Code Like a Girl

 

Keyboard pic edited

The push to teach girls and children to code has gained significant momentum in recent years. Organizations like Code.org and Girls Who Code have made an effort to teach youth and women about computer science, a field in which women have been under represented in the past. The supporters of these programs hope to make computer science a regular part of academia for school children, just like math, English or biology. Celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher, Shakira and supermodel Karlie Kloss have encouraged children and teens to learn to code via social media. Many celebrities, including President Barack Obama, have also  participated in the Hour of Code, hosted by Code.org. The Hour of Code is an one-hour long introduction designed to demystify computer science and show that anyone can learn the basics.

Learning to code is a worldwide phenomenon, and Birmingham is not excluded from the trend. John Johnstone, associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), teaches a Coding for Girls class at Homewood Library. The class is geared toward girls in grades 6-12. Here’s what Johnstone had to say about the coding phenomenon:

How did this course come about?
It was grassroots. I was approached by a local high school student. She saw the Girls Who Code website and wanted someone to teach a coding class in Birmingham. She reached out to me and then reached out to the Homewood Library to host. I’ve been interested in it for a long time; computer science isn’t really taught in high school. The main thing is it’s one more avenue to get people access to coding.

How can you explain learning to code?
Learning to code is a beautiful thing. It’s just expressing your thoughts in a different language. It’s a new vocabulary and learning a new way to think about things. The closest thing to coding is mathematics. It’s transforming things step by step and requires thinking logically. Code requires people to learn to think precisely and put something into steps. It’s like a recipe, but you have to generate the recipe.

How does the coding education software work?
There was a steep learning curve in the past but now there have been a lot of developments in learning material, so it’s become easier to learn. Normally you write code, submit it to a compiler and then correct the mistakes. This is immediate. You write code on the left side of the screen and see it generated on the right side. It also gives you suggestions about what you’re doing wrong. Little things like that make it quite approachable.

There’s a big movement to teach kids, specifically young girls, to code. Why do you think it’s so important?
For a long time, we haven’t had enough women in computer science. We also don’t have enough computer science, period. We need to get more people interested in it. Economically we need more people in the field. It’s lagged behind in attracting women, and we’re attempting to fix that.

“People don’t know what coding is and that’s what we’re trying to combat. When I go around and talk to random people, there’s a disconnect. They’re holding an iPhone. They know there’s some coding that goes into Googling, etc. They just don’t know how much. When they think about what they want to do, they don’t think about coding as a viable option for a career. But there’s so much to it.”
-John Johnstone

The Multis Project Performs at Samford

On Friday, April 10, The Multis Project performed at a concert and cookout hosted by Samford Residence Life and the Office of Admissions. The band put together a set list covering a variety of popular songs. The concert only lasted for an hour, but the band’s charisma captured everyone’s attention, and as The Multis Project tried to leave the stage, they were met with chants and requests for an encore. After performing both the regular set and an encore, the group met fans and sold merchandise. Check out this video clip of the group performing a cover of “Sugar” by Maroon 5.

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Out of the dungeon

Kingdom Comicsby Sydney Cromwell

In a world where 2014’s two highest-grossing movies are based off comic book characters, the realm of comics and games can no longer be said to belong only to the “nerds.” Stan Daniels sees the effects of this widening appeal in his own store, Kingdom Comics, where the high school football players who would have teased him in his own childhood now come by after practice to buy the latest issues of their favorite series.

Across the country, comic book shops are seeing this popularity growth. According to comic book research site The Comic Chronicles, American and Canadian sales of comics and graphic novels reached $870 million in 2013, the highest figures seen since the industry’s boom and subsequent collapse in the 1990s.

Experts are pointing to multiple causes for this growth, including the rise of digital comics and superhero movies making comic book characters accessible to new demographics. In Kingdom Comics’ 11 years in business, Daniels has seen movies affect his sales, though not in the way people might expect. The success of movies based on little-known series, such as “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Wolverine,” creates a corresponding spike in sales as people try to learn more about the characters. Superman and Batman, however, are already instantly recognizable and their movies have no effect on book sales.

