Friday, February 27, 2015

Weekend Links: The Big, Strange, Wonderful Internet Edition

Wow, what a wild couple of days on the internet we've had. First the llamas, then the dress, and then the very sad news that Leonard Nimoy had died.

I'm going to assume you've read all you want to about the llamas and the dress, although I will point out that I found the perfect quote to put up on Tungsten Hippo today.

And here are a few really nice things about Leonard Nimoy.

He stood up for equal pay.

Spock was a role model for biracial kids, and he embraced that.

If only more of the geeks who say the idolized him really tried to be like him, eh?

Speaking of geeks behaving badly:

Cate Huston on leaving the tech industry.

"The problem is not with the pipeline, it’s with the industry that the pipeline is piping into. "
from a great post by Rachel Sklar.

A good article in Pando about the Ellen Pao trial going on now, and whether a verdict in her favor will actually change anything.

You know, I post a lot of things about sexism (and racism) in the tech industry, and in geek culture in general, but I think it is worth remembering that tech is not all that unique in this regard. It is perhaps behind other industries that have been forced via litigation to improve, but the idea that the tech industry is some odd island of misogyny and racism in an otherwise equitable work world is laughable. And to be honest, there are some aspects of it that are better than what I've seen in other industries. Perhaps this is why I haven't given up on it entirely. Or maybe it is just that I enjoy the actual work too much to give it up.

Also, while I think there are some true sexist snakes in both the tech and science world, I think there are far more basically good guys who have just never taken the time to think about fairness and merit in a world with so much bias built in. They have been praised for their rational intelligence for so long, and have done so well by it, that it just doesn't occur to them that there might be areas in which they are not, in fact, applying cold, rational intelligence to their decisions. I think we'll learn how to deal with the sexist snakes far before we figure out how to reach the basically good guys that just don't realize they're part of (and benefiting from) an unfair system. I find more and more men I know are somewhat aware of the problems and ask questions genuinely trying to learn. I'm glad we're having the conversations. Maybe my daughters won't have to have quite so many of them.

Anyway, on with the links.

This is a wonderful post from Annalee Flower Horne on the portrayal of survivors of abuse and assault in books.

This post from the mother of an autistic child who was late to talk is amazing. Just amazing. All parents can learn a lot from it, I think. I certainly did.

This is a very generous, but sobering post from Kate Davies on having her stroke misdiagnosed.

Hope Jahren wrote a good post about vaccination and the trust gap medical science needs to bridge.

This post about calorie expenditure is really interesting, albeit a little depressing for anyone who wants to lose weight. I find the idea that one potential benefit of exercise is that it helps the body keep its calories focused on useful things really intriguing. I certainly find that my repetitive strain injury and asthma are overall less bothersome when I'm exercising regularly.

Here's a cool science fair story.

And here's the funny thing to end with: new traffic signs in Hayward, CA.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I Am Not So Special

I recently came across an article about the impact of commute times on the number of women in the workforce. (@Geknitics tweeted it out.) The article discusses how long commutes are often more stressful for women, who are more likely to have the job of keeping the family's schedule on track.

That is certainly true in our household- I have always been the person who makes our weeknight dinners, so if my commute is delayed there can be ripple effects that disrupt our entire evening. This is less traumatic now that my kids are older, but when Pumpkin was little a screwed up evening routine often translated into even more disrupted sleep than usual. She really liked routine as a baby and toddler. As I sat in a traffic jam, I could predict the ripple effects through the rest of our evening, leading to me getting only a few hours of sleep that night. It made me want to cry. Of course, I was so sleep deprived in those days that a somewhat stirring television commercial could make me want to cry, but you get the idea.

So, I shifted my schedule to make sure that traffic jams were a very rare occurrence, and that our nighttime routines stayed intact. If Mr. Snarky was late, we just ate without him, and kept the routine on schedule. Things rolled merrily along... until they didn't.

It is no secret that one of the things that contributed to the timing of my decision to quit my job and start my own company was the fact that my company relocated and made my commute more difficult. The small amount of slack I'd managed to squeeze into our schedule was gone, consumed by the longer commute. Dinners were late a lot and although that no longer translated directly into crappy sleep it still had an impact on our evenings, and we all felt it. I had planned to work at my last job for at least two more years before quitting and starting my own business, but a variety of things combined to make the pressure grow and grow... until last April, I couldn't take it anymore and just quit. The commute was definitely one of the forces applying pressure.

There were other forces, too, of course. I am still not ready to write about them in detail. This is partly because I still don't think I really understand what, exactly, happened and partly because there are bridges I'd rather not burn.

But you can probably guess some of the reasons, and I'm able to write about things that impacted me over the course of my career. I often felt like I had to work harder than my male colleagues to be taken seriously. I found myself assigned less technical roles, and then I found people (even people I considered supporters) surprised to learn that I could do hands-on technical work. I couldn't see a path for advancement. I felt blocked.

