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23Jan10

I have purchased a domain and moved my blog to http://taraclark.ca. Please update your bookmarks and/or RSS feeds. Thank you!


The fourth novel that I read for my Extreme Contemporary French Literature class this past fall term was by a Belgian author, Amélie Nothomb, Robert des noms propres.

This novel was quite short and read like a children’s novel, almost.  That was one of the intriguing aspects about it – it’s in a way the type of book that you could read straight through as a child and enjoy the story, yet it is a complex story mixing many a fairy tale that never quite go right. After I had read it through, we discussed it in class and something I found intriguing that my professor mentioned to us was that it wasn’t simply an interesting story, but the romanticized life story of a friend of Amélie’s, a French singer Robert.

This course made us question the distinction between fact and fiction. When we write down our memories, is that fact or fiction? In a way, it is fiction because we expose these memories in a way that we choose. Think about it. If you have ever kept a journal, a blog, or recounted a story to a friend, have you re-told the events exactly as they unfolded? Did you play with the truth even just a tiny bit or did you leave out the parts that you didn’t think that friend would care about? How we recall these memories is affected by our surroundings.

These are the thoughts that have been running through my head as I’ve been reading another one of Nothomb’s books, Ni d’Ève ni d’Adam, which I surprisingly managed to find at my local library. (The surprising part was that I managed to find the French version of it and not just an English translation.) This novel is totally different than her previous one that I read. Not only is it quite a bit longer, but it is of an autobiographical nature, rather than a biographical nature. It really does read like a personal journal and feel like she is showing her readers the pieces of her life that she selected for show, which gives it a strong factual element. But at the same time, I am left wondering where the distinction between fact and fiction lies – to what extent are the events in the story real events that happened in her life or made up for the purpose of the story? I think that the personal journal aspect of the story has made it a bit dry, but I will finish it off – I’m only about 30 pages away from that – and then I will move on to the next book in my prioritized queue.

I’ve prioritized my queue of books to read from the library by alternating them French/English and ensuring that I first read the ones that have to be returned to the library first. For example, books that have requests placed on them cannot be renewed and high-demand books are due back after 2 weeks, not 3 weeks like the rest.


After countless problems today, I ended up rolling Rails back to version 2.3.4 and Ruby to version 1.8.6.

Note: it may say to Ctrl-C to shutdown the server, but you actually have to do Ctrl+Break.

And note to self: Some of my tests use the “should_ensure_length_at_most” macro in shoulda, which for some reason isn’t in the version that “gem install shoulda” grabs. It is in the source file active_record/macros.rb.

Let’s take a step back now and look at what I did to get Ruby on Rails working on Windows 7.

I had already installed XAMPP, which contains a MySQL server. For the most part, I followed Luis Lavena’s tutorial RubyInstaller: Getting Started with Rails and MySQL:

  1. Downloaded and installed the Ruby Installer for Windows – I used rubyinstaller-1.8.6-p383-rc1.exe.
  2. Since I already had an installation of MySQL from XAMPP, I just needed to copy the libmySQL.dll file from that installation into C:\Ruby\bin. This worked fine for creating the database, but I ran into errors when I tried to load the schema – MySQL Server 5.1 does not play nicely with my version of Rails. The older version of libmySQL.dll linked in the top rated answer solved my problem.
  3. Next, I installed the MySQL gem:
    gem install mysql --source http://gems.rubyinstaller.org
  4. I chose to install the same version of Rails that I had been working with previously:
    gem install -v=2.3.4 rails
  5. I was then able to re-create my database, load the schema, and see all of my views!
  6. After some playing around, I noticed that the pages were loading much slower than they had on my previous setup, so I decided to install the server I had been using before, mongrel:
    gem install mongrel
  7. Lastly, I wanted to run my tests, so I needed to re-install my test framework:
    gem install shoulda

After I installed shoulda, all of my tests passed, except for one. I am getting the following error:

NoMethodError: undefined method `quoted_table_name' for Object:Class

which is coming from line 323 in C:\Ruby19\lib\ruby\gems\1.9.1\gems\activerecord-2.3.4\lib\active_record\association_preload.rb:

table_name = klass.quoted_table_name

This particular controller corresponds to a model using polymorphic associations:

belongs_to :budgetable, :polymorphic => true

That’s my only clue so far, as the test is erroring when trying to retrieve all BudgetMonths and pre-load the budgetable association. If I don’t pre-load that association, then the test *will* pass, but I’d still like to know what I can do to be able to pre-load polymorphic associations.