“They belong as much in that format [movies] as they do in comics to the general public,” Daniels said.

The rise in female readers is another oft-cited source of comic industry growth. While Daniels said he has seen some increase in the number of women in his store, they have always been a small core audience for Kingdom. The biggest difference in Daniels’ mind is that women are moving in larger numbers from independent comics to mainstream superhero stories.

“There’s not as much difference in the tastes of males and females. You’re seeing the females come more and more over to the male side of things,” Daniels said. “It’s more like a coming together than anything else.”

Just a few minutes down the road, Excelsior Comics, Games and Stuff has seen significant growth in interest from women. Owner Kenneth Oswald maintains that female customers are at “an all-time high” compared to any point in his memory.

Excelsior is distinct from Kingdom in that it focuses on tabletop and roleplaying games, such as “Dungeons and Dragons” and “Warhammer 40,000.” There are game nights nearly every day of the week, which Oswald said are popular because of their unique cooperative and social gameplay. He noted that much of the stigma against these games has also disappeared over time. However, comic books are still the mainstay of the three-year-old store.

Oswald acknowledged the influence of both superhero movies and the female demographic on his store’s sales, but he believes there’s another factor that has brought comic books into their new popularity.

“I would say that the independent comic book movement is the driving force in comics,” Oswald said. “They are really imaginative, really creative.”

Independent comic book publishers such as Image and Dark Horse Comics have made a name for themselves by publishing the stories that the giants – DC and Marvel – won’t touch. They enter new genres such as horror, science fiction and fantasy and are willing to make bold plot choices – even killing off main characters.

Many of these unique ideas, such as “Saga” and “The Walking Dead,” have become massively popular, drawing in new readers who were never interested in superhero tales. Oswald said this reinvigorated interest has been crucial to the industry’s success.

Comic BooksDespite seeing upward growth for several years, both Daniels and Oswald have a new challenge to face, one that could sink the standard comic book shop: digital comics. Partly responsible for the increase in nationwide sales, these digital comics have found a market among young readers who prefer to house their favorite series on a tablet rather than a bookshelf.

As digital media grows, Daniels said it could get to a point where customers no longer feel the need to ever enter a physical store. He admits he’s not sure how to respond to this possibility or prepare for it. Oswald, on the other hand, is attempting to bridge the gap by offering digital comic sales in the store. He hopes that by providing this service, customers will continue to frequent Excelsior for its customer service and socializing.

“There are people that collect that never buy an actual comic book or a collection, they buy just digital files,” Oswald said. “Venues like ours will ultimately move into that market. We’ve already started to do that, where we sell digital comic books right at the counter to the customer.”

All these external influences aside, the comic book industry has thrived because readers and shop owners like Daniels and Oswald see an intrinsic value to both the stories and the art form. Their illustrated style may be simplistic at times, but comics hold a unique place in popular culture.

“It’s all humanity trying to deal with itself,” Daniels said. “You can get a better read on the American psyche picking up that week’s comic books than you can in any other format or any other situation. Comic books are the true American art form.”

First Sloss Music Festival to be held this summer

This summer, the first Sloss Music & Arts Festival will take place in Birmingham. Sharing its name with the historic Sloss Furnace downtown, the festival will take place at Sloss Furnace July 18 and 19. There will be three stages and over 30 musical acts spanning genres such a folk, indie, alternative, and hip-hop. The line-up will include popular local band St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Modest Mouse, Band of Horses, Tyler the Creator, and Manchester Orchestra. Additionally, food will be provided by Jim N’ Nick’s Bar-B-Que, while local brewery Trim Tab Brewing Co. will be providing beverages. Tickets are currently on sale at slossfest.com. Two day premium “Iron” passes and general admission packages are available.

