Friday, October 02, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Short and Early Edition

Today is Petunia's birthday, and I'm quitting early to spend time with her. So this post will go up early, and will be shorter than usual.

I'm also not going to focus much on the horrible events in Oregon yesterday. This post, from just a little over a month ago, about another horrible shooting, still stands. As I said on Twitter yesterday, I think that the people on the other side of this debate view mass shootings in a fundamentally different way than I do. I do not think there will ever be a shooting that is the "last straw" and magically changes their minds. If we want to do something about guns, we have to speak up politically and drown them out at the ballot box- because the extremists are a minority, even among gun owners. If you've recently decided to get involved and speak up, don't forget about state level legislation. In many ways, that is where the action is at right now.

And that's all I want to say on that.

This post about working mothers and what happens when child care arrangements fall through is beautifully written. Go read it.

If I'm being charitable, I'd say a bunch of CEOs think they're working on gender equality and aren't being very effective. If I'm being realistic, I'd say that a bunch of CEOs are paying lip service to gender equality and actually don't care about it all.

Petunia's isn't the only birthday in my life this week. Tungsten Hippo turns two, and I'm giving away free ebooks to celebrate. Tell all your friends!

I don't usually link to my real name stuff here, but I think more people would benefit from reading this week's post, which is about using visualization to deal with performance problems. Also, if you're planning to enroll in this month's session of the Better Projects Through Better Planning class, you only have one week of early bird pricing left. I do not plan to give this class again until next summer at the earliest.

I really liked this post from Kameron Hurley: Your Work Matters.

Oooh... a non-Disney movie to try with Petunia! (Also, welcome back to blogging, Anandi!)

I love Stochastic Planet because sometimes it shows me pictures like this one.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Two Sides of Living in the Moment

Pumpkin gave me two notebooks for my last birthday: one small one of the style that I use for my daily to do lists and one larger one with sparkles on the front.
Sparkly notebook

It took me a while to figure out what to do with the second notebook, but I eventually decided to use it as something like a gratitude journal. I wanted something to help me remember to enjoy the day to day things in life, and on a bit of a whim I decided that I would write an entry in this notebook every night before bed with three things:
  • A short summary of the day
  • Memories I want to keep
  • What I'm grateful for
For instance, last night's entry says:

Work, a quick trip to Kohl's after dinner w/[Petunia], rugby watching after kids' bedtime.

Memories: [Petunia] carefully trying on every style of boot before selecting the front-runner choice (Frozen-branded boots). How nice it is to work in the new office in the late afternoon.

Grateful for: having enough money for these things

The first entry says:

Beach day with [Petunia's] day care buddies.

Memories: [Petunia] going "out deep" with [her friend]. [Pumpkin] building a big sand castle on her own. [Mr. Snarky] making a river with a bunch of kids. Sitting in the shade eating Doritos and chatting with [other moms]. Snuggles from [someone's adorable baby].

Grateful for: Friends.

As you can see, these entries are not long or profound. To be honest, I tried this because I wanted to show Pumpkin that I was using her gift. I didn't know if I'd keep it up. I still don't, but I can tell you that it is a surprisingly nice bedtime routine.


Monday, I had a dentist appointment. I hate getting my teeth cleaned. This is one time when I don't want to "be in the moment" at all. As I was lying there trying to not clench up while the hygienist scraped at something, I thought about how much nicer it would be if I could be reading the really interesting article I was reading on my phone right before the hygienist called me back.

And then I thought: I have finally found the killer use case for Google Glass.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Realizations and Celebrations

I'm having a tough week.

It is three months until my current main contract may or may not end- it is the way of contracting that I won't know for certain for another month or two. I don't have another contract right now, so I decided I need to start really looking for one. Friday, I made a plan for doing that, and it is a bit...daunting. I've come to realize that I was far more burned out by the events of early 2014 than I'd really acknowledged, and that led me to be a bit slack about building the contracting side of my business. Since that is the side that pays the bills, that was a mistake. Friday, I looked that mistake in the face and acknowledged what it means. It wasn't particularly pleasant to do that, but it was necessary.

Meanwhile, sales of Unspotted aren't as strong as I'd like. I have some reviews lined up that should post soon, and that will hopefully help. I also started a GoodReads campaign for it, trying to help it find its audience. In the process of doing that, I discovered that there were somehow two extra editions of the book on GoodReads. I've got that cleaned up now, I think, but it was frustrating and the end result isn't exactly how I'd like it.

And I'm in the lull period of sign ups for my Better Projects class. This is completely predictable: there's a spike when you first announce, another one right before the early bird registration ends, and (if you're lucky) another one right before registration closes. But it is still a bit demoralizing. I'm working hard to get the word out and sign people up, both because money is good and because I really believe in this class. It is hard to be hustling hard on something like that and not see the pay off yet.

