Monday, July 06, 2015

A Parable from a Parking Lot

Last week, Pumpkin moved back to our usual YMCA camp, after spending the first two weeks of summer break doing a gymnastics camp at a different local Y. She says she prefers our usual YMCA for camp, and I do, too, mostly because traffic is so much less of an issue when we are at that camp. Pumpkin doesn't care so much about the traffic, but says she gets more playground time at her usual camp, and the "spirit activities" aren't as annoying.

There is one thing that is more annoying at our usual camp, though: the exit from the parking lot. To leave the parking lot, you make a right turn onto a fairly busy road. Meanwhile, there is a line of cars waiting to either turn left into the parking lot or make a U turn and go into the next parking lot (which is reserved for people going to the Y to workout, not do camp drop off or pick up). Sometimes, the people waiting to make a U turn get impatient, because at peak drop off or pick up time, there is a fairly steady stream of cars trying to get out of our parking lot, preventing them from making a U turn even when there is a break in oncoming traffic. And sometimes, when they get impatient, they do questionable things, like make their U turn while someone else is turning left, thereby almost hitting the car coming out of the parking lot.

Last Monday morning, I came very close to having an accident with a man in a blue BMW
The car looked a lot like this. (Image credit)
convertible. Luckily for both of us, I saw what he was doing in time and slammed on my brakes. Luckily for me, this did not get me rear-ended by the next person trying to get out of the parking lot before the traffic light down the street changed and we all lost our window of opportunity.

I'll admit that I said some not very nice things about the man in the blue BMW as I drove away.

From the glare he gave me as he turned, I suspect he said some not very nice things about the people dropping off their kids at camp and making it hard for him to get his morning workout. I suspect he hates the camp season. I had the right of way and I didn't even honk my horn at him. Why else would he be glaring?

Once the adrenaline was all out of my system, I realized that we were both blaming the wrong thing (each other) and letting the real problem (inadequate infrastructure for the traffic in and out of that parking lot at peak times) off the hook.

Later that week, I watched a fight play out in my Twitter stream between two groups of women. One woman had tweeted something that another woman felt was demeaning towards women who do not have kids, and it kind of snowballed from there into a strange and yet familiar argument about whether mothers or women who do not have kids get more shit from society.

And it occurred to me that this was the exact same dynamic as what happened between me and the guy in the blue BMW.

I know this isn't a profound observation, or even a novel one. But dammit, I wish we could learn to stop yelling at each other and focus instead on the real problem of a society in which there is literally not a single way to be a woman without catching shit for it.

On a somewhat related note, I fully intend to keep using my natural speech mannerisms like "just" and "sorry," and this post from a linguist explains why. There is only so much tightrope balancing I can do.

But I also swear that I will not judge any woman who does manage to eliminate "just" and "sorry" and all those mannerisms. After all, how other women talk is not the real problem here.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Long Weekend Edition

It is a long weekend for most people here in the US, as we head into the patriotic extravaganza that is our July 4th holiday. We'll be spending it a bit unusually- we're packing the kids off to my parents' house for a week, and won't even be with our kids for the holiday. Oh well, as Pumpkin likes to inform us, they're half Kiwi, anyway.

Perhaps we should make a huge deal out of Waitangi Day next year.

Anyway, I am not talking the entire day off, but I am planning to stop working early.  And so, your links list will be somewhat random this week. Here goes:

This is a really interesting essay about why we shouldn't build "addictive" apps. It is also a reminder that the systems we build are the results of our decisions, whether conscious or not, and we always have the option to try to make better decisions.

Don't assume everyone who disagrees with you is a jerk. I basically agree with the main point of this article, and do think that it is best to aim for a civil discussion and try to understand why the person on the other side thinks differently than you do, without demonizing that person. I struggle to reconcile this general belief/desire with the fact that sometimes the person on "the other side" is arguing that I'm not equal, and/or won't actually discuss the issues at all. So I guess I think I shouldn't assume the other person is a jerk, but that I have to be free to respond appropriately when the other person proves to be a jerk.

