MadLab Girl Geeks Christmas Party

Girl Geeks Christmas Party

Posted by Tamarisk Kay, over 4 years ago

Manchester Girl Geeks are a non-profit organisation that meet at the hidden gem that is Madlab every month on a Sunday afternoon. The aim of the group is to bring together like-minded women interested in or working with technology, engineering and/or science. Men are very welcome, with the proviso that they come along with or at the invitation of a female attendee. The Manchester Girl Geek Tea Parties were spawned not from the Palin fronted conservative movement troubling Obama’s administration but as an offshoot of the global phenomenon of Girl Geek Dinner Parties, set up with the aim of redressing the minority status of women at most technology or science orientated meetups.

I must admit to a certain amount of trepidation before arriving at Madlab for the Manchester Girl Geek Christmas Tea Party. The event, held on 12th December 2010, also marked the end of the first year of Manchester Girl Geek events and I braced myself for feeling like a bit of an intruder, having not made it down to any of the previous talks, workshops or events. Fortunately, my fears were completely and utterly unfounded. Take note if you’ve been planning to get down to Manchester Girl Geek or Madlab event but haven’t quite taken the plunge. I can’t imagine you’ll regret it.

Tea Party attendees negotiated the return of freezing conditions in Manchester and the throng of Christmas city centre shoppers to make it to Madlab, located opposite Common in the Northern Quarter. As per my previously stated fear, many of the attendees seemed to have met at previous Girl Geek events, but instead of making me feel intimidated, this factor only added to a sense of welcome and community that pervaded the atmosphere of the whole session. The event was structured around a show and tell format. There was a previously invited speaker who gave the longer of the presentations and after this the session was opened up for any attendees to give a presentation or talk on absolutely anything that they were working on or found to be of interest or value. This created an excellent interactive dynamic, much as I experienced in last week’s Unconference session at Contact Theatre’s Playspace event.

The invited speaker was Dr Maria Aretoulaki, a Voice User Interface designer who gave a presentation on VUI design and Speech Recognition software. Speech recognition is a subject that I haven’t given much thought too, or so I assumed. As Dr Aretoulaki brought out in her talk, this topic is increasingly very much on all of our minds when we are faced with the technology in our everyday lives. Just think about the infuriating verbal labrynths we are faced with when contacting our banks or utility providers by phone and the numerous moments of speech misrecognition such human to non-human interactions inevitable seem to engender. This sketch of two Scots in a voice activated lift was used by Dr Aretoulaki to illustrate the problem.

Rather than dwelling on the frustration of unyielding voice recognition systems in the real world, the talk led me to marvel that they exist at all. As the presentation brought home, human to human communication is strewn with misunderstandings. That programs can be designed to breakdown, contextualise and intuit segments of speech is quite amazing. It will be interesting to see how such technology progresses. As it is, I will continue to search the web using text after some amusing and bewildering results offered by my phone’s Google Voice Search.

The next speaker was Veronique Pollacsec of General Electric. Veronique gave a presentation on General Electric and Virtual Collaborative Tools. Her talk essentially detailed the ways in which GE used Internet based communication systems to facilitate productivity amongst its 300, 000 employees spread across 100 hundred countries. We were shown the ways in which GE utilises Webex, an application I haven’t used myself but that appeared to have connection and event functionality reognisable and familiar to those already comfortable and familiar with the current crop of social media platforms. Webex certainly seemed to deliver for GE as a productivity tool, but perhaps more interesting to me was its ability to function as a motivational and moral boosting application. Creating a sense of community amongst 300, 000 workers cannot be easy and the social networking model seems to be the smart way to go about it.

Next up came Charlie Owens who gave an impromptu but inspiring talk on opensource Linux based freeware OS Ubuntu Netbook Edition. Since I ‘went Mac’ a few years back, I haven’t even considered using another machine but I have been sorely tempted into buying an cheap netbook and running Ubuntu on it, mainly because I have neither the funds not the inclination to buy a MacBook Air but am getting tired of lugging my increasingly heavy MacBook around. Watch this space.

Kat Reeve came next with a demonstration of the open source XBMC media centre application. I hadn’t hear of this program before and I must say that it looked slick and impressive. I can’t say more than that until I give XBMC a go over my usual mixture of VLC and iTunes and report back. However, from Kat’s demonstration and knowledge of the program, I was definitely intrigued.

Like any good tea party, Manchester Girl Geek Tea Party generously supplied attendees with vats of tea and coffee and a varied selection of confectionery and seasonal snacks that undid all the good work of my morning run. That’s about as close as I could come to finding a negative during the whole event. I thoroughly recommend future Manchester Girl Geek events as a way to network, if you are so inclined, or simply to learn and share interests with other people. Over cake. Lots and lots of cake.

*****

This entry was graciously penned by Vee Uye, our first ever guest blogster. See more of her intricate wordplay at Three-Point-Oh. Thanks Vee!