Advice to Conference Speakers When Things Go Wrong

While I was attending 360|iDev this past week, I saw a speaker have a bad talk. I saw this speaker do this talk a few months ago and he knocked it out of the park. This time, several things went wrong and the talk went a little off the rails.

My heart went out to this speaker because earlier this month I had my own first encounter with a talk going off the rails.

My Conference Talk Failure

I spoke at CocoaConf Columbus. I was doing two talks. One talk was on GPU Programming and the other talk was on Debugging. I spent the vast majority of my time on the first talk. The subject matter was far more difficult and I was trying to do something rather ambitious with it. I didn’t really give the Debugging talk the love it deserved.

I knew when I woke up the morning of my talk that it was going to go badly. I spent a bunch of time in the morning refactoring it up until the few minutes before the talk began. I was rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

I'll just be over here drowning myself in my own tears.

I’ll just be over here drowning myself in my own tears.

When I began the talk, I included a really stupid inside joke that went on for far too long and things just got worse from there. I got flustered and none of my code demos worked properly. I also included way too many of them and all of the demos were based on the same project, so I became confused as to which demo went with which concept.

As I panicked, I spent more and more time looking to my coauthor for help like a kid looking to the teacher for the next line in the school play. I knew I was doing this and I couldn’t help it. I felt like the world was collapsing in on me and I was trapped up there for one terrible hour until I could escape and find a nice corner to cry in.

The Bad News

Here is the bad news. If you are going to be a conference speaker, you are going to have talks that go wrong. It is just going to happen. You are going to have a few that go well, you are going to get complacent and figure you have it all sorted out, or it might even be your first one and you didn’t prepare as much as you should have.

The good news is that you can learn from the experience. Human beings have the unfortunate habit of learning best when we fail at something. Emotional failure stings and it physically hurts us. We learn very quickly not to touch a hot stove because it hurts. We also learn not to go before an audience unprepared because that hurts too.

It is vitally important to not just give up on speaking when you have a bad experience. That is the opportunity you have to learn the most if you can shake off the pain and learn what you did wrong.

Advice

Here is my personal advice for anyone who has either had a bad experience or is just starting out and is worried about having their first bad experience.

  • Figure out if your talk is recoverable. I read a memoir by a gymnast who said that when she would get to practice in the morning she would immediately know if it was going to be an on day or an off day the moment she stepped on the balance beam. Sometimes you start the day off on the wrong foot and you just have to keep chugging along. If you can’t recover from your talk, try not to worry about it. The more you try to recover from it, the more panicked you will be, and the worse it will get. You just have to get through it as best you can. Don’t run away. Just finish as best you can.
  • LetItGo

  • If you think you can recover, take a few seconds to close your eyes and gather your thoughts. It might seem like a long time to you, but there is a temporal shift between how you feel time and how your audience feels time. It might seem like an eternity to you, but to them it isn’t that long.
  • Try to shake it off. Believe me, you are going to feel terrible. People will try to make you feel better by telling you it wasn’t that bad. They are trying to help. Try to be gracious to the nice people who feel terrible for you and want to make you feel better even though you really want to wallow in your own misery for a while. Let yourself feel bad, but not for too long. Have a good cry, then let it go. Don’t let this spook you out of ever doing this again.
  • Learn from what you did wrong. In my case, I didn’t practice my talk enough and my demos were confusing. I will not make those mistakes again. I am currently working on another talk to replace this one and I am trying to be very careful to do the talk that I can do, which might be less ambitious than doing the talk I want and envision. If you are a beginner, you are going to make mistakes and you will know that you could have done better. You will do better next time.
  • Remember that everyone in the audience is rooting for you to do well. No one came to your talk hoping to see you crash and burn. Everyone out there is empathizing with you. Most people find public speaking to be terrifying and if you are having a bad talk, you are living their nightmare. There will always be some asshole who will leave you a comment on your card that you weren’t prepared or some other negative thing. It is going to hurt. Fortunately, those people are usually the minority. Try to remember all the nice things people said and all the people who tried to make you feel better when things went wrong. Our community wants you to succeed.

Moving Forward

As painful as my Debugging talk was, I probably learned more from it than I did from the other talks that I did that went well. I know that the speaker I saw at 360|iDev is going to take that talk and refactor the hell out of it and the next time he does it he will knock it out of the park.

We learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. Failure is painful, but necessary for us to grow and learn and to do better. We are all going to fail at some point. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Just grow, learn, and do awesome stuff.

Programmer’s Math Call for Proposals

I am working on creating a talk about all of the math that I learned in high school, forgot how to do because it had no “real world” application, only to discover that I really need to remember it now.

I am asking anyone who follows me on Twitter, App.net, or reads my blog to please contact me about any math concepts you have encountered that made your brain shut down like Zaphod Beeblebrox’s sunglasses because it was too terrifying to deal with.

I want to get an idea of concepts people either don’t really understand or, if you are a math person, what concepts you think I should cover.

I don’t allow comments on my blog because I got sick of spending hours deleting all the spam that got through my filter. If you already have my email address, feel free to email me. Please ping me on Twitter if you don’t have my email.

I am trying to write this talk to address what issues our programming community has. The more feedback I get from people about what they find confusing and what they would like to see covered, the better I can do at helping all of us do better things.

Thank you.

For the Love of Math

I want to ask everyone a question. Am I the only one who remembers that at one time they really loved math?

I didn’t always love math, or reading. I found both of them rather difficult my first few years of school. I had classmates who went to preschool or had older siblings or stay at home moms who had a small head start on me for reading. I was determined to learn to read and I quickly caught up and surpassed many of my classmates.

Square One Television

Square One Television

It wasn’t until second grade that I discovered my love of math. There used to be an educational program on PBS called Square One Television. I became obsessed with this show because it took all these arithmetic concepts I had trouble grokking and explained them in a way I could understand.

They also talked about such advanced topics as Cryptography and Tesselations. (I do want to apologize for the dated content, this was created in the 1980’s.)

This show taught me what a googol was before the spelling changed and became a search engine/Big Brother. Even today when I see a number that is the same backwards and forwards I get really excited because I know it is a palindrome.

Yes, that is James Earl Jones.

Yes, that is James Earl Jones.

Notable people like James Earl Jones and Weird Al Yankovic appeared and lent their talents to making math fun for kids. If you do watch any of the clips I have linked to, please to watch the Weird Al one, it is full of Monty Python homages.

So, if I loved learning math so much and I enjoyed being challenged, why did I major in journalism rather than something math related?

My first major in college was engineering. I was bullied a lot in high school and I had a year where the highest grade I got on my report card was a C. As such, I wasn’t accepted to any of the schools I really wanted to go to. I went to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville to major in engineering. The male to female ratio at the time was two to one. After attending a tech conference where the male to female ratio was fifty to one, that seems positively progressive, but at the time, it was a bit of a shock.

I did not fit in with my classmates.

Every class I had I was the only girl. No one would sit next to me. I had a circumference of empty seats around me. If I tried to talk to anyone, they would literally cry and run away.

I took calculus my freshman year and due to a lot of stress and social issues, I received a D. I don’t really remember anything we were supposed to learn after the first week.

Contrariwise, if it was so it might be, and if it were so, it would be, but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.

Contrariwise, if it was so it might be, and if it were so, it would be, but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.

I felt like a failure. The thing that got me through high school was this mythological idea that I would go off to college and find my people who would love and accept me for who I was. Going and discovering that things were even worse there than they were in high school was a massive shock and disappointment.

I temporarily dropped out of college. I tried working at Border’s for a while, but that went badly, so with nothing else to do, I went back to school. I went to Madison Area Technical college to take some entry level classes to get my grades back up enough to get back into the UW system. I transferred to UW-Whitewater, where I graduated in 2006.

Trying to jump over the negatives to get to the positives.

Trying to jump over the negatives to get to the positives.

I bounced around majors a lot, but I knew for a fact I was not going to do anything math related. I thought I was too stupid to learn calculus. I thought my success with algebra and trigonometry was a fluke, that those things were useless anyway, and that I needed to pick something easy just so that I could get through college because I was told that having a degree in anything would get me a job. *insert hysterical and bitter laugher here*

Journalism didn’t work out. Neither did video editing, sound design, or doing commodity white collar work. Back in 2012 I felt beaten. I had no idea what to do with my life and I contemplated ending it.

Then a miracle happened in a place I did not expect.