I recently installed Windows 7 Professional on my laptop. It was perfect timing since I was starting to have issues going into standby on my Windows XP Professional install, so it was about time since I would have re-formatted soon anyways. It has, for the most part, been a seamless upgrade. The Control Panel was completely re-arranged, which is a little annoying, but I can deal with that. Thankfully, I was prepared for the new taskbar, and in fact looking forward to it – otherwise, I would have been quite baffled by it.

I left my external monitor at home while I was at school for the last 3 and a half months. Yesterday evening, I finally finished re-organizing the various items on my desk and so I was able to set up my computer on the desk. I very much missed my beautiful 19″ widescreen LCD monitor and my speakers – the laptop speakers or headphones definitely pale in comparison.

Now that I have my desk set up for working, it’s finally time to get my development environment going: Eclipse with PHP and RadRails plugins, XAMPP as a server for PHP, and a Ruby on Rails server. Eclipse and XAMPP were a breeze, as always, but InstantRails, which I used on XP, was not quite as instant, so I went looking for a new solution. I’ve found several tutorials:

I’m first going to try following the tutorial at the second link. I followed the instructions, steps 1 to 6, and everything worked perfectly. I skipped step 7, as I want to use MySQL, which I had in my previous setup.

Then, I followed the instructions by the fourth tutorial to set up MySQL integration. Since I already have a MySQL install, I decided to use it instead of installing MySQL again, so I just had to install the gems. A test app seems to work fine, so tomorrow I will try and see if I can get an existing Rails application working.


I’m trying to remember when exactly I switched from Firefox to Google Chrome as my primary browser. I think it was sometime in 2009, between January and May. I use Google Chrome for all of my browsing* now. I have application shortcuts for Gmail and Remember the Milk, which then open in their own “windows”.

At first, I was curious and just trying it out. But I was immediately drawn by how fast JavaScript-heavy pages loaded. Gmail is so much faster loading in Google Chrome (I remember getting annoyed with how long it took to load it at work last term).

I like its plain and simple interface, without all the bells and whistles with which you can extend Firefox, so when Google announced that they were releasing an Extensions gallery for Chrome, I was a bit skeptical. I will see soon if the extensions that I have installed slow the browser down that much. What have I installed?

  • ChromeMilk – an extension for Remember the Milk, it’s a little bit buggy at the moment due to a bug in Chromium, but other than that it works great. It placed an icon on my address bar line and when I click on it, I get a view of my tasks, the Gmail view in my case since I prefer that one over the iGoogle view. This is perfect – I no longer have to leave Remember the Task (an Adobe Air) app open all the time!
  • Del.icio.us Tools – adds an icon to my address bar line that when clicked on, offers an option to save a new bookmark (the current page) or view my Del.icio.us bookmarks. Bye bye bookmarklet to save a bookmark to Delicious, which I access by pressing Ctrl+B to open my bookmarks toolbar!
  • Google Translate – One of my friends blogs in Russian and of course I still want to read her posts, so having a one-click “Translate to English” button on my address bar line is perfect! My original method was to navigate to google.com/translate and copy and paste the URL of her post into the textbox and then eventually I found a bookmarklet, but now I have a splendid button!
  • Google Calendar Checker – This tells me how long until my next appointment. Hovering over the button tells me the time and name of the event and clicking on it takes me to my Google Calendar.
  • VerticalTabs – This one, I am still pensive about. I miss the functionality of Firefox to be able to see all of your tabs in a dropdown, which is why I installed this, but I’m not completely sold on this particular extension yet.
  • Xmarks Bookmark Sync – I haven’t installed this yet, but I likely will soon after backing up my Google Chrome bookmarks since I have always installed it on my Firefox instances.

One of my favourite features about Google Chrome, actually, is the ability to resize text fields. This is great for writing blog posts!

What I miss the most, though, is definitely my Firebug extension. Hopefully that will be added to the Google Chrome extensions gallery soon! Firebug has been extremely useful when debugging JavaScript.

*all of my browsing literally means browsing – I often still use Firefox for debugging web applications.


In this “session”, we learned what you need to know to become a tech exec, though the panelists offered conflicting views on how to succeed because between them, there were both examples of succeeding by staying in the same place for most of their career as well as by moving around to different companies. What they did seem to agree on though was that the phrase “career obstacle course” is much more appropriate of a term than “career path” since you’re going to hit a lot of rocky points throughout your career.

The individual contributor track may not have the managerial responsibilities that the manager track offers, but it does eventually have less programming and more architectural responsibilities. And regardless of your position or track, communication skills are important – you need to be able to explain technical tasks to non-technical people.

The panelist from Facebook jokingly informed us that they are now making money, contrary to popular belief.

The more things that you do other than what you do at your day job, the easier it is to re-charge and have the energy to go to work. You also need to be really passionate about what you do at work. Pick a company that makes you feel good. If you’re enjoying the journey, then you’re in the right place.  But at the same time, keep in mind that work-life balance is highly essential to not burning out  and avoid the black hole of feeling the need to do work all the time – you don’t have to do everything!