Birmingham Summer Movies

Nothing says summer like movies. This summer, Birmingham has an impressive lineup of free outdoor movies–both vintage classics and recent releases–in a variety of locations around the city. Grab some friends and enjoy taking in a movie in the great outdoors! Most films start at dusk. Contact each venue for featured movies and times.

Summer movies in Avondale Park. Photo courtesy of Mark Almond (al.com)
Summer movies in Avondale Park. Photo courtesy of Mark Almond (al.com)

Flicks Among the Flowers: Birmingham Botanical Gardens

http://www.bbgardens.org/flicks.php

2612 Lane Park Road

Birmingham, AL 35223

(205) 414-3950

 

Avondale Park

https://www.facebook.com/MoviesAtAvondalePark

Avondale Park

Birmingham, AL 35222

(205) 254-2391

 

Free Friday Flicks: Veterans Park

www.hooveral.org

4800 Valleydale Road

Birmingham, AL 35242

(205) 444-7500

 

Sundown Cinemas: Helena Old Town Amphitheater

www.cityofhelena.org

4151 Helena Road

Helena, AL 35080

(205) 663-2161

 

Signs make a city: Birmingham’s history of neon

They blink in storefront windows, illuminate historic theaters and glow in the corners of basement man-caves.  From the first experiments in the early 1900s to their use as road-signs in the mid 20th century and now as a revitalization tool for historic buildings, neon lights are a central part of Americana.DSC_0229

For Birmingham native Tim Hollis, neon signs are more than an indication of whether or not a store is open.  In his book “Vintage Birmingham Signs,” Hollis gathers decades of old photos of iconic Birmingham locations and the decorative neon signs that made them famous.

“In the memories of people who are still alive, neon probably plays a really big part in it,” Hollis said.

Many of Birmingham’s most iconic locations have a place in neon history, such as the Alabama Theatre, the City Federal building and others.

Even the Vulcan statue’s torch was wrapped in neon from 1946 to 1999. As what Hollis deems the most visible use of neon  in the city, the statue’s torch was used by the Jefferson County Safety Committee to encourage traffic safety around the city. Vulcan’s torch glowed green, except in the case of a traffic fatality, in which case it would glow red for 24 hours. The lights were removed in the restoration process started in 1999.

Neon, Hollis said, has not always been a fashionable nod to Americana, but was for decades considered to be “road-side blight” or an industrial necessity, not an art form.

“For a long time, people considered neon signs to be ugly,” he said.

For some of these historic lights, the photos in Hollis’ book are all that remain. When signs would wear out or get damaged by the elements, they would simply be taken down, taken apart and recycled.DSC_0325

“Over the last 10 or 20 years, people have discovered how pretty they really were, but unfortunately it was too late to save a lot of the older ones,” Hollis said.

Because of the fragile nature of the components of neon signs, those that have been restored, such as the Paramount sign on 20th St. N., are actually recreations of the originals.DSC_0300

Still, Hollis said he thinks that neon “seems like something that is coming back” because of a new outlook on the medium.

“Now, neon is considered an art, whereas in the old days it was strictly just an industrial project,” he said.

Neon signs still face strict zoning laws, which were the cause of the initial removal of vintage signs in decades past. Now, for businesses to install large vertical signs such as those outside of Paramount or The Alabama Theatre, there has to be a historic use of neon on that building to get past most modern zoning regulations.

Hollis thinks, however, that the “retro” appeal neon has to younger generations and the nostalgic appeal it has to older ones will keep it around for a long time.

“I think neon is being used more by businesses and by people that appreciate it as the art that it was,” Hollis said.

 

Hollis’ “Vintage Birmingham Signs” can be found at local Books-a-Million and Barnes & Noble locations, as well as online.

