2008 December

A Splash Page for Good

Geeks for Good

From now until January 2, the Geek Girls are donating our homepage to a good cause. What good cause? You decide. We’re each donating to non-profits that are close to our hearts and just want to encourage others to consider donating time or money as well. Lots of people are going through hard times, so during this time when we’re all giving and receiving, remember to also give to those that are in need. If nothing else, hug your loved ones extra-tight and be thankful for what you have.

Pay it Forward

Consider making donations to non-profits you are interested in. Here are a few we like, but there are a bajillion other worthy causes out there.

  • Give 5 a campaign by the United Way to get small donations to make a big impact all over Minnesota.
  • The Saint Paul Foundation is a well-respected Minnesota non-profit that focuses on Minnesota and the Twin Cities. [full disclosure: the foundation is a client of Clockwork, our employer]
  • MinnPost a non-profit dedicated to providing high-quality journalism focused on Minnesota issues. [full disclosure: MinnPost is a client of Clockwork, too]
  • Intermedia Arts a Minneapolis arts and literary non-profit that’s in real trouble right now. Help ’em out if you can.

Splash Your Own Page

Get the code at Clockwork‘s website.

Happy Holidays. We look forward to geeking out with you in 2009.

Geek Love

It was only a matter of time.

Yep, we here at Geek Girls headquarters have started getting inquiries from boys in search of a geek girl of their very own.

Ken from Indianapolis asked, “I’m a single 24 year old geeky guy…Where can I go to meet geek girls?!” and Dan from Brazil said, “…here in Brazil there aren’t cool chicks that get geeky, love games, [and] know bout technology…Do you have any idea of where we could look for those? Time is passing and we are really getting sad and lonely cause the non-geeks don’t fill in the blanks.”

Yes, Ken and Dan, I agree. There is nothing quite as awesome as a Geek Girl. As for where to meet them, that’s a bit tougher to answer.

Where the Geeks Are

Here’s my two cents: the best place to meet a truly geeky girl is probably, well…online. For example, my husband and I found each other via the perfect storm of geekery. One night, while I was bonding with my laptop in my single-girl studio apartment, Nancy sent me an IM with a link to a blog called the Kingdom of Squirrels written by a guy named Jeremy. “Hey,” she typed, “you should date this guy.” I checked out the blog, thought the guy looked cool, but suspected that he was so cool that he was either:
a) gay
b) taken
c) psychologically unfit
d) all of the above

By coincidence, Jeremy stumbled across my now-dead blog a few weeks later (he thinks via a directory of MN bloggers — this was in 2002 when there were far fewer blogs and before they were proclaimed dead) and left me a comment. I saw it, clicked over to his website and realized I had been there a few months before. We exchanged blog comments and emails for a couple of months, we saw each other in person for the first time when he came to see me at a poetry slam, we had our first real date a month later, and the rest is history. There was also a mix tape involved (well, technically a mix CD, but the effect was the same).

Finding the Elusive Female Geek

Obviously, you can find a geek girl anywhere you’d find any other kind of girl, but it might be tricky to figure out if she’s a geek. Sidling up to a girl at happy hour and asking if she knows CSS from RSS might not work so well. In my experience, what works best is to just put yourself out there, either via a blog where you write about whatever you are passionate about or an expert on, via Twitter, and on social networks like Facebook, Orkut, MySpace, or whatever is most popular in your country or age/interest group.

Next, cruise around and see who’s interesting. Let it happen naturally by commenting on blogs that interest you, or finding opportunities (like Meetups) to mingle with other geeks in meatspace. Whatever you do, don’t be creepy. Sending an IM or direct tweet like “Hey, baby let’s chat…” is sooo not going to work. It’s just like real life: you’ll encounter a lot of people, but you’ll only make a real connection with a few. Don’t try to force it, or you’ll come off all wrong and you’ll scare the girly geeks away. Be cool, man. Be cool.

What worked for Jeremy and I is that — first and foremost — we found each other to be interesting; technology just facilitated our relationship. Had it not been for the Internet, AIM and Movable Type, we might have never met (in fact, I probably should have invited Tim Berners-Lee and the Trotts to our wedding), but our relationship is based on who we are, not on the technology itself. It’s a bit of a happy coincidence that we are both geeks, but your odds of meeting a geek girl are higher online than they are IRL. So, just put yourself out there. See what happens.