I have spoken about how the worst job I had was one where I was told to pretend to do work. I wasn’t allowed to ask any questions and I was supposed to act like I knew a bunch of stuff I had no way of knowing. It was miserable. However, there was a silver lining.

While trying to find something to do that looked like work, I discovered Codecademy. Codecademy began at the beginning of 2012 with the promise that you could learn to code in a year. I had it on my radar, but I was too discouraged from trying to learn programming to give it a try. When I had to find something that looked like work, it fit the bill.

I discovered that all the things that had stymied me for years while I was learning to program all of a sudden went away when I was doing things over and over again and doing them for long, concentrated pieces of time. I could do something I gave up on ever being able to do. I felt joy, and more importantly, peace while I was sitting at my computer feeling the code flow through my hands and onto my screen.

When that job ended I made the radical decision to go back to school full time rather than find another job. I was tired of running. I was tired of feeling stupid. I was tired of being afraid of failing. I wanted to learn to code because I wanted to know I could do it.

The two biggest motivators for me learning to program were Core Audio and OpenGL. I studied 3D modeling and animation along with audio engineering. I wanted to understand how the programs I used worked. I learned all the low level stuff I could find to help me with this quest.

Then I hit a wall.

What on earth does this stuff mean?! Mark Dalrymple knows Greek, right??

What on earth does this stuff mean?! Mark Dalrymple knows Greek, right??

I wanted to program and audio synthesizer. I was lent some Digital Signal Processing books by a friend, but when I look through them, it’s all Greek to me. And yes, I literally mean Greek because there are all kinds of symbols that I remember somewhere in the back of my head writing out and drawing in notebooks back half my life ago that I had buried because the memory of them was too painful.

I am in between conference gigs right now. Got home from CocoaConf Columbus and immediately went to That Conference.

It has been something of a whirlwind and I am still processing a lot of the adventures I had on these trips.

One of the talks that I was most looking forward to was at talk on the Accelerate framework by Mattt Thompson. I really wanted to know more about it, but I walked away disappointed. Mattt said that you couldn’t really utilize the framework unless you understood the math behind it. My talk on GPU programming also had the caveat that you have to understand math in order to fully utilize shaders. I went to no fewer than three talks and one keynote talking about math and our lack of knowledge of it.

I want to do something about it.

My favorite book in seventh grade and my introduction to logic.

My favorite book in seventh grade and my introduction to logic.

I asked the Klein family if I could replace my poorly attended Debugging talk with a talk on math. I want to figure out the most common stumbling blocks people have with the various frameworks and try to explain math to people the way it was explained to me, in a fun and relevant manner so that it doesn’t seem so forbidding and scary.

I am slowly going back and trying to immerse myself in the math that fascinated me as a teenager. I am not doing this because I think it will get me a job somewhere, I am doing this because I miss how I used to feel when I got exposed to something amazing. There are so many secrets and wonders of the universe that are a mystery to me because I shut off a part of me that I couldn’t bear to look at any more. I am sick of being that person. I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I want my love of math back.

The “Grey’s Anatomy” Stigma

This morning I attended a keynote that prompted a rather lengthy Twitter rant that I feel I must explain further.

How these two survived for ten years is beyond me

How these two survived for ten years is beyond me

The speaker asked the audience who watched “Grey’s Anatomy”. I, for the record, do watch “Grey’s Anatomy”, but there was no fucking way I was raising my hand to admit it. Apparently no one else was willing to do so either.

The speaker said, “Oh, this joke isn’t going to work at all! Usually when I am on the coasts a whole bunch of guys throw their hands in the air and I say to them, ‘Hey, you’re watching a GIRL’S show!”

I tweeted my displeasure at this remark and the conference organizer very kindly asked me to speak with him later about why this offended me.

I have been percolating on this for a few hours, and I have a better explanation about why this bugs me.

I am not going to argue that “Grey’s Anatomy” is a great show. It is an overwrought melodrama whose characters should probably have all died many years ago. I watch it because when I have been breaking my brain all day trying to understand how a GPU works and how to program what goes on my screen, I don’t give a fuck. I just want something on that I don’t have to think about and “Grey’s Anatomy” fits that bill very well. I also appreciate the fact that it has a multi-racial cast and that the primary relationship in the show up until now was the relationship between Meredith and Christina. The dearth of programming on TV showing female issues and friendships is appalling and I applaud someone for actually talking about it.

It was the worst of times. No best of times for these two.

It was the worst of times. No best of times for these two.

What I am going to argue is that none of those reasons were given as to why someone should be ridiculed for liking “Grey’s Anatomy.” The reason for ridicule is because it was made for girls. Not even women, girls.

Our society has a very negative response to anything that has been tainted by being liked by girls. Certain professions, like programming and film editing, used to be primarily occupied by women because they were seen as being like either a secretary or a seamstress respectively. It has only been since those professions have been masculinized that they receive large paychecks and the respect that come along with them.

There was a “Friends” episode where Ross is ridiculed for wanting to listen to Kenny G and take a bath. The criticism: We’re old, we’re not WOMEN. Women is a dirty word.

In spite of the fact that so far this looks like yet another feminist rant (which I absolutely fucking hate to write, by the way), I am not speaking for women right now. I am speaking for men.

Men have a very narrowly defined scheme of acceptable behaviors. Men are not supposed to cry. Men are not supposed to hug other men or have platonic physical interactions. Men are not supposed to wear pink. Men are not supposed to like anime.

My co-author, Chris Adamson, made a joke on App.net once about men’s fashion. He said he goes to Eddie Bauer and buys five identical shirts in different colors, then goes to JC Pennys and buys five pairs of cargo pants and he is set for a decade.

This breaks my heart.

Eddie Izzard sums up our problems in a nice neat statement, God bless him.

Eddie Izzard sums up our problems in a nice neat statement, God bless him.

I like to express myself through what I wear. The idea that I would be constrained to wearing one kind of thing for the rest of my life or else be considered socially deviant crushes my soul.

I know that Chris is somewhat open about his love of cartoons, but I know that it took him a very long time to feel comfortable sharing that love because men are not supposed to like cartoons. I am proud of the fact that he is willing to be open about that love because there is absolutely nothing wrong with liking Madoka Magica, or Tanto Cuore, or anything else. I am super stoked by the fact that so many men are into “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” and are willing to be brave enough to say, “Yeah, I like MLP. So what? Fuck you.”

Don't think! Don't get tired! Don't be human!

Don’t think! Don’t get tired! Don’t be human!

I think it is absolutely shitty that our society punishes men for displaying any characteristics that could possibly be tainted by femininity. In the recent anime, “Wake up, Girls!” the drill sergeant guy yelling at the little girls “Don’t rest! Don’t complain! Don’t think!”

Watching that, you feel terrible that these poor girls are being treated this way. In reality, this is the way we treat our boys. Real boys don’t cry or play with dolls. Real boys fight and play various contact sports.

Crushing little boys and making them feel ashamed for what they like and who they are is toxic to our society. We need to stop doing this.

So yeah, I didn’t raise my hand when he asked who watches “Grey’s Anatomy.” I was embarrassed. Now I wish I had. I am not going to be ashamed of liking what I like.

“Grey’s Anatomy” is a girl show. It’s about relationships, compassion, emotional and professional struggle, and just trying to get through life with as little emotional damage as possible. If more men were allowed the same thoughts we would all be a lot happier.

Friendship is magic.

Friendship is magic.

My Life in Stitches

So I have an embarrassing thing about myself I want to confess. I have an incredibly terrible and subversive hobby. I have been living in fear of people finding out about it and judging me. Here goes…

One of my favorite hobbies is cross stitching.

At the point, you might be wondering why I think this is some subversive thing to confess to. I will tell you why.

I have been cross stitching since I was seven. Pretty much my whole life I have been lead to believe this is something I should be embarrassed about.

My collection of projects finished but not framed over the last six years.

My collection of projects finished but not framed over the last six years.

My father would continually tell me that I should stop my cross stitching hobby and take it back up again after I retire. Looking at how tiny all the holes and the patterns are, I am highly skeptical that this is a good course of action.

I would bring my cross stitching to school to do during study halls and I would be constantly ridiculed by my classmates for doing it. So, like a good teenaged girl, I caved to peer pressure and hid my hobby away.

When I got married I had several very large and complex pieces that I worked years on framed. My husband wouldn’t let me hang them in the house for several years because he hated them. I still have a multitude of projects that I have finished and thrown into a bag that is slowly getting larger and larger over the years.

