enough, is used every time Microsoft’s virtualization software runs Linux.

A similar string, 0x0B00B135, was also found, which translates to BOOBIES. So either Microsoft is stealthily supporting breast cancer research or they have some incredibly juvenile male programmers.

Normally I would shrug this off. This was probably the work of a couple of thick-skulled coders, pumped up on Four Loco and Twinkies, who decided to make their jobs a bit less inane. Fine, I get that. I also get that nobody was ever supposed to see this. And I know that programmers insert all sorts of jokes and silliness into their code.

After all, it’s not like this was part of a deliberately misogynistic PR stunt, like scantily-clad Microsoft Azure Girls dancing to penis jokes… Oh, wait, they did that too: Women In Tech: Microsoft Is Just For Men, Plus Girls In Short Skirts FOR SCIENCE!

(It’s reported that Microsoft Azure relies heavily on the BIG BOOBS constant, to the extent that changing it would be a major issue. Draw your own conclusions about how much fun it must be for any women working in the Azure department.)

And then there’s Dell’s recent gaffe in hiring a male emcee known for misogynistic comments, who asks the audience, “There are hardly any girls here today, and I’m happy to see that – why are any of you here in the first place?” as I wrote about in Dell’s Gaffe And The Geek Girl Struggle.

The latest Microsoft incident wasn’t a big deal, and probably wouldn’t have made the news if there hadn’t been so many other blatant incidents from tech companies lately. But it does demonstrate that certain boys-club mentality which IT people of the female persuasion often encounter.

Considering that Microsoft just posted their first ever quarterly loss, combined with the lackluster response to the Surface tablet and the rapid decline of the PC industry… well, let’s just say that these companies might want to stop alienating 50% of their potential customer base.

I would love to see some real initiatives towards women in IT. Forget the stupid focus groups or projects that look pretty in a press release but never seem to go anywhere. I want a concerted effort to welcome women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). I want to see the opposite of these headlines. I want more headlines about a woman hired as CEO of a major corporation while pregnant. That’s an achievement and we need more of them. (I could get into the question of “doesn’t this make it harder for women who don’t choose to be supermoms”, but hey, let’s not scoff at a donated equine’s larynx.)

Poor Microsoft, I don’t think they’re going to have time to worry about special initiatives. They’re too busy trying to cling to relevance. They have been too big for too long, and they think they can still get away with things like forcing people to use a new interface without repercussions. Um, I think your first-ever quarterly loss could be considered a repercussion.

(That new interface, by the way, would be Windows 8’s ugly Metro. After all the hue and cry to get us to embrace Windows 7, now the old look is “dated and cheesy” and we’re supposed to shell out to buy the new one because it’s so much better. Yeah, but that’s what you said about Windows 7. And Windows 95. And Windows for Workgroups 3.11.)

Microsoft, you are not the Zik-Zak Corporation. We do not need everything you make, and you do not make everything we need. But we’re far more inclined to buy your stuff when you’re not violating the Wil Wheaton Principle by being a dick.


Women In Tech: Microsoft Is Just For Men, Plus Girls In Short Skirts FOR SCIENCE!

After the fallout from Dell’s misogynistic gaffe at a recent conference, you would think people would have figured out that alienating women in technology is a Bad Idea. But you would be so very wrong.

First we have Microsoft’s decision to join Dell in the 19th Century. A presentation in Norway on Windows Azure included the “Azure Girls” in a fabulous dance number while music blares: “I’ve got the skills to impress / I’m a computer genius / The words ‘Micro’ and ‘Soft’ don’t apply to my penis.”

Seriously, boys? I first heard that joke in third grade, and that’s where it should have stayed.

(The lyrics on the screen flashed “or vagina” as the lyrics were sung, which neither makes sense nor mitigates the offense – although it’s a good thing the conference took place in Norway because THAT sort of language would NEVER be allowed in places like Michigan.)

Is this how Microsoft wishes to advertise itself? Well then, as a woman in technology, I have some constructive criticism for them. Let’s consider the uproar over forcing people into Windows 8’s annoying Metro interface. Let’s consider the lackadaisical response to the Surface tablet announcement. Let’s discuss the Microsoft malaise that has entered the general consciousness.

Instead of coming up with penis jokes, I suggest they focus on business.

If that’s not enough misogynistic mayhem for you, there’s the EU’s ad campaign for teenage girls: “Science It’s A Girl Thing!” Because all girls like lipstick, so the way to get them to like science is to add more lipstick. And I always wear my stilettos when I’m in the server room.

Why is it that anything marketed toward females has to be cute, pink, fuzzy, and dumbed down? This ad campaign only reinforces the notion that to succeed a girl must have a supermodel figure, wear the latest fashions, and hide her intelligence.

To deliver a response, I would like to get together a diplomatic team consisting of Dr. Samantha Carter, Captain Kathryn Janeway, Dr. Moira MacTaggart, and Dr. Liz Shaw (the original, thank you). No short skirts here, but a hell of a lot more brain cells than the people who came up with these ideas.

Why do these incidents continue? Because the women who manage to pursue careers in science and technology are not permitted to sit at the table when decisions are made. I’ll bet there were few females present, if any, when Dell decided on an offensive emcee for their Copenhagen conference, when Microsoft developed the idea of “Azure Girls”, when the EU wrote the campaign for “Science It’s A Girl Thing”.

And that’s the crux of the problem. You can’t get women involved unless you get women involved.

Until women are accepted as equals in fields like technology and science, until they have a say in what happens in the boardroom, the glass ceiling will remain firmly affixed and girls of the future will be expected to find the right shade of lipstick to go with their Bunsen burners.