Meet an AdaCamper: Leslie Birch

Applications to AdaCamp DC are still open! (Closing Friday!) We're excited to introduce some of our accepted AdaCampers, to give you a sense of who you'll meet if you come along.

Photograph of Leslie Birch

Leslie Birch, self-portrait

What's your name, or pseudonym?

Leslie Birch – "Zengirl"

Tell us a little about your home community and/or your work.

I'm in Philly in what I would now call its "Era of Creativity". I haven't seen this much art, entrepreneurship and green culture since the 90's! With that being said, despite all of this greatness, it's still hard to find ways to connect with women in tech areas — especially interactive/electronics. By day I have my own production company, creating videos for nonprofits, and by night I like to dabble with ideas for interactive pieces. That includes anything from a geisha style hair ornament that changes light patterns with the tilt of a head, to the idea of creating a touch sensitive spider's web that makes nature sounds. I like art that reminds people that they are alive and puts them smack dab in the moment.

What is (one of) your key open techology/culture communities or projects? What do you enjoy about it?

I think all of this started with Wired Magazine and their NextFest. I just found myself interested in things that light up and go beep LOL. I was lucky enough to stumble across an art/tech/education group in Philly called The Hacktory. I remember taking my first class on LED "throwies", and then another doing a chocolate mold that was created with a vacuum press, and then progressed to a basic class on Arduino Micro-controllers. I finally got the guts together to teach a class on soft circuits — a glowing felt flower that uses conductive thread, and now I find myself interested in almost anything with sensors. I think what I enjoy the most about all of this is that you don't have to go to MIT or have a degree to participate. One of the miracles of the web is that you can learn anything, from soldering to making textiles into sensors — it's just a huge library open 24/7 — I thrive on that. I think there is also the thrill that a lot of women aren't involved yet — it's kind of like being an explorer and there is the fun of sharing it and growing it. I think the biggest lesson I've learned is that entry into one area, means entry into all areas. If you had asked me a few years ago if I would ever touch a micro-controller, the answer probably would have been "no". Now, I'll ask questions and touch anything that I see — I think the latest was looking at the programming for the Kinect while at another Hacktory gathering. My only fear is running out of time to see and do it all!

How has being a woman in your community changed during your involvement in it?

This is a deep question that I'm still digging at. I will have this ready by the time AdaCamp rolls around.

Outside of your involvement with open technology/culture, what are you interested in and working on?

The problem of homelessness in Philly really bothers me. So, I've been working on an idea for a tv show where a sock puppet named "Joy" spreads her good ideas about how to help people each day. Think random acts of kindness crossed with the idea of dispelling myths about homeless people. It's amazing how one idea can spur so much collaboration — we now have a professional puppet, a theme song, and soon a virtual backdrop for the show. I recently had an interview with the real "Big Bird", which was also amazing. Any other spare time I have is spent outdoors — volunteering at a Japanese Garden, birding, boating or camping and indoors — cooking up some vegan fare or doing seated meditation. It all falls into the bigger picture of practicing Zen Buddhism for me. Sometimes I worry about whether I'm going to become a monk myself, but then I remember that I'm not supposed to be thinking about the future.

Are you planning to propose any sessions at AdaCamp? What will they be?

Let's just say amongst my camping friends I'm considered the Arts&Crafts Counselor. There may be a late night "come gather and let's do this kit" thingy. And yes, it will include light or sound. Well, that depends on whether you are allowed to have open fires in DC. ;)


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Thank you to our Gold level sponsor the Wikimedia Foundation.

Thank you to our Silver level sponsors: the Linux Foundation, Intel, Facebook, Red Hat, Collabora and Yammer.