 

It’s Back! Pepperplace Farmers Market

Pepperplace Farmers Market opened April 11 and had over 75 vendors participate. This year’s opening was the largest spring opening in the history of Pepperplace, and the market will continue to expand until it reaches full capacity at 100 vendors. The market first opened in 2000 and is open every Saturday from 7 a.m until noon, rain or shine, between April and December. This means that even if it is pouring rain this Saturday, you can still purchase some fresh fruits, vegetables and produce from local vendors.

You can find a full listing of vendors here.

Location:
2829 2nd Avenue South
Birmingham, Alabama 35233

Throw a Casual Soirée

 

Strawberry Pie
Ingredients for Deep-Dish Strawberry Dream Pie. Photography by Rebecca Terrell

 

Soirée is my favorite word. Not because it rolls off the tongue in the most graceful fashion (which it does by the way), but because it has a classy, almost old-fashioned demeanor to it. When I hear the word, I picture sophisticated grown-ups stirring up deep conversations and popping bottles of bubbly.

The idea of a classy dinner party excites me. I love the idea of gathering together in fellowship snacking on tea sandwiches and tiny treats. But instead of white linens, men in bowties and expensive escargot passed around by butlers, I picture a whimsical affair with lights stringing through the trees and lace draped along the tablescape.

A soirée no longer has to mean an over-the-top event. It can mean a casual evening filled with bite-sized delights and cheese plates, with a corn hole game in the backyard. It can mean that you skip the expenses and focus on planning the perfect party.

Personal touches can turn a typical social gathering into a magical soiree. One way to do this is through the food. Rebecca Longshore, the assistant editor of Cooking Light, shared her favorite recipes that are simple, yet elegant.

 “In my opinion, bite-size foods and mini dishes look really classy at a party,” says Longshore. “You can turn almost any appetizer or dessert recipe into a single-serving treat.” So skip the catering and try some of these chic dinner dishes for your next celebration.

Deep-Dish Strawberry Ice Dream Pie

 “With a chocolate crush, strawberry mousse filling and fresh seasonal berries to top it off, this gorgeous pie tastes even better than it looks. Plus, you can make it in advantage and freeze overnight,” says Longshore.

What you’ll need:

  • 30 chocolate wafers
  • 5 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
  • Dash of salt
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 pound fresh strawberries, divided
  • 1/4 cup seedless strawberry jam, divided
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup fat-free sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 cups frozen low-fat whipped topping, thawed

How to do it:
1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Finely grind wafers in a food processor. Add butter, egg white, and salt; process until well combined.
3. Gently press mixture into bottom and up sides of a 9.5-inch deep-dish pie plate coated with cooking spray.
4. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Freeze 30 minutes or until well chilled.
5. Slice 1 cup of strawberries; place in large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon strawberry jam and lemon juice; gently stir. Stir in sweetened condensed milk. Gently fold in whipped topping. Spoon mixture into prepared crust, smoothing top. Freeze 4 hours or up to overnight.
6. Quarter remaining strawberries lengthwise; combine with remaining 3 tablespoons jam. Arrange mixture over pie. Serve immediately.

Charred Red Online Dip

 “This simple, refreshing onion dip pairs perfectly with baked sweet potato chips and is guaranteed to be a crowd favorite,” says Longshore.

What you’ll need:
1 cup chopped grilled red onion
1/2 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
1/2 cup light sour cream
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
Baked sweet potato chips

How to do it:
1. Combine onion, yogurt, sour cream, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, ground red pepper, and salt.
2. Serve with baked sweet potato chips.

Mushroom, Gruyere, and Spinach Quiche

 “A cheesy, spinach quiche partners beautifully with a bright, citrusy salad to serve at a spring party,” says Longshore.