Speaking of jerks: I don't think I should have to learn how to cope with verbal abuse. I think that people who routinely resort to verbal abuse should not be tolerated in any workplace. They can change. I have seen it happen when it was made clear that their behavior would result in them losing a job. (Thanks to the reader who sent that article along! I'm not sure if you want to be named publicly or not...)

Somewhat related: it is on me to build my racial stamina. Sometimes, we need to have conversations that make us feel uncomfortable, and accept that the other party has every right to be angry.

Back to speaking of jerks: why do people care where other people pee?

Another reader submission: the study of women in color in STEM that was referenced heavily in What Works for Women at Work.

Back when I was reading up about labor and delivery, I remember reading that we didn't really know what triggers labor. We still don't know the full story, but we're learning more.

And speaking of labor... did you see the story about the California woman who got lost in the woods, gave birth, was attacked by bees, and started a wildfire?

This tweet about that link (from a local reporter) made me chuckle:

How a woman is transformed into a cover model. The gif in this tweet is a bit mesmerizing, and also disturbing:

And while we're doing tweets with embedded gifs:

And finally, a couple of promotional links for things I'm working on:

I'm trying out an idea for short (and inexpensive!) seminars on focused topics. First up, how to run better meetings. The price is already low, so there is no discount for signing up early this time: just the knowledge that you're helping me stop worrying about whether I'll hit my revenue goals for the course!

I've got the page for the next release from Annorlunda Books up! Unspotted is the story of the elusive, endangered Cape Mountain Leopard, and the man who has made it his mission to save them. It will come out in August, and I'll have the preorder page up soon. In the meantime, I'm looking for some advance readers- sign up if you're interested.

Oops, almost forgot the closing laugh. XKCD has a great answer for those annoying "what's your greatest weakness?" types of interview questions.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Figuring It Out as I Go

I wrote the first part of this post from a table in a Starbucks. I finished up my onsite client work at about 3:00, and wasn't ready to stop for the day. Usually, I'd go home and work for awhile, then go pick up Pumpkin at summer camp, but the construction at my house is often quite noisy, so I decided to try to work at a Starbucks. There's one near my client site, but I figured it would be better to get closer to the summer camp, and skip the evening rush traffic.

Sadly, this was the wrong decision. It was a crowded Starbucks. I had a longish wait to get a drink, and I scored the last table. If I'd been a little later, I'd have had to ask one of the people who had strategically placed their things so as to take up three spots at the long communal table to make some space for me. By the time I got settled in, I only had about 30 minutes left to work.

And it was a noisy coffee shop- which is fine! People should talk in coffee shops. Still, I could hear three conversations from my table. In one, a guy was expounding on how easy it is to make money as an ebook author (HA HA HA HA HA). In another, two guys were discussing flipping condos, and in the third, a guy seemed to be interviewing someone to be some sort of sales associate.

I felt a bit old school just sitting there writing a blog post. There was no way I was going to be able to concentrate on the more strictly work-like writing I had planned to do, so I didn't even try.

I clearly need a better answer for how to work during the construction project, which is scheduled to run until early October. I'm considering a formal co-working space, but it is a bit expensive. At half the price, I'd be in for sure. At the actual price, I am on the fence, still trying to piece something together with libraries, coffee shops, and the occasional use of my sister's condo.


Speaking of pricing... I am finding setting the price for things to be one of the hardest parts of my new business. I have come to the conclusion that I should have priced Navigating the Path to Industry a little higher. At the current price, I don't have the room to run sales without losing the good royalty rate on the retailer sites. Also, I've come to the conclusion that most people won't pay for job search advice at all, and for those who will pay, the difference between $2.99 and $3.99 would not affect the decision to buy.

Oh well- that was a learner project, so I'll take that lesson and see whether I can learn the right thing from it. Some books won't be long enough to support a higher price, but some will. I think.

Speaking of other books, the "teaser" page for the next book I'm publishing is up now. Check it out!


One of the ideas I'm trying to decide whether to pursue, and how to price if I do pursue it, is the idea of offering short (~1 hr) seminars on specific management topics. This is spurred by the success of the Get More Done class, and by the fact that I really enjoyed preparing and giving that class. That tells me that perhaps I should try to find more ways to do that sort of thing.

I was going to let this idea percolate a bit longer, but then I forgot to cancel the premium level meeting hosting after my class finished, so I have already paid for another month of the level that allows me to host and record the type of meeting I'd need. So now I'm thinking that maybe I should just go for it.

I'm leaning towards doing it, because I don't think there is anyway to find out whether or not this idea is any good without just trying it. However, right now I can't pick a topic that will require a lot of research- particularly if I want to do it before the "extra" month of meeting support ends. I think I could pull together a good seminar about running effective meetings without doing much research, so that's what I'm leaning towards doing.

But I'm debating how much to charge... and as my experience with the coworking place shows, sometimes that really matters.

Like I said, pricing is hard.


I've got new things to figure out on the home front, too- after years of resisting, I've finally joined Facebook. The final straw was learning in the last week of school that there had been an after school music program running this semester. I hadn't heard about it because most of the discussion happened on Facebook.

I realized that I need to go where the rest of the people are if I want to stay in the loop. I don't want to be that Mom who insists that the group should cater to me and my preferences.

Besides, we recently granted Pumpkin's request for her own email address. Requests to be on Facebook probably aren't too far off in our future. One of us had better start figuring out the privacy settings and other finer details, and it certainly wasn't going to be Mr. Snarky. He's perfectly willing to be that Dad and insist on staying off Facebook, and this isn't something I feel like arguing with him over.

So, now I'm on Facebook, trying to figure out how I want to use it.

In short: there's a lot of figuring things out on the fly going on here right now. I'm trying not to let it stress me out!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Trip Story: Bordeaux

If I don't start writing the stories about my recent trip to France, I'm going to (1) forget a lot of details, and (2) feel pretty silly writing about a trip that happened months ago.

So, while my memories are still somewhat fresh and the trip is only one month in the past, I'm going to get started. I'll skip over LAX, the flight to Madrid, the transfer in Madrid, and the short flight to Bordeaux.

We stumbled out of the Bordeaux baggage claim area feeling rather tired and hoping for some useful information about how to get to the center of town. It was Sunday, so our hopes were dashed. The information desk was unstaffed, and there was no helpful information to be found. Therefore, Mr. Snarky had no choice but to go with my original plan, which was to go get a taxi to take us to our hotel.

My really quite bad French was good enough to communicate where we wanted to go, so we climbed in and headed to our hotel. The taxi driver and I tried to communicate a bit more, but we didn't manage to establish anything more meaningful than that we should have three days of nice weather in Bordeaux (he was right) and that we'd both been to Chicago and it is a very nice city.

Our driver left us at the corner of the street, and after just a little bit of time wandering around Bordeaux, we completely understood why- and were also very, very glad that we had decided not to get a rental car at the airport, but to wait and pick one up at the train station on the day we were leaving town. The center of Bordeaux is a veritable maze of one way streets.

But that first day, we didn't really understand. We didn't much mind, either- the driver carefully pointed to the hotel and we set off pulling our bags behind us.

I enjoyed many things in Bordeaux, but our hotel may have been my favorite thing. We stayed at La Maison du Lierre. I found it by picking the area I thought we should stay in, and having Google Maps show all the hotels. It was a great find- comfortable, quiet, friendly, with a delicious breakfast and stylish but not overbearing decor. The owners were delightful, even when we were confused about how the ordering of breakfast needed to be done, and then overslept by several hours on our last day and missed the breakfast- and the check out time.

By the time we got settled into our room and showered, it was dinner time. We walked to a pizza place near our hotel, had a decent meal with some fairly good wine (recommended by our waiter), and then strolled back to the hotel and fell asleep.

We got up reasonably early the next day. It was Sunday, so we knew we wouldn't be able to do a lot of serious touristing, but we were able to see some cool things and enjoy the day.

We started by walking down to the river.

The River Garonne, from the beginning of the Quai des Chartrons, looking
back toward the center of town

We were headed to the Quai des Chartrons, which our guidebook said had been done up with shops and restaurants, and which my research had also told me housed a Sunday market.

Strolling through the market was a wonderful way to start the day, even if I didn't have the confidence in my French to try to buy any of the food on display.