That’s that. Don’t get the wrong idea, guys — I’m not turning this into a dating column. But, you asked and I’m here for you.

Good luck.

What Do I Know? by Kristi McKinney

The following post was submitted by Kristi McKinney, who provides her perspective on being a young, geeky working woman. We love having guest Geek Girls contribute their thoughts. If you’re interested in writing an article for us, please let us know!

As society’s use of — and affinity for — technology has grown, so too has the idea of who uses, manages, and can fix our vast array of gadgets. This field, hobby, and obsession is undoubtedly dominated by men. But what about the women who do make technology their passion, their obsession, and their careers?

I can tell you that I’ve had to shrug cutely and pretend I can’t fix a problem many more times than I’ve been permitted to fix one. As a woman, I’m often brushed aside when anything technical comes up. Why? Because the stereotype of a computer geek is that they’re tall skinny guys with thick glasses, they’re antisocial and they own one of those USB drink coolers. They love WOW, Nethack, and cheese doodles. But just as that stereotype does not fit all male geeks, the gender of the stereotype is also wrong.

I’m a woman and a geek; those are not mutually exclusive. I actually know things about computers and technology.  Break out your defibrillator, a new era of geeks is upon us. We’re women and we do know what we’re talking about. For some of us, our primary occupation has nothing to do with our tech obsessions, while others are closing the gender gap and becoming wonderfully geeky professionals. I was a grad student until not too long ago. I now write web content. Though my job doesn’t require me to be coding or even anything very technical, I end up doing it anyway for a variety of reasons, but not easily. I’m met with skepticism when I announce I can fix the problem at hand.

So what does this mean for us geeky girls? It means we’re endlessly doubted and the geeky tech guys that work at our offices think we’re marginal at best. We face the same challenges that women in the workplace have always faced, but with a little extra ammo.

What should we do? Persist. The next time you can fix something, but no one wants to listen to you, try harder. Make your knowledge known and never be ashamed of it. Don’t worry that you don’t know everything. Be confident and believe in yourself; if you do, others will start to believe in you too.

Kristi McKinney, Geek

Kristi McKinney currently works at Forte, LLC, writing and managing MyWayForward.com. She recently received her MA in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Minnesota where she studied Russian journalism.  Kristi has had many geeky odd jobs over the years, including helping to write content and build web pages for the University of Minnesota Cancer Center. Kristi received her BA in Communication and English with a minor in Russian from the University of North Dakota.

Book Review: How to be a Geek Goddess

My co-worker (and Men’s Auxiliary Member), Ben, tipped me off a few weeks ago that there was a book being published by No Starch Press (one of his favorite resources for geek books) called How to be a Geek Goddess. I contacted the publisher and they were kind enough to put me in touch with the author, Christina Tynan-Wood (@xtyan), and send me a copy of the book.

I’m currently on vacation in the Coachella Valley (ah, sunshine feels good on my pale Minnesota skin!) and, while on the three-hour flight and lounging in the desert, have been perusing the book. My verdict? Excellent!

I’d highly recommend this book as a gift this holiday season, either to yourself or to a woman in your life who’s looking for a handy desk reference on all things geek. Tynan-Wood gives simple, but not condescending, instructions on everything from purchasing to outfitting your computer and everything that goes along with it.

In a very funny prologue, Tynan-Wood describes her husband as a “pompous ass” — a rather typical male tech-know-it-all. I laughed out loud at this, because I read it after I caught my husband paging through the book, rolling his eyes at her diagram of a mouse (right click, left click, scrollbar). Yeah. I married a pompous ass, too (and I mean that in a really loving way, honey!).

So, yes. The book contains things as simple as a diagram of a mouse, but you know what? Some people need that. And — despite Mr. Wilker’s eye-rolling — there’s no shame in that. Knowledge is power, and this book doles out tech knowledge from A to Z. What I like about the book is how comprehensive it is — even I, a self-described Geek Girl, learned a thing or two. Those who are just beginning to dip their toes into Interweb waters will learn even more, but won’t find it overwhelming.

While the book is structured in chapters, one certainly doesn’t need to read it cover-to-cover for it to make sense, or be a valuable resource. It would serve as a great desk reference for any woman aspiring to girly geekdom. Skip to Chapter 7 to learn how to set up a wireless network at your house, Chapter 9 for handy info on how to keep your kids safe online, or start at Chapter 1 if you need a guide on how to buy yourself a new computer. She really covers all the bases, and does so with good humor.