What you’ll need:
5.6 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour (about 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons ice water
Cooking spray
3 center-cut bacon slices
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1 (8-ounce) package pre-sliced mushrooms
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
2 cups packed baby spinach
1 cup 1% low-fat milk
1/3 cup half-and-half
3 large eggs
1 large egg white
2 ounces cave-aged Gruyère cheese, grated

 How to do it:
1. Preheat oven to 425°.
2. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and baking powder in a food processor; pulse 2 times to combine. Combine oil and 3 tablespoons water. With processor on, slowly add oil mixture through food chute; process until dough comes together. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead 1 minute. Press dough into a 5-inch disk; wrap in plastic wrap, and chill 20 minutes.
3. Roll dough into a 12-inch circle. Fit dough into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate coated with cooking spray. Line dough with foil; arrange pie weights or dried beans on foil. Bake at 425° for 12 minutes or until edges are golden. Remove weights and foil; bake an additional 2 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
4. Reduce oven temperature to 350°.
5. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving drippings; crumble. Return pan to medium-high heat. Add shallots to drippings in pan; sauté 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and thyme; cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in spinach; cook 2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes. Drain any excess liquid.
6. Place milk, half-and-half, eggs, egg white, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a blender; process until smooth.
7. Arrange half of cheese over bottom of crust; top with spinach mixture and remaining half of cheese. Carefully pour milk mixture over cheese. Sprinkle with bacon. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until filling is set. Let stand 10 minutes.

Like these recipes? Share your creations with us on Instagram at @exodusmagazine.. And be sure to be on the lookout for more mini-dishes in our print edition of Exodus Magazine, coming soon.

 

 

There is more to Melt than grilled cheese

Melt's fried Oreos
Melt’s fried Oreos

Melt has been bringing decadent and unique grilled cheeses to the streets of Birmingham since 2011. Recently, the popular food truck decided to open a brick-and-mortar establishment in the Avondale community. The restaurant serves all of your food-truck favorites and much more, including desserts.

Any fan of fair food must add Melt’s fried Oreos to their list of top Birmingham eats. The crispy batter mixes with the warm Oreo to create an indulgent treat. Five to an order, they’re perfect to share!

 

Melt’s restaurant is located at 4105 4th Ave. S. in the Avondale community. They are open Tuesday – Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The food truck, also known as Matilda, is available for private parties, events and catering. Find more information at meltbham.com.

Sweet tooth still not satisfied? Keep an eye out for more Birmingham desserts featured in the next print publication of Exodus.

Check out this yummy recipe: Creamed Spinach Phyllo Cups!

Looking for a delicious recipe to cook for your next party or gathering? The experts at CookingLight.com suggest making Creamed Spinach Phyllo Cups. “These creamy and delicious Spinach Phyllo Cups are my go-to appetizer to serve at cocktail parties,” said Rebecca Longshore, assistant editor of CookingLight.com. “They look so elegant and yet they’re surprisingly simple to make. Arrange them on a beautiful platter and watch them disappear in minutes!”

What makes this recipe an ideal party food? Not only are these little spinach cups delicious, but they are the perfect finger-food! “In my opinion, bite-size foods and mini dishes look really classy at a party, and they’re really not much harder to make,” said Longshore.

Ready to cook?

Here’s what you’ll need:

DSCN8047

30 mini phyllo shells (such as Athens)

Cooking spray

1 tablespoon canola oil

2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic

2 (6-ounce) bags baby spinach

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons whipping cream

3 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese

1/2 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, very thinly shaved

 

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Arrange phyllo shells in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Lightly coat shells with cooking spray. Bake at 425° for 4 minutes or until lightly browned and very crisp.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add garlic; cook 1 minute or until fragrant but not browned, stirring frequently. Coarsely chop 1 bag of spinach. Add chopped spinach to pan; cook 2 minutes or until spinach wilts, tossing frequently. Chop remaining spinach; add to wilted spinach in pan. Cook 2 minutes or until spinach wilts, tossing frequently. Sprinkle spinach mixture with salt; toss well. Stir in cream and cream cheese; cook 1 minute or until cheese melts and sauce is thoroughly heated. Remove pan from heat.

Spoon about 1 tablespoon spinach mixture into each shell. Top evenly with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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