In other news, our construction project is almost done, but we discovered a problem with drainage, and have decided that we have to fix out patio to resolve it. One the plus side, we get the new patio we wanted but decided we couldn't afford. On the negative side- more money flowing out of our accounts. Also, Mr. Snarky is spending his day today digging up a bush that is in the way of the new patio. I am not sorry to see the bush go. I am extremely allergic to its flowers. But, we have this huge to do list of other chores that I'll now have to do essentially on my own, since he is out in the hot sun digging up a bush.

To top it all off, I put off filling my birth control pills prescription until the last minute and then discovered I'm out of refills. GAH. That was an entirely avoidable mistake.

So, I'm in a bit of a funk.

But, my calendar says that it is time to launch the Tungsten Hippo Turns Two birthday celebration, so launch it I did! Nothing pulls you out of a funk like a celebration, right? And this is a good one. I'm giving away a copy of the next Annorlunda Books release (the one after Okay, So Look) to everyone who is on the Tungsten Hippo mailing list by November 1. I think the Tungsten Hippo mailing list is pretty cool, too- it delivers the week's recommendation, quote, and any other posts, short ebook related news and announcements, and a randomly selected bonus recommendation to your inbox every Sunday morning. So, join the celebration, get a fun email every week, AND get a free ebook November 1.

Also, some of our best friends have family in town, so we met them at the beach yesterday afternoon. There was much boogie boarding. I wish I had gotten a picture of Petunia's giant smile as she got to join in the boogie boarding fun with a brand new board she and Mr. Snarky went and bought before the beach trip. It was pure joy. Pumpkin had a blast, too. The water felt wonderful, and we had a nice meal at Rubio's afterwards. Pumpkin even agreed to eat a quesadilla there.

Then, after the kids were in bed, Mr. Snarky and I reassembled our entertainment center and celebrated by watching the England-Wales rugby game. Before the game, the players were all wearing shirts that said "tackle doping." I was clearly tired, because here is the transcript of the conversation Mr. Snarky and I had about that:

Me: "Tackle doping? What does that even mean?"

Him: ????

Me: "How do you dope a tackle?"

Him: ?!?!?!?!?!

Me: "OH! Tackle DOPING.  I get it. It is about doping, not tackles."

Him: shakes his head in disbelief.

So, life is full of good things and fun moments. I am trying to keep those in mind, even while I put my grubbies on and go and tackle that to do list.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Really Rather Eclectic Edition

Another week gone, another chance to write more than one post in a week missed.... I won't even pretend that things are likely to be better next week, because Petunia's birthday is next Friday and we're going to Disneyland. I'll be a bit busy getting ready for that. In fact, that is part of what ate up my potential blogging time this week: I was clicking through to the menu for every single restaurant in Disneyland and California Adventure, identifying potential dining options that would work for my kids. It took a lot of time, but I hope it pays off in a happier visit to the happiest place on earth...

Anyway, I do have some links. First, though, since I keep forgetting to include my blatant self-promotion links in these posts, some blatant self-promotion. I have two things to tell you about:

1. I am now enrolling for the October session of my "introduction to project management for non-project managers" class. This is the same class I gave in June, with a new name to avoid a namespace collision with an unrelated book. I've raised the price a little bit (I gotta keep the kids in trips to Disneyland, you know...) but it is still a really good deal compared to similar classes. And actually, I don't know of any truly similar classes. Most project management classes focus on a single "flavor" and tend towards a heavy process that is probably not appropriate for most of the readers of this blog.

The students in the first class included professors, graduate students and postdocs, people in other academic roles, and people in industry jobs. I got nice feedback from many of the students, some of which I have quoted on the class page. And, as before, I offer a money back guarantee. If you take the class and think it sucked, I'll give you your money back.

Early bird registration runs through October 9, but if you sign up earlier you get good karma points for making me worry less about my sign up rate.

2. The next release from Annorlunda Books is now available for pre-order. Details and links to all the lovely pre-order options are on the book's web page.

The book is called Okay, So Look, and is a novella-length humorous retelling of the Book of Genesis. Author Micah Edwards is a professional comedian who has an obvious deep knowledge of and real affection for his source material. Every single person I've given this book to so far has said they really enjoyed reading it. I did, too, which is why I'm publishing it.

It will be out in paperback as well as ebook, and on a few more retail sites once it is actually released on October 14. Not all of the sites let a little publisher like me set up a pre-order. If you volunteered to be an advance reader, I'll send you your review copy next week. (If you wish you'd known I was looking for advance readers, consider signing up for my Annorlunda Enterprises mailing list.)

OK, that's enough blatant self promotion. On to the links!

This story about telling a little girl she has HIV is devastating and heart-warming and really, really good.

One of my Facebook friends shared this post about really being pro-life. I read it and thought "this is someone with whom I could find common ground" which is rare when I read anything by someone who is pro-life.

I am firmly in favor of a woman's right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. I think abortions should be legal, safe, and far more readily available than they are. I also would like to work towards a world where they are rare. I had a tiny little pregnancy scare recently, and even while I was contemplating how another pregnancy would turn my life inside out, and how it would make my current work situation really, really difficult, I knew that if it turned out to be a pregnancy and not a scare, I would go ahead with the pregnancy.