She also touches on what I think is an important point for women when it comes to embracing (or not embracing) technology. And this also came up in our Geek Out Room at the MIMA Summit this year. It’s relevance. Namely, that it’s okay to not be interested in technology for technology’s sake. For many women, technology is only interesting to the point that it’s relevant to one’s life. As in, how can this web application or gadget make my busy, insane life easier? Tynan-Wood does a great job illustrating how the technologies she describes can be applied to one’s life.

There are a few too many shoe-shopping references for my tastes, but I’m willing to admit that I’m a female anomaly in my dislike of shopping (shoe or otherwise) and her metaphors often do make sense. Software really can be considered an accessory in my world! All-in-all, the book is a fantastic tech bible for women: witty, informative and comprehensive.

The author was kind enough to agree to an interview with me; now that I’ve read the book, I’ll be contacting her. But before I do, do you have any questions you’d like me to ask? Either post to comments, use our Ask the Geeks form, or email me at meghan [at] geekgirlsguide [dot] com.

You can check out the Christina Tynan-Woods’ Geek Girlfriends blog here.

Geek Chic of the Week: Online Invitations

With the holiday party season in full swing, it seems appropriate to talk about online invitation services.

If you’ve never used an online invitation web site, you’re missing out. Online invitations make it way easier to plan parties and manage RSVPs. Googling “online invitations” will result in a number of matches, the most well-known and widely-used being Evite.

I’ve been a loyal Evite user since 1999. Yeah, you heard right — next year, Evite and I will celebrate our 10th anniversary. I did have a one-event stand with newcomer (and trendy vowel-dropper) Socializr, but the interface was so ugly I couldn’t go back. But, for my election party this year, I tried something new: Planypus.

Evite Overview

But, wait — before I get ahead of myself let’s start with the briefest of overviews on Evite for those who don’t know. Using Evite, you can create an online inivitation using one of their templates, or create your own by uploading images, selecting colors, etc. (though, fair warning: creating your own Evite can be very frustrating. It took me several tries and some lost data to get it right. And I’m a freaking geek girl!) Enter in the email addresses of your friends, and you’re done. As an organizer, you can tell who has viewed the invite and keep track of the RSVPs. You can choose to be notified when people RSVP, or just check the site. They used to also allow you to ask guests to bring things, or to poll your guests, but those features are no longer available.

But, there are a few downsides. The first is ads, ads and more ads. The site is crammed so full of ads that it drowns out the interface. I’ve been using the site for years and I still find myself pausing to find the big green “Create An Invitation” button (I think it’s because I’ve trained myself to ignore both side columns, expecting to see ads there.)

Another downer? Some companies have restricted access to Evite, so invites sometimes get missed by your friends if you’re using their work address. And, users have to sign up on the site in order to RSVP. Bleh.

But, like I said — it’s the most well-known and it gets the job done. If you know exactly what you want to do (place, time, etc.), it’s a fine way to manage a gathering. But, what if you don’t know what the plans are yet? What if you’re organizing a ski trip for 14 friends, or a girls’ night out and need to collaborate on date, time, location and other details among a group? Enter Planypus.


Their tagline sums it up pretty well, “The wiki for your social life.” For those who don’t know (and there’s no shame in not knowing!), a wiki is a web page that anyone can edit. The best known example of this is Wikipedia; once you create a wikipedia account, you can edit any wikipedia page. Just apply that thinking to a social event. Think of the number of emails that get sent back and forth even when trying to plan a simple dinner party. (Just figuring out what night will work for everyone has sometimes taken me and my friends 15-20 emails.)

One of the creators of Planypus (@smazo) was in Minneapolis a few weeks ago and we met up to talk about Planypus. I was fresh off a good experience with using the site to plan my Election Night Party and was excited to learn more about Planypus. I initially mistook it for another simple online invitation service — I didn’t totally grok the wiki aspect of it until after Stan and I talked. But, the idea is really brilliant:

With Planypus, everyone can contribute and vote on date, time, location. Anyone can edit what they call the “Planspace” — which is where you can outline the details of your plans. And guests can make comments, or mark their comments as “announcements” that are emailed to everyone.

