15 Ways to Use a Deck of Cards in a Computer Science Class

When I was taking my second semester of Java at Carnegie Mellon I had the task of modeling the Pontifex cypher from Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. As a huge nerd, I knew the purpose of the cypher but writing it let me truly understand its cleverness.

The Pontifex solitaire cypher was written by security expert Bruce Schneier as a secure, offline cypher. It also turns out it wasn’t just my professor that used cards to teach computing. Dr Susan H. Rodger of Duke University, a member of the team behind our Kickstarter, reached out to her CS educator friends and collected 15 more examples–you can read them here. They include everything from the obvious (teaching arrays and searches) to the delightful (using magic tricks to teach math).

As a reminder, we’re at 66 hours until the Notable Women in Computing Kickstarter closes, so if you haven’t bought yours, you join over 350 cool people and become a Backer. If you’re already a Backer: thank you!

PS: Megan Smith, CTO of the United States, now also has a copy of our deck thanks to Katy Dickinson!

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Inspirational Quote:

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.” — Thurgood Marshall

Pumpkin Carving Pictures + How to Light a Jack-O’-Lantern Without Candles

Halloween 2014

Matthew and I carved pumpkins together tonight using the same knife set I picked up on a whim in Pittsburgh my freshman year for about $4 at Walgreens. That first year I bought pumpkins at the Presbyterian church’s lot, packed them into my duffel, and heisted them to DC where we carved them on the newspaper-covered floor of the hotel room where we were staying on our weekend together.

We’ve carved them together as many Halloweens since then as we could. It’s the perfect holiday for us to celebrate with our microcosm of a family. It’s silly; it involves the sugar content we so dearly love; it’s messy and creative. Matthew went for pure traditional in this year’s design:

Halloween 2014

I pulled out the power-tools, drilling dozens of holes to make this pin-head’s face:

Halloween 2014

After living with a gas stove for 2 years, I hadn’t thought of getting matches to light candles for our pumpkins. But, I pulled together a solution. Look:

Halloween 2014

Halloween 2014

Halloween 2014

All you need is a smartphone with a flashlight application, and a plastic bag to keep pumpkin guts off of your phone. And tomorrow I get to be She-Hulk for a day!

Inspirational Quote:

“Drain the whole sea
Get something shiny
Something meaty for the main course
That’s a fine looking high horse
What you got in the stable?
We’ve a lot of starving faithful”
— “Take me to church,” by Hozier

Halloween Costume Contest!

I’m a fan of using Halloween to honor powerful women. A few years ago I dressed as Tawakkul Karman, the Yemeni woman who won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. It’s also a great chance to stump my friends by dressing as someone or something highly obscure or technical–like when I was an open source operating system for Halloween my freshman year at Carnegie Mellon. This costume contest is about combining those two things.

It doesn’t take a lot–if you’re scrambling for a costume, this contest is for you and comes with built-in, cool ideas. Below are the details:


The challenge: Dress as a notable woman in computing for Halloween. You can use one of the women from the deck!

The prize: Send me a photo of you as a notable woman in computing and I’ll make you a digital version of that woman’s card featuring your photo.

The caveats: If you’re already in the deck, you cannot dress as yourself. But: you can dress as another woman. (How could would it be if Dr Tova Milo dressed as Dr Manuela Veloso for Halloween?) Anyone can enter, regardless of Backer status, so feel free to assign your students/spouses/kids/pets.

Please get me your photos by 11/7, so I can make the cards before the Kickstarter closes. As always, feel free to message us with questions or comments.

Inspirational Quote:

“On Halloween night I had such fun, I wore a witches gown
I rode on a broomstick up to the moon! And then came sailing down.
Ooooohhh.

I saw a black cat with fire-green eyes and he and me did stare
I put out my hand to feel of his fur! Alas, he was not there.
Oooooohh.”
–My favorite Halloween carol

Inspirational Hand of the Week

This post is from a series digging deeper into the stories behind the cards in our Notable Women in Computing playing card deck. The hands are for 5-card draw poker unless otherwise noted. If you’re already a Backer on Kickstarter, thank you. If not, become one today.