I have always felt like I was a weird, socially aberrant person because I have had a fascination with filling in little boxes with color and making a pattern out of them. I hide my carefully organized and structured projects in metal lunch boxes and pray that no one asks me what is inside.

So what does this have to do with anything?

Over the weekend I attended CocoaConf Columbus. Our first keynote speaker was Mark Dalrymple. During his excellent keynote, he talked about people embracing their hobbies. One of the hobbies he threw out was cross stitching. This threw me for a loop. Cross stitching has fallen out of favor over the last ten years. Also, this was a tech conference! People don’t talk about sewing at a tech conference!

I have painfully learned over the years that tech people are not supposed to cross stitch. Back when I was less experienced, I would go to interviews and be asked what I did for hobbies. I would say I cross stitch and there would be an immediate reaction on the face of the interviewer. I could tell that they mentally determined that I was not a tech savvy person.

There is this stereotype that women who cross stitch (and it is mostly women) are usually stay at home mothers or elementary school teachers. I am a British history buff and one very painful memory I have was reading about an attempted coup of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary was an accomplished needleworker. When she was locked up in the tower, one of her captors sneered at her that she would have plenty of time for her needlepoint now. Society see needlework as something inherently tainted. People who enjoy doing needlework can’t possibly be fit to do anything important like run a country. Leave that to the other people who are more able to take on that responsibility.

You don’t see a lot of tech people talking about their cross stitching projects. Hell, knitting is much more socially acceptable than cross stitch! That might be because a lot of men do it, but that is a topic for another time.

Dragon project requiring over 50 threads, including metallics and beads.

Dragon project requiring over 50 threads, including metallics and beads.

Cross stitching is a far more concentration heavy task than knitting is. Cross stitching, specifically counted cross stitch, requires a tremendous amount of organizational skills. I regularly complete projects that include fifty different shades of thread and can include over a hundred symbols that contain some combination of those colors. You learn very quickly to get organized or you give up. Over the years I have learned to organize my thread to prevent it from tangling or becoming confused.

Counted cross stitch also requires you to look at a symbol on a grid, translate that symbol into a color, and render it onto a fixed rectangular surface of squares. Does this sound at all familiar? It is very similar to the process that takes place on the computer to render an image, except instead of bits I am using thread. I have been a human fragment shader for 25 years.

Do it yourself Doctor Who lunch box sewing kit! *Not guaranteed to be bigger on the inside.

Do it yourself Doctor Who lunch box sewing kit! *Not guaranteed to be bigger on the inside.

Every skill that makes me a good programmer is a skill I learned from counted cross stitch. I learned to be patient while working on a very large project that takes several years. To give an idea of scale, the dragon picture in this post is a project that I draped over my 15-inch Mac Book Pro and the edges spill over the sides by several inches. I learned how to mentally break down the project into manageable parts so that I did not get overwhelmed and confused. I learned how to organize my space and my tools to optimize my time. I learned to “debug” my designs because no matter how hard you concentrate, you will make mistakes. If you just keep following the pattern like a robot, your design won’t render properly.

This weekend was the first time I brought a counted cross stitch project to a conference and worked on it while listening to a session. I find that I can focus far better while cross stitching than I can while I have a computer in front of me because I get so focused on the screen that I tune out what is being said. I have been told it is rude to cross stitch in class or at conferences even though it is not considered rude to chat on Twitter.

I want to thank Mark D. for giving me the courage to write this post. I am tired of feeling ashamed of a hobby that has been a large part of my life for 25 years that has given me all the tools I need to continue to do what I want to do. I hope that one day people won’t be judged on their hobbies or how they decide to spend their free time, because often those are the things that shape us into the people we are.

Final Countdown to CocoaConf Columbus 2014

After months of prep work and a roller coaster of changes, I am in the final day before heading off to the first of my three August conferences.

I have encountered more issues with Metal than I was hoping to find. This is the first time I have had a paid developer account during the beta period. Prior to now I was so busy just trying to establish a foundation that I somewhat ignored the new stuff that was coming out. This is the first time I have participated in the early release of not one but two new groundbreaking technologies on the ground floor.

I had to move more of my GPU programming talk over to OpenGL ES than I was planning to. I don’t think that is a bad thing per se. The most important thing I wanted to do was to answer a very specific question about one aspect of OpenGL programming. The fact that Apple came and changed everything about that made my talk both easier and harder. A lot of time was spend explaining why Metal is necessary and that fit into the parameters I wanted to address.

I will be giving this talk again in December. There will be a golden master of Xcode 6 at that point in time. I hope that it will be stable enough at that point that I can speak more about how to do things in Metal specifically rather than just ambiguously saying “This is how this would work if it were working, but it isn’t.”

I am giving my talks later today at Bendyworks. Bendy has been very kind to let me come and practice my talks there. I have found the feedback I get from them to be invaluable. I have also found that I am far less nervous once I have performed the talk at least once in front of real people and not just my pugs.

Speaking of my pugs, I am not going to see them for a week and I am very sad about that. I am going to miss my little buddies. Such is life.

I still have not packed. I need to pack sometime today. I also have to go to our Swift user group meeting to make arrangements with the people I am carpooling to Ohio with.

So I have a half dozen tasks to do today. Just need to take them one at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

This is really stupid, but I keep forgetting that I do these talks because I love traveling to the conference and meeting new people. It’s hard to remember that this is going to be an amazing and awesome experience because I am putting a lot of pressure on myself to do a good job with my talks. I need to make sure I take some time to chill out and not worry so much about what I am doing.

Don’t panic.

Looking forward to seeing all my peeps at CocoaConf Columbus and That Conference in Wisconsin Dells!!

The Importance of Style

I don’t remember a time in my life where I did not own a computer. I was three when my parents went to American TV in Madison, WI to buy an Apple IIe for my mother. My mom was pregnant with my brother and wanted a computer to do work on that would not bother the carpel tunnel syndrome she developed while pregnant. Oh the irony of that belief.

I was in fifth grade an I was creating a book report for a class. I discovered our word processing software allowed you to do some neat formatting on your document, including putting a border on it.

This was an amazing discovery to me. I was excited that I found this new functionality in a program on my own and I ran to go tell my dad about it.

My dad chastised me very harshly. He told me I was wasting my time trying to jazz up my book report and that I must not feel very confident in my work if I felt the need to use a gimmick like a border on my book report to distract the teacher from my research.

I remember at the time feeling very hurt and wounded by this statement. I had discovered something cool and I wanted to share it with someone and I was smacked down for figuring out that my report didn’t have to be boring.

Fast forward twenty years or so.

I am in the process of working on several tech talks that I will be presenting next month. One of my talks is on debugging. I know, debugging sounds like the most boring thing in the world. But it doesn’t have to be.

I spent a decent amount of time creating a custom template for my talk. Since it is about bugs, I thought a nice bug theme would liven up my slides somewhat. I am very proud of the work I did customizing my slides for this talk.

I think that there is an unfortunate attitude in tech that talks don’t have to be interesting. I have lost count of the number of droning, boring talks I have heard at various tech conferences. It’s like some of the speakers are thinking, “Yes! I have a captive audience! They have to listen to everything I say!! Bwahahaha!!!”

I have found that the less work people do to make their talks interesting and relevant the less I care. If the person telling me about this stuff doesn’t find it interesting and exciting, then why should I?

People buy Apple products because the engineers try very hard to make objects that people love to look at, hold, and touch. A great deal of care is taken to make using an Apple device a joy. Their design is one of the major reasons they are as successful as they are today. No one should make the argument that making something look and feel nice is a waste of time. It isn’t. It’s a sign of dedication to the craft.

I think my father was wrong. I don’t think people style things in order to distract the audience from its lack of quality. I think if you care passionately about something you will put a great deal of effort into trying to make sure it is interesting and exciting for other people too. I think putting work into making your stuff looks nice is an indicator that you care about your work and that other people should care about it too.

Code of Conduct

So today there has been some controversy on Twitter about 360|iDev’s Code of Conduct.

I honestly do not understand what the controversy is here. They are clearly stating that they want a diverse conference where everyone will be respected.

Here is my perspective on things.

I am a female programmer. I got into programming later in life. I originally studied video and audio production. I was young and foolish and thought I could succeed purely through sheer force of will. I would say I was about 30 when I really began to learn enough programming to make a go of it. At the last job I had I was not only the only woman, I was also the oldest person by a decade. I also have some health issues that make it impossible to work more than 40 hours a week.

Between being a woman, being older, not having a dozen years of experience, and having health issues, I feel very vulnerable in a community that fetishized boys barely old enough to drink who have been coding for fun since they were ten.

I have been extraordinarily privileged to be given the opportunity to speak at conferences on something that isn’t feminism. 360|iDev will be the fifth conference I have spoken at this year. I am speaking about Apple’s new 3D graphics programming framework.

People like Jim Remsik, Dave Klein, and John Wilker are all throwing me a lifeline to give me the chance to establish myself as a professional and maybe have a career.

I worry sometimes that I only get these opportunities because of “male guilt”. I am very concerned with being seen as someone who only gets to speak because they want more women. I have worked tirelessly to try to prove my cred by tackling difficult programming topics that frighten most people away. I am worried sick about not having a great talk to present at 360|iDev because my reach exceeds my grasp.

Even if I make an idiot of myself, at least I was given the chance. That’s all I ask for. I am being given a time and a place and what I do with it is up to me. A lot of people won’t even do that and I am eternally grateful for being given the chance to do what I can and make what I can of it. I am also grateful for the chance to meet the other people who are speaking and attending. In a world where connections are everything, the connections I have made at my conferences have been absolutely invaluable.

I have absolutely no idea what in the Code of Conduct created this fuss. I do know that I submitted a talk to a conference I could not afford to attend and that the organizers are not only giving me a chance to speak about a topic that is near and dear to my heart, they are also financially making it possible for me to go.

Talk is cheap. If you care so much about getting more women in technology, hire more women. Be willing to train them when they don’t have 5-10 years of experience. Mentor someone. Do something that actually costs you time or money. 360|iDev did. Don’t just go on Twitter and be a douche.

Lexical or Preprocessor Issue

So, today was the day I decided to bite the bullet and start working on my Metal demo for CocoaConf Columbus and 360|iDev.

Since a large focus of my talk is on GPUImage, I am hoping to put together a light Metal version of GPUImage that processes an image using a series of filters. I want to write between three and five filters that are easily stacked on one another that have a GPUImage counterpart in order to test how fast Metal processes images compared to GPUImage.

I went to look at what sample code is available from Apple for Metal. To my delight, I saw that there was an image processing base project. It includes one filter to change an image to black and white and that is hardcoded. I should be able to go into this project, add my filters, and add some UI elements allowing me to add the filter shaders I write.

Today I opened the sample code. Immediately, there was an error.

“Lexical or Preprocessor Issue: QuartzCore/CAMetalLayer.h not found.”

This is why we can't have nice things!!

This is why we can’t have nice things!!

Huh. That is inconvenient.

Did some digging. Refrained from asking this question on Stack Overflow because the last time I asked a question about the betas I got a snide person telling me to go somewhere else. Headed to the Dev Forums and found this thread.

Apparently, for the time being, there is no support for Metal in the simulator. There should be support for Metal if you have an A7 device like the iPhone 5S (which I have) that is running the iOS 8 beta.

I have not yet updated my phone to the beta. I know we are getting close to the point where it will be released, so it isn’t a huge thing to update to the beta, I just feel like I have no guarantee that stuff will work on there properly even after I update to the beta.

I must say that this latest wrinkle is not doing anything to sell me on Metal.

Metal only works on iOS A7 chips and now further won’t even work in the simulator. I usually use the simulator in my talks to demonstrate things I am doing, but now I have to get it on my device. I think I can use Airplay to show what the screen looks like, but that is one more step that can go wrong in my process.

The other things I am noticing in the sample applications is that most of the class implementation files end in “.mm”, which means that they are explicitly telling the compiler that there is going to be C++ code in them.

I have not worked with Swift as much as I should have, but I am wondering if this is going to be a problem with trying to write an app in Swift. I know that theoretically Swift is supposed to behave like Objective-C in that you can include C and C++ code, but I have not tried to write straight C code in a Swift class yet. Can you write C code in a Swift class, or is the support just that I can import a C class into a Swift-based project? How is this going to work with Metal?

At least with OpenGL ES you have the GLKit framework with should work with Swift. I am interested to know more about this, but sadly I don’t believe I will be able to explore these issues before I give my talk in Columbus.