The first question anyone asks when they hear about a wiki concept is, “So, does that mean anyone could go in and just delete everything or put in a bunch of nonsense?” Technically, yes. I’ll write another article someday about the self-policing that goes on in online communities like wikis but for now I’ll just say that in this case it’s even more unlikely anyone would sabotage your invite. Think about it: if everyone that’s invited knows each other in some way, your friends aren’t going to deface or delete data, because their username will be displayed as the culprit.

3 Reasons to Try It

  1. Planypus isad-free. As a company, Planypus has no plans to use ads on the site. Their business model is to charge businesses to use the Planypus Platform on their sites, but keep it free (and ad-free) for individuals.
  2. It’s very easy to use. I challenge you to try to get confused while using it. It’s really clear what to do and you can get an event set up in under a minute.
  3. Design-wise, Planypus is to Evite what Facebook is to MySpace: less customizable, but way easier on the eyes. If you really want a design with a crazy, sparkly background or custom color palette, you’re not going to be happy. You can upload a photo to the Planspace, though. And who could resist the cute little Planypus platypus?!

It’s a little unfair to compare the two, because as I learned more about Planypus they don’t seem to me to be truly direct competitors. You can certainly use Planypus in the same way you use Evite (for an event that doesn’t require any collaboration or group planning — as I did with my Election Night Party) but it really shines when you need to collaborate. Evite is a one-to-many way to communicate an event, while Planypus is a collaboration tool. Use the right tool for your job, I say.

I set up two test invitations so you can compare the two yourself. Check out my Geek Girls Evite and my Geek Girls Planypus. Dig around and let me know what you think! (And, while you’re doing all this party planning check out our friends the Cocktail Chicks. They’ll give you lots of advice on how to do it up right, though I’m sure they’d find online invitations tres gauche.)

Are Blogs Really Dead?

Recently someone asked me what I thought of this article in Wired Magazine.  Are blogs really dead?  My answer might not surprise you, since this ‘blog’ was started within the last year, but I don’t agree.  I’ll tell you what I told this person, and what I’ve said to countless other people — the stuff that works on the web is content driven.  If you’ve got good content, if you have something to say that people want or need to hear, if you have value to contribute to the vast resource that is the interwebs — go for it.  Frankly, I think it’s a matter of symantics as to whether you call a website with essays a blog.  You add video, does that automatically make it a vlog?  Toss in some audio and some imagery, which all of the solid ‘blogging’ software allows you to do these days, and voila! you’ve got yourself a WEBSITE.  Blogs and blogging software have evolved.  The software really just allows self publishing of content.  It’s the content that makes the website.

The really true geeks like to think they call the shots in terms of what matters and what doesn’t on the web.  But it’s the audience that decides.  And audiences gravitate to content that is compelling, that matters, that influences their lives.  Let the ubergeeks say the blog is so yesterday.  That just means more good stuff for the rest of us to explore, and argue about, and digest, and learn.

Facebook, It’s All Grown Up

If you’re reticent to try Linked In you might be curious about, but avoiding, Facebook.  Or maybe you’re on Facebook because some high school friend invited you, but you’re mostly letting people find you.  Rethink that.  Facebook isn’t just for your kids any more.  And if networking is your thing, there’s no better network out there.  While Linked In is, for the most part, a professional networking site, Facebook is that and then some. I really want people to stop poo-pooing social networks that work.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  With the job market being what it is and money being tight, these are desperate times.

I’ve recently started to really grasp the full power of Facebook.  In addition to the obvious features, including a friends/contacts list, photo sharing, links/content sharing, and messaging – instant and otherwise – the experience can be significantly enhanced through one or several easily installed Facebook ‘apps‘.  You can share and learn about music, books and films.  You can align with particular causes or charitable organizations, you can support local businesses and promote your business through ‘fan pages’. You can share data from your itunes for real time info about what you’re listening to or what you’re watching.  There are a number of very frivolous activities like giving ‘gifts’ and ‘drinks’ or ‘little green patches’.  The good news is, you have the option to ignore those things.  I am always sort of intrigued by the people that don’t ignore the silly.  But who am I?  Facebook also integrates with Twitter via a simple plugin application.  So, if you’re tweeting what you’re doing right now, it’ll automatically update your Facebook status.  This is really just the tip of the iceberg, but there’s no denying that Facebook is feature and content rich. 