All of this is pretty standard stuff, as cited in the report about midcareer women leaving IT jobs that I've shared before.

So, while there were positive things pulling me to quit, there were a bunch of negative things pushing me to quit, too, and those negative things are depressingly common.

Sometimes, I feel empowered to learn that the challenges I face are general, not personal. Not this time. I could certainly put a positive spin on things, but I have a rule that if I'm going to write about something here, I will be honest in what I write. I definitely don't write about everything, but if I write about it, I have to be honest. Otherwise, what's the point?

And to be honest, realizing just how in line with common trends my experiences have been makes me feel defeated, not empowered.  It is like I came up against a well-mapped mountain range and got lost in it, anyway.

Rationally, I know that I am being unfairly harsh to myself. But the negative voice of self-doubt in my head is not particularly rational, and in these early days of this my new endeavor, solid signs that it is going to be a success are rare, which only emboldens that snotty little voice.

Even with a map, that's not an easy climb.

I am fighting this the only way I know how: by focusing on the positive things that pulled me in my new direction, and reminding myself that it is too early to know how this story ends. My new company is going to grow slowly by design, because that is how I want to build it. My efforts can look a bit scattered right now, but they are in fact proceeding pretty much according to the plan I laid out when I decided to do this. There is enough money coming in to pay the bills. I need to find more contracts, but that is normal and I have only just started looking seriously, since I gave myself a lot of time last year to decompress. I love that I can write about whatever I want now, without having to ask anyone for permission. I love that I can define for myself what things are worth my time. I love being in charge, even if it is only of myself.

In short, there is a lot of good on this new path, and it is quite likely I would have chosen to follow it even if the old path had been nothing but flowers and butterflies.

Could I have stayed on my original career path if I'd just tried harder, and maybe found a better map? Maybe. But this new path suits me well, too.

Will I be a success story, or a cautionary tale? Only time will tell.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Weekend Links: The Good Writing about Annoying Things Edition

My plans for today were upended when Petunia woke up with a fever and clearly feeling not well at all. So I've been home with a sick kid today. She slept a lot in the morning, which let me get quite a few things done. I write my links post in the afternoon, though... and mostly, she has insisted that I sit next to her on the sofa. She let me do some work while she "snuggled" me by putting her feet on any exposed skin (or skin she could easily cause to become exposed), but that wasn't very conducive to typing.

So what I'm say is that this post is a little more rushed than usual.

I didn't read the NY Times article about Justine Sacco and "internet shaming" that had everyone talking. I did read a couple of reactions, though. This post from Sam Pritchard is quite good, and references a piece Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote on the occasion of a different racist getting fired over an ill-judged tweet, about how part of our discomfort with these repercussions is that we aren't used to seeing white people treated as having a race. I will not do justice to either piece trying to summarize them, so just go read them.

You might also want to read Shakesville about the poor treatment Adria Richards received in the NYT article, and note the difference in outcomes for her and the man who was fired for the stupid dongle joke that set that story in motion. As she points out, the guy who was fired was violating a published policy at a professional conference. Perhaps he was just not expecting to be made to pay a price for misconduct. I don't necessarily think that firing him was a proportionate reaction, but then I don't know what else was in his HR file.

Moving on... sort of. This article from Anne Therieult does a good job arguing that we should consider the sort of harassment that Adria Richards suffered to be a form of terrorism. It might sound like an extreme label for this, but it does have a terrorizing effect, and not just on the direct target.

Here is an excerpt from a book on the subject by Danielle Keats Citron, who is an academic studying this issue.

And here is a Pastry Box post from Eileen Webb about how perhaps we all need to sit with the discomfort brought on by people speaking up about their mistreatment. It is aimed specifically at the tech industry, but I think it applies broadly.

Moving on for real this time: here's a list of things Susie Orman Schall learned when she interviewed a bunch of women about how they achieve "work-life balance." The points about how achieving balance means making choices and takes effort particularly resonated with me. At least in my experience, there is no magic solution to making all the pieces you want in your life fit together into a satisfying whole. You have to look at the problem, analyze it, and try out solutions until you find what works for you.

Have you ever wondered why people with chronic fatigue and/or pain syndromes often refer to themselves as "spoonies"? I had. Here is the answer (I think). Either way, it is a good analogy to help the rest of us better understand what living with that sort of disease is like.

Brittney Cooper wrote a profile of Dr. Pauli Murray, a Black, queer, feminist legal scholar whose work Ruth Bader Ginsburg referenced and who has largely been forgotten. There is an interesting example of not appropriating work in the profile, too, in which Ginsburg gives proper credit to the people whose work she used in a brief.

I usually end with something funny... and this is funny in a LOLSOB sort of way: If critics wrote about male directors the way they are writing about Ava Duvernay.