Since having kids, my feelings on abortion are a real jumbled mess. Before I had kids, I think I would have considered an abortion if I was pregnant at a bad time. Now, I never want to have one. I would only consider an abortion if my life was at risk. I understand and respect the decisions of the women who have had them, no matter their reasons, but I don't want one.

What I really want is better birth control options. Even before the aforementioned scare, I was seriously considering having my tubes tied. (For reasons I will not discuss here, any surgical options will need to be on me, not my husband.) I'm getting a bit old to still be on the pill, although at least I have found a formulation that doesn't give me visual migraines. I didn't like the Mirena. I guess we could just use condoms but I'd rather not.

We really do need better options.

Anyhow, moving on...

Still talking about my uterus, but only in a peripheral sense: What My Uterus Can Teach You about Being a Tech Leader is a great title, and it is a really good piece, too.

I love this idea of feeding online trolls science. I rarely get trolled, but if I ever do, I'm going to try this.

Now that we're all done laughing about David Cameron and the pig, read this really good post about the problem with initiation rituals and power.

Weirdly, still talking about pigs... I really liked this cartoon with advice on creative work. Hat tip to A Gai Shan Life for that one. She also had a recent post on internet shopping and reading it made me realize I've graduated from the "buy everything I possibly can online" phase of parenthood to the "hey, a trip to Target is a treat!" phase. I'm not sure if that is a good thing or not.

I love this tweet:

And that's all I have this week. Have a good weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Companies Behaving Badly

Corporate malfeasance has been in the news lately. First, Volkswagen was caught cheating on its
Gordon Gekko won.
emissions test for its diesel cars
. This is an upsetting story for two reasons: (1) a huge amount of extra pollution was emitted by people who thought they were buying a "green" car, and (2) it highlights the fact that we need to bring our regulatory processes up to date for an age in which the cheating can be done by software. Zeynep Tufekci has a really good op-ed in the NY Times about the second issue.

And then the Martin Shkreli and Turing Pharma hit the news with the decision to jack up prices on an old anti-infective used to treat malaria and toxoplasmosis. Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline has an excellent explanation of why other companies can't just come in and compete the price down like they usually do for generic drugs (its a loophole in the FDA regulations) and a rundown of other similar cases we've seen recently. Basically, some people more interested in finance than drug discovery and development have discovered they can make a lot of money on a certain class of old drug, and are doing so, with sometimes tragic consequences (read this comment on one of Derek Lowe's other posts on the topic and tell me you don't want to punch someone).

Derek Lowe also has a good, eloquent post about how Martin Shkreli and his ilk do not represent the attitude of the drug discovery industry, but how we need to do more to explain why what they are doing is not the same thing as what the rest of the pharma industry does. I'll go a step further and say that the rest of the pharma industry should think long and hard about whether the slimeball behavior of Shkreli and the other profiteers is just the logical and horrible extension of their business practices.

Yes, drug companies are companies and have to be run with an eye on making money. But from where I sit, a lot of the industry has gotten a little too focused on short term financial goals. You need to watch the money to make sure you stay in business, but there is a difference between staying in business and dancing a dance that will kill you in the long run to keep Wall Street happy in the short run. I am not an expert on finances by any stretch, but a lot of us on the science side of the business have felt like the finance guys have a little too much power right now, and we worry that they're driving our industry over a cliff.

Whenever people point out the issues of focusing so much on short term profits, we hear about the fiduciary duty of the company's executives and directors. But what does that actually mean? Despite what we often hear, there is no special duty to run a business to maximize shareholder value.

I see the value of our financial system, but I think we've let its values have an outsize influence on the values of our society. How, really, is a value system that says the most important concern is to maximize shareholder value all that different from the value system that Shkreli apparently operates under, in which it is absolutely OK to exploit a loophole to make as much money as possible on a drug you took absolutely no risk in developing- the impact on patients be damned? He's just maximizing value for the people who invested in his company, after all. How is it all that different from the value system that was apparently in place in Volkswagen, that said it was OK to cheat on emissions tests so you could sell more cars?

We act shocked when we see these egregious examples, but to me, they're just the logical, if extreme, extensions of the values we've allowed to become our guiding principles as a society: money matters more than anything, and it is OK- desirable even!- to do everything that is legally allowed to make more money. No other ethics need be considered. We already shrug off overworking salaried employees and abusive scheduling practices applied to hourly employees, after all- it makes the company more profitable, so how could we expect anything different?

Well, I expect different. I don't know how we change these values, but I think we have to try. Otherwise, we will surely see more and more scandals- or worse, we'll just get more and more inured to the crappy things companies do in the name of maximizing profits and we'll stop thinking of these things as scandals at all.


In completely unrelated news, I'm running another session of my class that introduces the fundamentals of project management so that you can make your projects run better, and get more done with less stress. Here's the post I wrote introducing this session. If you're interested, check it out and sign up!
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