Why am I so convinced that Facebook can add value to your professional existence?  Well, Facebook has spent the last year really working on building it’s member base.  And, according to information published by Facebook, they have more than 130 million active users.  More than half of facebook users are out of college, with the fastest growing demographic being over 25 years old.  Simply put, you will NEVER have access to that kind of network in any other setting.  Why is Facebook so powerful, beyond the sheer volume of users?  Because it allows users to share snapshots of their personal and professional lives to a broad audience of contacts.  Your list of ‘friends’ shares moments, victories, stories, interests and events with you, sometimes even as they happen.  This kind of an interaction suggests a kind of investment in those relationships.  There is an implied intimacy that people take pretty seriously.

We’re living through a period in history like no other.  Information is flying at us and its rare that we get an opportunity to stop and really pay attention to it.  Facebook gives us information on people we care about, have cared about or should care about, in small, digestable nuggets.  It frames it up in a way that makes it palatable.  Its that investment, whether personally or professionally (and let’s face it, these days, what’s the difference?) that makes Facebook so important. When we care about a person, even just enough to take in a morsel of information about them, we are more likely to want, and even invest in, their success.  We network because we want to, and with our network readily available to us, we network because its easy. 

People need to stop dismissing social networks as being fluff, or pointless, or time wasters.  They exist because we don’t have time.  They exist because we need access to the people in our networks, our communities.  They exist because we actually do want to be more connected.  Do I think everyone needs to have a profile on every social network?  No.  Am I selling Facebook for any reason other than the occasional usefulness of information?  No.  But I am suggesting that people who tap into a social network, especially one as huge and well established as Facebook, have an advantage.  If you are looking for a job, a deal on a car, a good insurance agent, a wedding dress, a babysitter – where better to look than right inside your own community.  And your odds are actually better online, because the community is broader.  Sure, you still have to apply the same common sense filters you would in any situation, but chances are you’ll get more useful information.

People have asked me why I like Facebook and I generally answer “. . .because I’m a crappy friend.”  I’m mostly kidding.  But there’s a grain of truth there.  With Facebook I can peek in on my friends lives and see pictures of their kids, find out about what books they’re reading, see what causes they are feeling passionately about, and comment on their latest flat tire or cold symptom.  I can do all of that in just a few seconds.  It keeps me current.  It makes me a better friend.  And, because my personal life bleeds heavily into my professional life, when I contribute content to this whole experience, I am really adding more color to my own story.  In this wildly connected universe we live in, we’re investing in our own brands –that brand called YOU.  If you’re authentic in voice and contribution, your community responds favorably.  They help you.  Professionally and personally.  It’s really what makes the web so useful and compelling.  The connections.  That’s why Facebook is worth your time.


Amazon Giveth, and Taketh Away

Last month, in my love letter to Amazon, I mentioned that they had given me $1 back on a movie pre-order. They loved me up again a week later by giving me $2 back for a Wall-E pre-order.

And then, last week, they snatched one of those dollars right back.

That’s right. I accidentally ordered the I Can Has Cheezburger book (thinking it was a page-a-day calendar and would make a good stocking stuffer for a certain someone I know) and when I shipped it back, Amazon deducted the .99 shipping fee from my refund. Sure, it’s fair and all, but it got me thinking about how companies like Zappos have figured out that if they allow two-way free shipping (and actually let you talk to a person when you want to) they can inspire customer love and devotion. I’ve experienced the Zappos love myself; when I ordered a couple of pairs of shoes last May, they sent me an email to tell me that they upgraded my shipping. Just because.

Don’t worry, Amazon. I still love you. But, Zappos does have an incredible service model. They’ve managed to tap into the power of technology (Order shoes online, anytime. Read customer reviews and ratings. Follow their CEO on Twitter. Heck, follow any of their employees on Twitter.) AND the power of great customer service. Most web-based businesses have viewed the web as a way to do business without having to deal with actual people. My personal favorite: when a web site makes it damn near impossible to find a phone number, then when you call the number an automated voice condescendingly reminds you that you could be using the web site to get an answer to your question. Nice! Zappos smartly allows customers access to a real, live person when they need it. And sometimes, you do.

So, as we near the end of the year and start to think about goals for 2009, keep considering how you can leverage technology to help your business or your self. But also consider where a human touch, instead of technology, may be a more appropriate choice.

If I was with you right now, I’d hug you. Just for reading this.