I thought that the panelists really gave some great “big picture” pieces of advice.


Let me just say that this session was, hands down, the most important session at the conference. I think that having a Imposter-related discussion at one of the Women in CS brownbags would be really useful for everyone involved!

To start, let’s try to define what this Imposter Syndrome is. In essence, it’s the overwhelming feeling that you don’t belong where you are. You could feel like you’re in the position you’re in because someone else couldn’t make it. Or you could feel like you’re a fraud and that you’re just putting on an act and soon enough, someone will expose you for the fraud that you really are. It’s also the feeling that even though you got 94% on an exam or an assignment, everyone in the class must have done way better than you. Both men and women alike can suffer from the Imposter Syndrome, but it primarily affects the minorities in particular situations, i.e. women in sciences, math, engineering, and technology. Some of the symptoms that you are suffering from the Imposter Syndrome include poor self-confidence towards your school work or job capability or having feelings of being inadequate.

In June, someone told me that to succeed as a Computer Scientist or a Software Developer today, you don’t need to spend all your free time playing computer games or in the lab programming. I almost didn’t believe her! But it’s true. In a lot of cases, women see a balanced life as more important than men do. Don’t get me wrong, some men also think it’s important to have a balanced life, but a lot of them are happy to spend all of their time in front of a computer, programming, playing video games, or doing work. And as much as I may love what I do at work, I don’t necessarily want to spend every waking minute working!

There are several ways that you can treat your case of the Imposter Syndrome so that you can happily carry on with your life and not let it take over your mind completely. First of all, you need to the nagging voice telling you all these horrible falsehoods about your abilities and dragging your self-confidence through the floor. Second, you need to find ways to boost yourself and your confidence up. If you act confident outwardly, then you will be confident on the inside. And don’t worry, this is actually a lot easier than it sounds! It’s also really important to have a great support system, such as your friends and family (your parents!) and your significant other. If your significant other is not helping make your nagging voice go away, then you should probably have a talk with him!

You may be reading all these traits and symptoms I’m describing about the Imposter Syndrome and thinking “that’s not me at all!” But hold on a moment. A lot of us started out by feeling invincible, particularly in high school, and then developed our case of the syndrome in university. I don’t know about your high school, but mine was pretty small – there were only 2 people in my CS class in grade 12 and under 10 people in all of my other science classes in grade 12 (Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus), so I didn’t really encounter anyone who made it seem like I was out of place until I got to university. Being the only girl (or one of very few) is a much bigger deal when there are 90+ guys, not just one. People who don’t expect you to be as smart as the next person can wear away at your invincibility. Surprisingly enough, even in today’s modern society, some guys don’t expect women to be as smart as men.

Believe it or not, there are some benefits to having a case of the Imposter Syndrome! We tend to work harder to compensate for not feeling like we’re good enough and we aren’t “too” confident about what we’re doing, unlike some of our male counterparts ;) Do these small benefits really outweigh the cost of such a high level of insecurity though?

Remember – just because some guy acts insanely confident or arrogant doesn’t mean that he’s actually smarter than you! Guys like to brag about how easy assignments were and how little time it took them, but don’t listen to them. They’re just trying to make themselves look cool and it’s quite possible that it actually took them ages to complete the assignment and they refuse to admit it.

You also need to be able to recognize when people are stereotyping you. For example, in some cultures, women are expected to be getting (or already be) married around the time that we graduate from university. Don’t believe them if they try telling you that your education is going to prevent you from getting married! If a guy actually likes you for more than just your looks (which he should anyways if you want to pursue a relationship with him), then he will respect your intellect as well.

A great pep talk that you can give yourself if you start wondering if you really deserve the job that you have is to tell yourself that Your Company hired you because they think you’re smart and that they wouldn’t have hired you otherwise. A software company isn’t going to hire you just because you’re a woman – they’re going to hire you because they feel that you’re capable of producing the results that they want.

I have one more pep talk for you. If you feel like you don’t belong where you are, then you should calculate the probability that all of your successes were due to luck. You will realize pretty easily that this probability is extremely small. I’ve also been told that dealing with the Imposter Syndrome gets easier with age, though I can’t really let you know either way on that one yet. But I do think that as we get older, we don’t care about what people think about us quite so much and in turn, the Imposter Syndrome affects us less.

The Imposter Syndrome doesn’t just affect the psyche of technical women in regards to their technical skills and career path. The decrease in self-confidence is across the board and affects everything, including their relationships. It can cause low self-esteem and depression – and these two can create significant amounts of stress.




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