Bread at the Sunday market
The Quai itself had indeed been renovated and provided a nice place for a stroll (or, if you are a local, a jog- we saw so many runners that Mr. Snarky started joking that Sunday=runday in Bordeaux, undeterred by my observation that his pun would not work in French). There were several restaurants with large sunny patios, and a smattering of stores, which we were surprised to find open on Sunday. We mostly just strolled, though. At the end of the quay, we turned around and headed back a ways, before cutting in away from the river to wander the streets of Les Chartrons. This district would almost certainly have been more interesting on a weekday when the shops were open, but it was still a pleasant walk.

We found ourselves at the Jardin Publique, so we strolled through it, too. I convinced Mr. Snarky that we should return with sandwiches for a nice, low key lunch- so after a short rest at the hotel, we headed out and found a Carrefour market that was open, bought some sandwiches, yogurt, soda, and cookies, and then walked back the the garden to enjoy it.

After lunch, we walked back to a ruin we had seen, and discovered that it was the remains of a Roman amphitheater.

Beautiful ruins
What is now called the Palais Gallien (according to the plaque, it got that name in the 1300s) was already abandoned by the end of the 3rd century. It could seat 15,000 people when it was intact, but large parts of it were destroyed to make way for houses after the French Revolution.

We decided to walk around more of the town, too, and were also delighted to find the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Bordeaux- a modern judicial building designed by Richard Rogers (who also designed the Centre Pompidou in Paris) that abuts the remains of the fort du Ha, a fortress built in the 1400s that was later used as a prison.

Old and new
We also saw the main cathedral, but it was not open to the public, and I was getting tired, so we headed back to the hotel and enjoyed a bottle of wine and some cheese and charcuterie in the back garden/patio of our hotel.


The days are quite long in Bordeaux in May, so even after a decent rest, we still had some sunlight left. Once I'd gotten some energy back, we walked back to the central part of the city, and saw more sights. We even walked over to see the Porte de la Grosse-Cloche- a 15th century gate into the old walled town.

Old clock
By this time, it was dinner time- or at least it was dinner time for us tourists. Locals ate later, but I was hungry, so we found a restaurant with a nice looking terrace and had dinner. Then we walked over to La Bourse (the stock exchange) and waited for the sun to go down enough for us to enjoy the lights on La Bourse reflected in the shallow pool across the street.

La Bourse in the evening
By this time, we were getting quite tired, so we headed back to our hotel and went to sleep.

We spent a large part of the next day (Monday) shopping. It seemed our best bet to buy some gifts for our kids and other people, and one of Mr. Snarky's shoes fell apart on our first night in France, so he needed new shoes. Besides, I enjoy shopping when I travel, even if I'm not aiming to buy anything in particular. It is fun to see the different stores, and the slight differences in how even familiar stores operate. For instance, we were amused by this sign outside of Lush:

Teste sur les Anglais
Our lunch that day was perhaps my most successful conversation in French. We had lunch at a small creperie not far from the Rue St.-Catherine, where we did most of our shopping. The woman who was working there had the art of speaking French to English speakers with so-so French skills down: she spoke slowly and enunciated clearly, and stuck to basic vocabulary. I managed to order our lunch and dessert (which was a crepe with delicious chocolate sauce) and even chat a bit with her.

Once we finished our shopping, we took our bags back to our hotel and had a short rest before heading back out, this time to the art museum. The Musee des Beaux-Arts is small, but well curated and we enjoyed our visit. After leaving the museum, we found that the Cathedrale St-Andre was now open, so we went in. One thing I learned on this trip: Mr. Snarky is fond of old churches. I am sympathetic- I spent a huge amount of time visiting old churches on my first international trip, which was to Sweden. I don't mind visiting churches now, but I am not quite so enamored with them anymore. Still, since Mr. Snarky wanted to see them, we visited a lot of old churches on this trip.

My reward for patiently waiting for Mr. Snarky to finish in the cathedral was a couple of glasses of wine on a tree-shaded terrace at a bar/bistro. Then we found yet another terrace on which to eat dinner. My dinner was probably a tad too heavy for me, and my asthma was a bit aggravated by the smokers on the first terrace. These two things combined to make it difficult for me to sleep that night, and that plus the effects of jet lag combined to make me sleep until quite late the next morning. Mr Snarky overslept, too, and we thereby ruined our plans to visit St. Emilion on our  but I didn't know that at the time, and the wines and dinner were certainly quite enjoyable!

In fact, the entire stay in Bordeaux was quite enjoyable. It is a beautiful city, quite accessible for English-speaking tourists, and quite walkable for people (like me) who love to see a city on foot. It was a great way to start our trip.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Change Takes Work Edition

This has been quite the week, hasn't it? It was not a week in which I managed to write any of the blog posts I have queued up, but the blame for that falls on our remodeling project and not the historic events outside our little family bubble.

I will probably blog about the remodeling project eventually, but today seems a day to talk about the historic events.

I think we all get a bit cynical sometimes about the possibility of change. Weeks like this remind us both how possible it is and how hard we have to fight for it.

We saw Confederate flags start to come down across the South.

If you're wanting to understand more about the history of that flag and the tragic missed opportunity for true racial reconciliation that followed the Civil War, Tony Horowitz' article at Talking Points Memo is a good place to start. I don't know as much about this period of my history as I probably should. Jamelle Bouie and Rebecca Onion are doing a podcast about this history, available to Slate+ subscribers. I may sign up and listen to the podcast. The Twitter conversations about history between Bouie and Ta-Nehisi Coates are pretty great, so I suspect the podcast will be good, too. I don't mind paying for good content (and, in fact, had been planning a "find a way to pay for what I'm enjoying on the internet" campaign soon), so the only thing stopping me is the knowledge that I'll have to figure out how to get these podcasts added to my podcast listening app.

It is easy to dismiss that flag as "just a symbol" and the fact that it is coming down as "not the real issue," but I believe the Black people I've heard talk about this and seen write about it, and they are uniformly of the opinion that this is a big, important thing.

After all, symbols matter. Symbols, by definition, represent other things, and no amount of "heritage, not hate" rhetoric can mask what the Confederate flag represented. May it come down everywhere, and may we eventually learn to consign the ugliness it represents to a museum, too.

But we are not there yet- and I have a couple of links about the Charleston shootings that I think you should read.

Roxane Gay writes eloquently and powerfully about why she will not forgive the Charleston murderer.

Kiese Laymon talks to his Grandma in the aftermath of the Charleston shooting.

Paul Krugman's essay on the long economic and policy shadow of slavery is pretty sobering.

And the funeral of Clementa Pinkney, the pastor and state senator killed in Charleston, was today.

If I ever need to be reminded of why we cannot stop fighting the hatred embodied in the Charleston attack, I will just look back at this tweet:

If you haven't watched President Obama lead the congregation in Amazing Grace, here's your chance to do so

I haven't had a chance to listen to his entire speech yet, but I plan to listen this weekend, or maybe read the transcript.

I have never been among the people who disparage Obama as a President. To me, it seems that he has had the priorities he promised to have, and has gotten quite a bit done despite obstructionist opposition. Even if he had accomplished nothing else, the Affordable Care Act alone would be a pretty good legacy- and as Dylan Matthews argues at Vox he's done more than that, too.

And of course, the Supreme Court has been issuing rulings. There was the ruling on the ACA, which was a huge deal but soon overshadowed by the ruling on same sex marriage, which made today such a mix of joy (at the ruling) and sadness (for Pinckney and the others killed in Charleston).

I have a few more links, less directly related to this week's big events.

Chris Hayes (of MSNBC fame) wrote a devastating and depressing essay about global warming and the effort that will be required to fight it. If you read nothing else in this post, read this one. It will really make you think.

Timothy Lee wrote an article about not demonizing people who disagree with you.

I think there is a lesson in the synthesis of those last two links, but I haven't really been able to articulate it yet. Maybe that we need to find a way to help the climate change deniers de-escalate instead of escalate their commitment to their beliefs and the rhetoric they use to espouse them- and that demonizing them is almost certainly not that way?

And we need to keep working to address climate change, we really do.

On leaving the tech industry.

On not being able to get a job in Silicon Valley in the first place.

Glass Ceiling, a poem by T.R. Hummer

Because we need something fun to end on:

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