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My Laptop

It seemed time for a less-serious piece, and a piece with an accompanying image. So here’s a short essay about my laptop.

I’ve had a lot of laptops in my career. The first was a Wallaby, one of the first Mac clones, and first portables. It was really awesome … you’d take the ROM from your MacPlus, shove it in the Wallaby, and then you could tether the Wallaby back to the MacPlus and have two screens. It had a separable keyboard. And it was comparatively light. I’ve had a number of laptops since then (all Macs of some kind or other). And, until recently, I never did anything to the outside of them [1].

A few years ago, I was at an open-source conference, and I noticed that most of the open-source folks seem to cover their laptops with stickers of various sorts, partially as a way of making a statement. And so I decided to do the same. Of course, I’m a bit conservative in how I treat my electronics, so I ended up putting a case on my laptop first, and then putting stickers on the case. My first case eventually gave up the ghost (fortunately, before the laptop did) and so I moved on to a second. Here’s what it looks like now.

A photo of a red laptop case with about 18 stickers on it. The case is on a Macbook pro. Further details appear in the essay
A photo of a red laptop case with about 18 stickers on it. The case is on a Macbook pro. Further details appear in the essay

So, what are the stickers from, and what do they say about me? As you’ve seen in a previous essay, I care a lot about diversity in my discipline. So I have a Visualize More Women in Computing sticker from NCWIT [2], a Grace Hopper Celebration Sticker [3], and a Diversity includes disability sticker from the UW Access Computing Initiative. I picked up the #prideforeveryone sticker at Google, and I think it also speaks to my goals of being inclusive.

There are a few stickers that speak to my concerns about open source. The two POSSE stickers are from the Professors’ Open Source Software Experience (not from the Posse that brings diversity to Grinnell), which ties to a group of folks I work with who look at Humanitarian Free and Open Source (aka HFOSS). The OpenHatch sticker is for an initiative to make open source projects more accessible to students.

At my core, I’m a computer science educator. So I have a sticker from NCWIT’s EngageCSEdu Initiative and a sticker from my friend Colleen’s The large lambda in the middle of my computer is from DrRacket, a functional language that has been at the core of our introductory course for as long as I’ve been at Grinnell. I also really like functional programming, so the GHC sticker serves a second purpose as representing the Glorious Haskell Compiler [4].

On the lighter side, I have a few GitHub stickers. I like GitHub stickers because there’s a wide variety of them, and most of them either play off on a meme (GitHub Style) or speak to important issues. I put the two stickers on the lower-left to reflect two sides of my personality. I’m a parent with kids, and I’m also a professional. (Yes, I’m aware that the Octocat appears female. I’m still a parent and a professional, and I don’t care what gender represents me on the laptop.)

While diversity in CS is one of my passions as a CS educator and professional, I also think that I have a broader responsibility to consider the social implications of computer technology and to promote better uses of technology. I support the Electronic Frontier Foundation for their efforts on a wide variety of technology issues. They gave me this sticker, so I put it on my laptop

Before I get to the last three stickers, I should reflect on things about myself that aren’t represented on my laptop. I don’t have things about my family, my politics, or my passion for the arts. (Well, one of the GitHub stickers represents family, and the EFF and diversity stickers speak to some aspects of my politics.) I’ll have to think more closely about how I more clearly incorporate the arts the next time I sticker my laptop.

Finally, I care a lot about Grinnell, so there are three Grinnell stickers. Under the #prideforeveryone sticker is a fading sticker from our center for Careers, Life, and Service. I love that Mark Peltz arranged a social media campaign with the symbol, and for months, people though it was a strange art project. I do wish that he’d made higher quality stickers. I’m pretty sure that the strange P at the bottom of my laptop is from Pioneer Weekend, a student-led startup event [5]. Finally, there’s the black squirrel sticker. (Okay, it’s a white squirrel on a black background.) The College gave it to donors on Scarlet and Give Back Day. I looked at it, and the first thing I thought was Wow, that’s an interesting response to the phrase I don’t give a rat’s ass. That’s, right, here at Grinnell, we give a squirrel’s ass.

[1] Well, they’d end up scratched and dented, but that wasn’t intentional.

[2] National Center for Women in Technology.

[3] We’ll talk more about the GHC sticker later.

[4] Or is it Glasgow Haskell Compiler? I can never remember.

[5] Yeah, that’s one of those things I love about Grinnell. Other schools may have startup events, but they are typically arranged by administrators. At Grinnell, our students designed the startup weekend, and organizations at the College provided infrastructure and funding.