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Meet our Keynoters: Kathy Giori

SeaGL is right around the corner (November 13-14). We’ve previously announced that VM (Vicky) Brasseur and Máirín Duffy will be keynoting. We are now happy to announce Kathy Giori will be part of our keynote lineup this year! We’ve asked Kathy a few questions to allow SeaGL attendees to get to know her ahead of her talk.

What does equity of access mean to you, and what challenges and strengths have you experienced in making FOSS projects accessible to newcomers?

The MicroBlocks project goal behind “equity of access” means that we want to create a learning tool for physical computing, and a community of support around it, that has a chance of eventually reaching EVERY child. That means MicroBlocks must be free and open source software, translatable to any language. It has to support affordable and readily available hardware. We want all students to have a chance to explore physical computing, not just wealthier school districts, or extracurricular clubs, or only english-speaking youth.

What inspired you to get into hardware hacking? What was your favorite early project in that vein?

I got really lucky and while being presented with a high school scholarship from a local company, was offered a summer job in “test engineering”. I accepted and got to test digital control panels, learning how to read schematics so I could debug problems. When I found a problem, I was able to fix it by soldering, or wire-wrapping, or whatever. Eventually I was programming EEPROMS using assembly language to created automated test programs. That first summer job, before even starting college, led me to major in EE. I think my first “hobby” hack was trying to debug my alarm-clock-radio when it had stopped working correctly. One of its transistors had burned/worn out. Back then, the schematics for the hardware came with the product. That openly available schematic and my knowledge of being able to test voltages here and there and across the transistor allowed me to fix my own radio.

Similarly, how and when did you get involved in FOSS? What attracted you?

I had been using computers and programming since an early age and never thought about or learned the value/meaning of FOSS, until I ran a startup with friends in 1999. We were focused on using and producing FOSS solutions. I learned to install and run Linux on a Sony laptop. We ran Linux servers, wrote cgi perl scripts to build web pages, and used VNC to let our users gain access to a “Linux desktop on the net” (through a browser or VNC client or Palm VII). Since then I’ve been at companies big and small, but always pushed for open source approaches. When open source is embraced by and used in industry, along with the community, it becomes a win-win for innovation.

What FOSS thing are you currently involved with that you think is great, but that people might not be aware of?

MicroBlocks and WebThings – it’s a project that I worked on while at Mozilla. Unfortunately they no longer have the resources to fund it, so it is being spun out so it can continue in the community. I’m investigating some mission-aligned fiscal sponsorship. I will provide the latest updates during my talk.

What is something interesting about you that most people might not be aware of?

Getting struck by lightning. Fortunately I wasn’t hurt because I was inside a hardened Learjet (it got struck, and conducted the energy from wing to tail). The Learjet was instrumented with many sensors including electric field mills, the data from which I was in charge of analyzing. We were intentionally flying in and around storms in the vicinity of Cape Canaveral, to study the electrification of cumulonimbus (thunderstorm) clouds to determine if we could come up with criteria related to cloud height or radar parameters or anything else that could help determine go/nogo criteria for rocket launches.

Is there anything else you want to share?

Just words of thanks for this opportunity. :)


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