There’s an interesting article over at the NYT that’s all about differences in maths performances between girls and boys. The discussion is around whether there are physiological male-female differences that account for better male performance in science & math subjects, or whether these can be explained through nurture or cultural factors.

As you may already know, I grew up in South Africa. There the cultural and “nurture” factors were far more evident — girls were positively discouraged from an early age to engage in science/math-related pursuits, with most teachers and parents making it quite clear that this wasn’t something they would be good at. The issue was particularly bad for the more traditional Afrikaner families, at least at my primary school.

This changed quite significantly, however, when I was lucky enough to attend an all-girls high school. Despite the (often quite repressive) conditioning that most of the girls had received from parents, teachers and relatives, in a single-sex setting they stopped dumbing themselves down to fit in with the low expectations and started prospering in the various mathematical and scientific subjects available. Much of the credit of course is due to our open-minded teachers and of course this didn’t suddenly endow everyone with talent with numbers, but the change was quite significant.

I find it interesting that even in first world countries where these factors are seemingly far more subtle, the effects are still being seen. It will be interesting to see how things develop further by the time my children will be attending school.

Simon wrote the other day about how companies writing internal web-apps that only work in IE “is inexusable and short-sighted”. Although I agree with many of his points, I think that the main issue is something he hardly touched upon — the reason that companies don’t realise that they’re being short-sighted.

Many of the biggest companies hire the best people straight out of university. Hell, as Joel noted just the other day, a lot of the best people go for internships when they’re still at school and tend to get permanent offers. The main result of this is that a lot of the big companies (with the biggest corporate intranets and so the biggest targets for a change of corporate browser) have very smart IT people who have been in the corporation’s IT dept since they left school. Unless the company happens to be a technology one, it’s quite likely that the measure of how good those IT people are will lie in how well they supply the rest of the business with what they need, rather than how aware they are of the outside tech world.

Now, I’m not saying that these people, who are IT professionals after all, are unaware of what’s going on outside the corporations where they have worked since graduation. I’m just saying that it’s not a prerequisite for success. Many won’t be able to reel off the latest developments in the open source world, or the state of standards on the web or any of that stuff. They spend their days building great solutions to complex business problems fast. They may spend their evenings reading Slashdot, but in reality they don’t need to so many won’t.

Where am I going with this? Well, basically I’m just trying to get you to imagine stepping back from the tech world (particularly the open-source developments of late) that you know so well. No, a little further. Further. Turn around, take 20 steps and then turn back. There! Now you’re at about the right distance. Tell me what you see — what does the web look like to you? What do you think the advantages of web applications are? What does the picture tell you the web-app should be built in?

These are the basic questions that the IT professional will ask when looking at developing a new internal application. The web probably looks like a central repository of information to them — the corporate internet even more so. And what’s the advantage of a web app? Well, Simon reckons the beauty is freedom from a specific platform. I would argue that to a corporate IT bod, the key advantage to a web application is not that it frees employees from a specific platform (remember, the big corps we’re talking about here probably have standard hardware, OS, etc because they’re so big anything else is insupportable), but rather that it frees the employee from a specific machine. People can play less email attachment tennis and potentially not have to drag their laptop absolutely everywhere!

When you distil the advantage of a web app down from giving platform-independency to machine-independency, does this make it clearer why so many corporate IT depts didn’t think to develop for anything but IE? It’s all about frames of references, filters to help you work out what’s changeable and what’s not. I can tell you right now that most of those IT people would never even get to the layer of abstraction needed to see the advantages of web standards development, or cross-browser portability. Those dimensions aren’t where they were looking for change. It’s perfectly human when trying to identify likely areas of change to assume that some things are stable — the difference in what you see lies in the 20 steps between the average corporate IT guy and the “state of the web” view that many students, open-source developers and other people who’s blogs I am likely to read have.

This is why a paradigm shift and various other big changes are needed before we’re ever going to see the pleasant sight of Firefox on the corporate desktop. It’s also why campaigns like SpreadFirefox are so essential. Raising the flag, getting on the radar — this is the first step before the rational arguments can be any good to anyone.

Tomorrow is my first exam of the first set of finals I will take this year. My learning style has always relied heavily on learning as I write notes, spurred on by panic induced by having no clue what the course is about since I typically have missed most lectures (believe it or not, sometimes there’s even a good reason). I am lucky in that I am quite capable of swallowing a syllabus at the last minute and still performing reasonably well in the exam.

Unfortunately this year there’s the added issue of RSI. My department and the people over at Learning Support have been lovely and understanding. I’m even taking my exams on computer, so that solves the combination of my hand cramps and horrific handwriting in one swoop. The only bit that wasn’t factored in was that I wouldn’t be able to make revision notes for more than about 10 minutes at a time without my hands seizing up. I’ve tried typing them but I just don’t learn anything when I do that.

I am soooo screwed.

Well, it looks like we’ve reached the 200 posts mark! I’d claim that the new look was to celebrate, but in reality it’s just because Elly was kind enough to not only move me across to WordPress, but also to redesign the site whilst she was at it. And doesn’t it look fantastic?!?

Still somewhat under construction, but if anything really doesn’t fail gracefully please leave a comment and it’ll get sorted eventually.

Hi everyone — I’m afraid I’m being deluged with spam comments so I’ve had to just delete the comments file for now. The move to WordPress will be completed soon so then it’ll be easier to handle the problem pre-emptively rather than having to despam over 150 comments every morning. Since that move is so soon, I’ve decided not to rename or otherwise do something proper to stop comments — there doesn’t appear to be an easy way to close all my MT entries to comments so this hack will have to do.

Any of you “regular viewers” who want to say something in the meantime (although really since I’m not blogging much I doubt there’ll be much need) can still email at blog AT meriwilliams DOT com.

Sorry about this chaps — blame the bots.

I’m going offline for a while. As Elly notes, we are moving to WordPress, partly because it’s PHP and I _like_ PHP and partly because allegedly this will help us despam comments less and write more. I also have exams coming up at the end of January as well as a load of work to do on my final year project. So check back at the beginning of February — I’ll probably have loads to write about again then, it’ll be a redesigned site running off WordPress (which being in a language I know will mean I can do shinier things easier), I’ll be far enough along in the project to hopefully start sharing some early results/learnings and exams will be over so the guilt feelings (for surfing/blogging instead of revising (or just “vising” since I missed most lectures due to Mumps) should have subsided.