I am also trying to figure out just how much C++ I need to know to fully work with Metal. I thought that I needed to know about the same amount of C++ as you need to know of C to work with GLSL, but after seeing the number of classes that are implementing C++, I am slightly worried that I am going to be out of my depth for a while.

These are things I am going to have to take into consideration and disclose during my talk. I know most of these issues will resolve themselves in the next few years, it is just slightly frustrating to sit on the sidelines trying to figure out how to make it work here and now.

Fortune favors the brave.

Heavy Metal

Hair Force One announcing Metal

Hair Force One announcing Metal

I know that the big new hotness from WWDC 2014 for most people is the Swift programming language. Swift has a large impact on me and on the project I am working on that I can’t publicly announce yet, but that was not the most intriguing thing announced to me. The most interesting thing that captured my attention was Metal.

I have been interested in learning OpenGL ever since I heard about it. I had to make the terrible choice last year of choosing whether to learn OpenGL or Core Audio because it would be complete idiocy to try to learn both at the same time. Since Chris Adamson didn’t write a book on OpenGL, I made the choice last year to learn Core Audio. It was the first programming book I read cover to cover and I got to spend a day with him in Boston at CocoaConf doing Core Audio. That was an amazing experience, but it’s time to move on to the next thing.

I started to learn OpenGL ES in earnest back in March. I had a few books and I have primarily been reading the same materials over and over again hoping that my brain translates them.

GPUImage

GPUImage

One accepted way learn OpenGL ES is to work on the GPUImage framework. There is a great blog post about how to write a custom shader here.

I decided a good way to learn OpenGL ES was to do a talk on GPUImage. Many of the tutorials I have seen on the framework basically just tell you how to plug it into your project and use the built-in filters. I wanted to do a talk about how the framework actually works and how to write your own filters. The creator of the framework, Brad Larson, lives in town. He has been extraordinarily generous with his time and knowledge about OpenGL ES. I pitched this talk and got it accepted at two different conference: CocoaConf Columbus and 360|iDev in Denver. Both of these conferences are in August. I pitched these talks around May. I figured that would be a decent amount of time to figure all this stuff out.

Then, like everyone else, I got slammed by WWDC.

I know that I don’t have to talk about Metal. It’s only been publicly announced for a few months and it only works on a handful of devices. There was no reason I couldn’t just keep my original talk topic. No reason except I had some existential questions I wanted answered.

Every time I heard about GPUImage I heard it was faster than Core Image because it was programmed on the GPU. What does that mean? All of my research on OpenGL ES says to push as much work off the GPU as possible, but they never specify what work the GPU is doing. I read a whole book on OpenGL ES without having any real clue what work is being done on the GPU.

The Defending Champion, OpenGL ES!

The Defending Champion, OpenGL ES!


I really wanted to do a talk on how to optimize OpenGL ES. I also wanted to explore what exactly it was that Metal was doing that was so much better than OpenGL ES. I heard a lot of bemoaning about how slow and inefficient OpenGL ES was, but after talking to Brad about it for a little while, I wondered if the mob was wrong.

I am doing my first talk on Metal three weeks from today. I have exactly one slide from my talk done as of 1:00 this afternoon, but I am in the process of gathering the answers to my questions.

One resource I can’t recommend more highly is the video tutorial series done by Ray Wenderlich. I had a list of questions in my head that I now have answers to because of his series on OpenGL ES. I am a quarter of the way through it and subscribing to his video tutorials is the best money I have spent on tech resources this year. It is my hope that one day he will produce a 3D graphics programming, hopefully after I know it well enough to be able to contribute to it!

So, I am going to take some time, but not too much, cataloging my work on this talk. I also have a debugging talk to complete in three weeks along with some obligations for my unnamed project. I think this is doable if I don’t have a panic attack or get distracted by squirrels.

The Famous Utah Teapot

The Famous Utah Teapot

I am planning to include links in my blog to any resource I have found to be particularly useful.

My goal before going to CocoaConf is to have a working Metal application with a few of the GPUImage filters translated from the OpenGL Shading Language to the Metal Shading Language. I would like to show the performance differences between GPUImage and Metal using the same project. I would also like to be able to intelligently explain GPU programming to people who are coming into this without knowing anything about OpenGL.

Three weeks. Two talks. Git ‘er done!