The third hand I’m going share is a spade flush, Ace high:

Notable Women in Computing_Hand3

Here are their names and achievements, original list work of my Mom:

Honoree Name Position, Honors, Awards Learn more
8 ♠ – Jennifer Widom Professor Stanford Univ., ACM Fellow, AAAS Member, NAE Member Wikipedia page
Jack ♠ – Denice Denton Univ. California Santa Cruz Chancellor, AAAS Fellow, IEEE Fellow Wikipedia page
King ♠ – Chieko Asakawa IBM Fellow, ABI Women of Vision, Japan Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon No Wikipedia page
Queen ♠- Grace Hopper US Navy Rear Admiral, 1st compiler for a programming language 1952, Computer History Museum Fellow, Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society, Fellow AAAS Wikipedia page
Ace ♠ – Radia Perlman Intel Fellow, IEEE Fellow, 1st ABI Women of Vision award winner Wikipedia page

You can help: As with all of the hands in this series, at least one of these notable women does not have a Wikipedia page. This time it’s Dr Chieko Asakawa of IBM. If Donald Trump has 12,000 words dedicated to him on Wikipedia, she deserves at least 100 words describing her work on accessibility for people with visual impairments.

If you’re willing to write or edit an article about these incredible women, learn more about Dr Chieko Asakawa and get some tips on how to get started writing or editing an article on Wikipedia. If you write them, let me know and I’ll send you brownie points in an update.

*As a side-note, Queens trump Kings in our deck.

**As a second side-note, the above-graphic is my 3rd attempt. The first 2 I kept putting the King above the Queen. Though I’m the one that made the rule that Queens outrank Kings in this deck, I kept zoning out and re-ranking them. #patriachyrunsdeep

Inspirational Quote:

“A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.” ― Coco Chanel

Within smelling-distance of the ocean

After spending some time at the animal shelter a few weeks ago, Matthew and I walked along a path beside Elliot Bay. I grew up within smelling distance of the ocean. It’s not something people who grew up deep inland notice when visiting. But often when I walked down the stairs at SJC, I took a deep breath and, having smelled salt air, knew I was home.

Seattle is also near large bodies of both salt and brackish water. It’s got the Sound, a fjord carved by Alpine glaciers sliding into the sea. Then, on the other side of some lovely mountains, the Pacific. Seattle is further from the Pacific than the Bay Area is, but makes up for it by being a city of navigable water pathways.

Seattle is belted by a channel into Lake Union, that then flows out the top into Lake Washington on the right-hand of the city. With Lake Union as the jock-strap, the 2 channels hitch up the city’s hips. On the weekends are full of kayakers and sailers, as are the lakes. There is island living here; that week Mercer Island was struggling with 2 outbreaks of E. Coli in its on-island water supply. There are towns and cultures confined and defined by the islands they live in.

A moment of local controversy arose a bit ago around the ferry boat transportation director’s position. There’s something so fictional-sounding about a city that runs on ferries, sort of like reading about the internal political intricacies of the Witches’ Guild in Discworld.

But for all of the magical realism of a transportation system that includes ferries, Seattle also has the most important characteristic of a city within smelling distance of the ocean: a deep respect for nature, with her powers and rages. With sturdy andesite chunks holding the breakwater back, and AT-AT cranes a dozen or more stories tall, the port is a working one.

That Saturday evening we walked by a salmon catching area, where 2 local tribes are reseeding the salmon population from that found in the Sound.

At the end of our walk we found a park. It appeared to be a compromise between the Port and the City. There were gardens constructed out of driftwood, and another garden of ill-tended rose bushes. On it walked couples, biked the kind of serious people who wear lycra on a Saturday in October, all while the cries of gulls whooped overhead.

Just walking there was a connection to a nature I missed living far from the ocean these past years. It’s good to be back.

Inspirational Quote:

“The world, we are told, was made especially for man — a presumption not supported by all the facts.”
― John Muir, A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf