Monday, October 27, 2014

Cranky Snippets about Travel

I love to travel, even with my kids, but there are a few things that just make me cranky. This post includes the cranky-making things from my most recent trip, which was our family vacation in Colorado. Yes, that was in July. I meant to post this earlier, but I got distracted by two book releases and what not.

Anyway, here are my top five cranky things about travel:

1. Restaurants: if you have a kids menu and it includes "plain buttered pasta," 99.99% of the children who order it will be disappointed to the point of refusing to eat it if it includes little flecks of parsley. Or little spots of pepper. Or anything except for pasta and butter, really. Yes, I know that is boring. But this is why it is on the kids menu. Similarly, if you list a grilled cheese sandwich on the kids menu, there is a high probability that the child ordering it does not want it on your artisan seven-grain bread.

2. Hotels: if you advertise a room as a suite, there should be a door between the sleeping area and the living area. Otherwise, the grownups are reduced to drinking beers in the bathroom after the kids go to bed. 
Yes we really did this. In our defense, it was a rather large bathroom.
3. People at busy gas stations on popular tourist routes: after you have finished getting your gas, pull out of the fueling bay. If you need to buy something in the shop, pull into one of the parking spaces that these gas stations almost universally have. Otherwise, the people in the cars waiting to get into the fueling bays will hate you. I might make an exception if you're pulling a trailer, but if you just have a car and you leave it parked in the fueling bay while you go get your drinks and go to the bathroom, I will hate you.

4. People parking at popular trailheads: don't park all strange and take up three spots. That's just mean.

5. Google: for the love of all that is good, can you please figure out how to make it possible to search for "playgrounds near X" in Google Maps and get reasonable results, i.e., actual parks with playgrounds, not stores that sell playground equipment? The parents of the nation will love you for it. Right now, our method for finding playgrounds in the cities/towns we visit or drive through involves some combination of these steps: (1) searching for the city's park and rec website and hoping they actually include this info (many do not), (2) looking at Google Maps near our destination, finding a green area that looks like a park, flipping into satellite view and trying to guess if that fuzzy shape is a playground, (3) asking the receptionist at the hotel and/or the waitress at the place we eat and hoping for the best. 

Corollary: city parks and rec departments, be sure to include amenities such as swings and slides on your web pages about your parks. Also, include the address!

And here's a bonus cranky thing. Restaurants: if you put a baby changing station in the women's restroom and not the men's restroom you are evil. We are past this stage now, but it bears stating, anyway.

OK, tell me your cranky things about travel in the comments!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Weekend Reading: The I Am So Tired of This Edition

I am heartbroken by the news of the school shooting in Seattle. Early reports include a quote from a classmate saying that the boy who shot people was upset at a girl who would not date him, and that the girl was one of the people shot.

This is obviously hearsay at this point, but if it is true, it adds this school shooting to a growing list of violence committed because a girl or woman dared to say no to a boy or man. I feel so helpless about this entire situation. It seems like we as a society won't take this cultural feeling of entitlement seriously nor will we do anything about the easy access to guns that makes this culture so damn deadly. I don't know how we fix it. No doubt people are already writing smart pieces about it, but I don't have the fortitude to go find them right now. I just want to look at pictures of cute bunnies and hug my kids and try to forget how screwed up we are.

But I do have some links I saved about Gamergate, which is part and parcel of that same misogynistic culture.

Arthur Chu's  piece connecting Gamergate to an anti disco riot is a tour de force. For the record, I'll confess that I was completely unaware of the anti-disco movement he references.

Jessica Valenti puts the Gamergate mess into the broader framework: "This angry male mob has been building for the better part of a decade."

Chris Kluwe's profanity-laced takedown of Gamergate is a thing of beauty. He later noted of Twitter that even after he posted that article, no one tried to doxx him, whereas Felicia Day's thoughtful piece about why she's been silent on the topic brought an almost immediate doxx.

Moving on to more garden variety sexism and its effects...

A lawyer in Georgia had a baby, and a judge denied her request for an extension on a court date... so she brought the baby to court and he had a fit.

Ellen Chisa wrote a thoughtful post about not reading too much into one bad job, and how job problems are treated differently for men and women.

This founder who was at Y combinator right after having a baby tries to put a positive spin on their policies... but yeah, this is part of the problem with the venture capital world.
Bricks and Mortar: http://bradfrostweb.com/blog/post/job-title-its-complicated/

People who follow me on Twitter probably saw me rant a bit about the new benefit offered by Apple and Facebook- they'll pay for you to freeze your eggs. It isn't that I am opposed to the benefit. Actually, it is an awesome boon for female employees who want to have this procedure. I'm opposed to the fact that this benefit seems to be in lieu of working on the culture of overwork that is endemic in the tech industry. Give employees time to live full lives now, not benefits to help them postpone aspects of their lives until later.

One of my Twitter/blog friends wrote a slightly different perspective in Slate, which I think you should read, too.

Moving on to totally random other things...

This post from Sara Benincasa about how you have to do it anyway is awesome.

This story about what it is like to have a really rare blood type is fascinating.

This is a rather nice idea for what to do with your body after you die. Awhile back I read Stiff,by Mary Roach, and it included discussion a Swedish company that did this sort of thing. I wonder if it is the same company?

Speaking of books, two reviews of Petunia, the Girl Who Was NOT a Princess posted on Wednesday, one from Anandi at The Papercraft Lab and one from Marcia at the 123 Blog.

I have absolutely no idea how the book is doing- since I'm not the publisher, I don't see up to the minute sales numbers like I do for Navigating the Path to Industry. But I can tell you that the raffle in my release post is pretty lightly subscribed, so if you're tempted to enter... do it! You have a fairly good chance to win.

Staying on books... The We Need Diverse Books movement is running an IndieGoGo campaign to do things like send authors into classrooms and fund a grant for writers. Consider contributing to it! (I'm currently deciding on what level I'll contribute at... but I will definitely contribute.)

Your ending funny: XKCD points out that the Apollo program was weird.

I'm still recovering from the cold that flattened me last Thursday. I basically run out of energy at about 3 p.m. everyday, almost as if I have a battery pack that is draining. Sadly, my days don't actually end at 3, so this is a bit of a problem. I'm hoping to get some actual rest this weekend. Everyone who has children is now laughing uproariously. But a girl can dream....

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Diverse Books for Kids

I am extremely proud of my latest children's book, Petunia, the Girl Who Was NOT a Princess. I remember reading advice from someone (sorry, I can't remember who) about how to handle criticism as a writer, and the advice was to be confident you'd written the best book you could. That is very good advice. Sure, criticism of Petunia will still hurt, but I feel that it is the best book I could write, and so I am happy about it, no matter what anyone else thinks.

Luckily, the early reviews are good! I've linked to the ones that have come in so far on my release post, and you can also always check the Amazon pagefor more reviews. (Also: the raffle in that release post is still active and is quite lightly subscribed... so enter and you have a high probability of winning. Yes, I'll ship prizes internationally.)

So far, I've written a lot about the theme of the book and how I hope it will encourage people to think twice about stereotyping little girls based on the sole metric of whether or not they like princesses and sparkles.

Today's post is about something different, that I think is perhaps even more important. It is the fact that Penelope, the princess in the story, is not white.

Petunia and Penelope. And a cat.

I am a big fan of the We Need Diverse Books movement, and am thrilled to see us talking about this, and addressing the fact that characters in kids books are overwhelmingly white. Here is a story I've linked to before that I think really illustrates why this matters so much. Kids are great at identifying with a wide range of characters (even ones that aren't human!) but representation still matters, and every kid should get to see him or herself reflected in books.

I think that we need more books by authors of color featuring all sorts of characters and tackling a wide range of themes. I am so glad to see the books that are available get more exposure and readers. I do not in anyway want to elbow in on that.

However, as a white author, I also do not think it is right for me to ignore the issue. When I sent my manuscript for Petunia off to the publisher, I included some illustration notes, and among those were requests for a diverse cast in the book. I think the illustrator did a wonderful job with this, and am thrilled with the outcome.

When I sent my manuscript in, I had no idea if this was a good approach or not- I just knew that it felt like literally the least I could do. I talked about this more (and linked to some good articles) in an old Weekend Reading post. I think that kids should read books that tackle themes of racism and the problematic aspects of our history head on. But I also think they should read books in which the princess is Black, or the superhero is Hispanic, or the "everyday kids" are Asian. I don't feel up to writing the first sort of book (at least not yet) but I want my books to be that second kind of book.

Enough about me. I of course hope you'll buy my book, but I also want to share some books by other authors that we love and that have added diversity to our bookshelves and library selections. Here they are:

When the Shadbush Blooms,by Carla Messinger and Susan Katz, illustrated by David Kanietakeron Fadden. This is a beautiful book about continuity in a Native American community, from the time of "my grandparents' grandparents" to now.

This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration,by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome. Another story of change and continuity, this time tracing all the ways a family has used a piece of rope over the years, from South Carolina to New York City.

The Secret Olivia Told Me,by N. Joy, illustrated by Nancy Devard. This is the story of how once you tell a secret, it quickly becomes not a secret at all.

Paper Horse,by Kim Xiong, translated by Clarissa Yu Shen, illustrated by Lei Xiong. In this story, a little boy is staying with his grandparents, and his parents get stuck in a snow storm and can't get back to him when planned. His grandmother cuts a paper horse for him, and he imagines that it brings him to his parents.

Kitchen God,by Kim Xiong and translated by Clarissa Yu Shen, is a cute little story that introduces the Chinese Kitchen God tradition.

Mama Zooms,by Jane Cowen-Fletcher is about a little kid whose mother uses a wheelchair and "zooms" them around various adventures.

And Tango Makes Three,by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, and illustrated by Henry Cole. The main characters in this book are penguins, but we found it to be a great way to help our kids think about that fact that some families have two daddies or two mommies.

Matariki,by Melanie Drewery and illustrated by Bruce Potter is a good introduction to the Maori New Year celebration. My US readers are unlikely to be able to find it, but I know I have a few readers in NZ, too!

I don't have as many recommendations for chapter books, but we really liked Sugar Plum Ballerinas: Plum Fantastic,by Whoopi Goldberg, and I think Pumpkin has decided she wants to read more in this series.

The We Need Diverse Books campaign also posted a list of recommendations for young kids, which I'll be using to help find more books, and Lee and Low Books is a publisher that focuses on diverse books.

And of course, I welcome your suggestions in the comments. Now, because I believe in author karma, I am going to go write some Amazon reviews for the books in this post!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Its Release Day for Petunia!

I'm excited to announce that you can now buy my latest children's book, Petunia, the Girl Who Was NOT a Princess from these fine retailers:


You can also ask your favorite bookstore or library to order it. It is available as a hardcover book and as an eBook. 

It is also available as an eBook through the Epic ebook subscription service. In fact, it was released a little early there, and has already picked up over 450 reads, which is pretty cool.

I wrote a little bit about the story and showed some of the illustrations in an earlier post. In brief, it is a story about a little girl who is NOT a princess. She is lonely among all the princesses until she discovers that the new little princess in her neighborhood is not JUST a princess. Here are some early reviews:
I'll add more reviews as they come in.

Here's a bonus sample page:

Thanks to Penelope (far left), Petunia tries out dancing... but she stays NOT a princess
I've promised a couple of people copies of the book in gratitude for beta testing it. I'll send those out as soon as I get the hardcovers. If you aren't one of those people, you can still get a free copy of the book- I'm giving away my last paperback advance review copy in a raffle. 

I'll even sign it if you want!
If you already have a copy of Petunia, you can substitute The Zebra Said Shhh instead.

I'm giving away a couple free ebooks, two t-shirts, and three buttons, too. If you win the ebook and already have Petunia, you can substitute one of my other ebooks instead.

The t-shirts say either "NOT a Princess" or "Not JUST a Princess," and if you are so inclined you can also buy them.

The sample t-shirts I ordered for my kids
My kids both wanted white shirts, but they also come as black shirts with white text. There are ladies, unisex, youth and toddler shirts and infant onesies available. If you win this prize, you can pick the style and size you want. 

The buttons were swag my publisher made to hand out at the American Library Association conference, and were apparently quite popular. 



The publisher sent me five of the buttons left after the conference. My kids have claimed two, and I'm giving away the other three.

You can enter the raffle by:
  • Buying the book
  • Reviewing the book (on a retail site, GoodReads, or your own site)
  • Tweeting about the book
  • Tweeting about how your kids (or you!) are #notaprincess or #notjustaprincess
  • Telling people about the book via any other means (tell a friend! tell a librarian! share on your favorite social media network! hire a skywriter! It's up to you.)

I also added an option to donate to a charity working to alleviate the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, because I've heard that those charities aren't getting the level of donations they need and that breaks my heart.

I'm running the raffle through Rafflecopter again, but if you have any problems with it or just don't want to give Rafflecopter your email address, you can email me directly (wandsci at gmail dot com) and I'll enter you into the raffle. You get two entries for buying a book, writing a review, or donating to charity. You get one entry for the other options, but you can do those once per day. Yes, sharing a link to this page or RTing one of my tweets about the book is a perfectly fine way to enter. But you have to tell me about it, either via the form below or via email.

You have until 12 a.m. on Friday, November 7, to enter.

Here's the raffle:


Good luck!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Weekend Links: The Don't Panic Edition

One of my more stereotypically geeky attributes is that I love Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. I even programmed my very first cell phone (one of those StarTAC flip phones) to say "Don't Panic" on its tiny little screen when I first opened it up.

The "Don't Panic" line, for those who don't know the series, comes from the guide itself, which has the words printed "in large, friendly letters" on its cover.

I put the phrase on my phone because I, like most people, can get myself worked up over things, and it was actually useful to have my phone remind me to calm the eff down.

Which is all to say that I am very sympathetic to the people who are freaking out over Ebola right now, but think it would be better if we all heeded the advice on the cover of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and calmed down.

I wasn't going to write a post about this, because I am not a virologist or an epidemiologist or really in any way the sort of scientist whose expertise gives her reason to write about this outbreak. But then I came across a post from another scientist who is also not a virologist, epidemiologist, or even, apparently, someone who has bothered to read some basic science about Ebola and apply some common logic to the facts we have. I will not link to that post because it is bad, and full of things that are not true. But it made me want to write this post, just to link to some resources that are more useful, and to say: a scientist speaking outside his or her own realm of expertise is no more believable than anyone else blathering on the internet. That includes me. Check the sources and make sure the information tracks back to someone who is speaking within their realm of expertise.

What little specialized knowledge I have about Ebola comes from having once worked on a biodefense project, back in the early 2000s when those projects were all the rage. I was involved in the database design (since that is my area of expertise), but I also helped explain the biology to a lot of people whose backgrounds were more on the defense part of biodefense. As part of that project, I read a lot of papers about a lot of infectious diseases and for awhile, I was on the mailing list that sent out notices about reportable diseases. I learned a lot about Listeria from those notices, which perhaps made me a little more paranoid than strictly necessary about that particular risk during my pregnancies.

It was a fascinating project for a lot of reasons, but one of the things that stuck with me the most was the glimpse it gave me into the inner workings of government. Every few months or so, we would all fly to DC to have a meeting with the people assigned to this project from all the various governmental agencies- CDC, Homeland Security, the State department, various branches of the military, the Post Office (remember the Anthrax attacks?), and on and on. There was even a guy who we were pretty sure was there representing some part of the intelligence community, although officially he was there in some other capacity. His knowledge and his official capacity were greatly mismatched- i.e., he knew far too much about far too many obscure diseases for the title he supposedly held.

Anyway, at the second or third such meeting, it dawned on me that my entire project was a bit of a cover. Oh, we would turn in a fairly decent work product and perhaps the system we were working to specify would even eventually get built, but the real benefit of the project was that it forced all of the government people from all those different branches to sit in a room and talk to each other. This was good because it made them learn how their counterparts in other branches saw similar issues and gave them an inkling of the different constraints everyone operated under. It was also good because it meant that they developed some personal relationships, which would come in handy if there ever was really a crisis and they needed to get something through a bunch of inter-departmental bureaucracy quickly.

I came away from the project impressed with the intelligence and diligence of the governmental officials I'd met (with one notable exception), and absolutely in awe of the bureaucracy under which they had to try to get things done.

That is a very long preamble to my first link, which is a post from Ezra Klein about why a bureaucrat with a reputation for being good at navigating through inter-departmental morasses is actually a really great pick for an Ebola czar.

Assuming that not much has changed in government since my brief stint interacting with it, I'd guess that we have plenty of really smart people who know what we need to do, and what we want the czar to do is help them get it done. The best response to the Ebola outbreak undoubtedly will require involvement from a wide range of agencies across several departments- not to mention various state and local health departments. I know that a lot of people are upset that the Ebola czar is not someone with a scientific or medical background, but personally, I'm glad Obama seems to have picked someone who knows how to get things done in our bureaucracy.

OK, on to some information about the disease itself.

This article from USA Today provides a good overview of why the people most at risk of getting Ebola are the ones treating late-stage patients.

This also matches what we saw happen in Dallas: no one who was in the apartment with Mr. Duncan between his first and second trips to the ER has gotten sick. None of the doctors who treated Mr. Duncan have so far gotten sick. The people who got sick are the nurses, who were the ones getting exposed to large amounts of infected fluids. Really, if you read no other article I link to here, read the USA Today one above to get an understanding for the difference between a patient in the early days of symptoms and a late stage patient.

If you want to really dig into what we know about how Ebola is transmitted, this post from some Australian virologists is full of information.

One of the egregiously false statements in the post that set off this rant/link list was that people infected with Ebola almost always die. That is just not true. Even in the current outbreak in West Africa, mortality is somewhere between 50 and 70%. That is still a very high percentage, but it is not "almost always." Also, good "supportive care" (e.g., rehydration- Ebola patients lose a lot of fluids) is known to improve survival. One of the challenges in West Africa is the lack of hospital beds and trained personnel to care for patients and provide that supportive care. That is not a problem in developed nations like the US. Here in the US, we have lost one patient, had four recover completely, and have another two who seem to be doing well under treatment (update: there is one more patient being treated at Emory: a WHO doctor flown in from Sierra Leone. I don't know anything about his condition). I came across this Megan McArdle article, which has a quote from Paul Farmer (a well-known and well-respected figure in public health in the developing world) stating that he thinks the mortality rate in a developed country is more likely to be about 10%.  I've also seen estimates of 20% mortality with proper supportive care, but I can't find a link for that right now. Sadly, we don't have any actual data on this because the world has never cared enough about an Ebola outbreak to send sufficient resources to the effected areas to provide good supportive care to all of the people who get sick.

That McArdle article is a bit alarmist about the risk of an Ebola patient using a public bathroom- Emory tested surfaces in the rooms of the Ebola patients it treated and found no contamination. The article describing this testing is quite clinical (but worth a read!) so I'll extract the key phrase:

"Environmental testing in the patient rooms had no detection of viral RNA and included many high touch surfaces such as bed rails and surfaces in the bathroom."

The evidence we have indicates that this virus- like most viruses- does not live long on surfaces. McArdle is a smart journalist with a lot of experience covering health issues. I am disappointed she didn't do better in this regard.

The McArdle article does a good job, however, of explaining why the people in the know are focusing more on West Africa than here. The best way to keep the US safe isn't to issue travel bans- we know that does not really work. It is to help the West African countries contain their outbreaks, which is why the CDC has people deployed there and why we have our armed forces there building treatment centers.

My statement about the weaknesses of the McArdle article leads to my final point in this post: a lot of what you read in the media is unnecessarily alarmist. McArdle's bit about the bathroom is mild compared to the nonsense that has been spewed by Fox and CNN.

In fact, Media Matters found that the more Ebola coverage you watch, the less you know.

The case of "clipboard man" is another example of some people in the media not taking the time to get the facts before they speculate and freak out... and freak a bunch of other people out, too.

In closing, I fully understand why people are a little freaked out about Ebola, but the reality here is a lot less scary than many of the media reports will lead you to believe. I think hospital nurses have every right to be screaming at their management for better gear and training. The rest of us should take the advice of the Hitchhiker's Guide. Don't Panic.

But maybe donate to Doctors without Borders or UNICEF, who are on the ground in West Africa trying to help the people who are really at risk.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...