In other news, I posted another kid's book we love over at my author site. And here's a drum that Petunia and I made together. If you have access to Nature Chemistry, you can also read a review of Navigating the Path to Industry. If you don't have access, the ebook is cheaper than even renting access to the review, so if you're curious you might as well just buy the book! This page includes all the links. The GumRoad option includes a PDF, if that is your preferred format.

And here is a proper light-hearted ending: the evolution of bunnies, in needlework.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

No Complaints

I have a bunch of little tidbits, none of them big enough for a post of their own. So I'll put them together even though they don't have anything more in common than the fact that they are bouncing around my brain at the same time.

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Every now and then, one of my kids has what I guess is a developmental leap. It seems strange to be using that term, which I associate with the baby and toddler phase, about my 5 and 7 year olds, but I think it is accurate. Anyway, I always feel about three steps behind when this happens.

We're in the midst of one of these periods with Pumpkin. My little baby who screamed if you tried to stop interacting with her for even a few minutes, the one who became a little girl who never wanted to play without an adult keeping her company, is now pushing for more independence. She wants to get email on her Kindle Fire. She wants to know when she can walk to and from school on her own. I struggle to explain that these things are complicated, and require us to work out new guidelines for her.

Mr. Snarky and I are trying to figure out what freedoms to give her, and what rules to have. And what potential bad things to explain. This is hard, and requires time we don't really have right now.

So what we'll probably do first is leave her alone in our house for a short period of time while I run up to the store. I told her she needs to practice answering the phone when I call, and then we'll work out a time to try this out.

Still, this is better than screaming every time I try to go to the bathroom. Come too think of it, she's even stopped barging in on me when I'm having my shower. I call that progress.

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I've decided I need to experiment more with advertising. I've run some campaigns for Tungsten Hippo in the past- it is my learning project, after all. But the results were sometimes hard to gauge since I'm not really selling anything on that site. I did some analyses based on number of hits on the website, or number of new subscriptions to the weekly digest newsletter, but I wanted something with more direct measures of what might make people actually spend money. So I decided to run an AdWords campaign for Navigating the Path to Industry. It hasn't been a direct financial success- I've spent a little more than I've made in additional sales. But that is itself an interesting piece of data. I've also learned about which keywords have performed the best, and I can take some of that information and tweak my other marketing material (namely, the book description on Amazon and the book's webpage).

So, maybe I need to set myself a slightly larger budget and do some more experiments and focus on the return in useful information than the return in dollars, at least for a little while.

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I need to do more yoga. There are all sorts of problems in my way. I can't find the right kind of class near me. This strikes me as ridiculous- I live in Southern California! There are yoga studios all over the place. By the fashionable yoga style right now is a very vigorous yoga, sometimes even combined with Pilates. The goal is exercise. That is not my goal. My goal is deep soft tissue healing. I prefer a yoga style that is sometimes called "restorative," in which the poses focus more on stretching and blood flow and you hold them for longer periods of time. The last class I had was with a bunch of septuagenarians (I am not exaggerating) but it is in a very inconvenient location for me now. I'm sure I can find a class. I just need to search harder and maybe accept a less convenient time or place.

In the meantime, I'm trying to restart my own practice at home. But my kids have other ideas. They construct elaborate "houses" out of our ottoman-like things and various toys. I never know what to call the ottoman-like things, so here is an old picture showing them:

Ottoman/coffee table things, with half of Pumpkin at 9 months
Once the kids got old enough to be a threat to the TV (or to have the TV be threat to them, before we upgraded to a wall mounted flat screen), we moved two of the ottoman things in front of our entertainment center. They have stayed there because we shove the cubes full of "kitchen stupps" (Petunia's mispronunciation of "kitchen stuff") under them, which  makes our living room look slightly less overrun with toys. But the kids pull them out and construct houses, and then there is o floor space.

I can't be bothered trying to describe a "house," either, so I posted a picture to my Crappy Things I Made to Stop the Whining tumblr, which also occasionally hosts things my kids have created. That particular house was from last month.

We don't typically make the kids clean up the living room every night, but since the living room is literally the only place in our house big enough to do a proper reclining twist position... this may need to change. If we do go ahead and add on another room, there will be space for some yoga in there, I think. But that is at best five months away from completion (and hasn't even been contracted for, let alone started). I don't think I can wait.

Along those same lines, I need to come up with a temporary solution to the storage problem in our current office, so that I can work at my desk again, instead of the dining room table. The light is nicer in the dining room, but the ergonomics are better at my desk and ergonomics needs to win. I have a old repetitive strain injury, and it is starting to flare up. I have finally learned to take the early warning signs seriously and make changes before I am unable to hold things that I can't afford to drop in my right hand.

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Petunia has been on a cleaning rampage (except of the current house in the living room, which she wouldn't take down so I had to do it). Last night, she wouldn't go to sleep. I gave up at 10 p.m. and came out and had a beer. As I was heading to bed a little before 11, she came out of her room, handed me the Kindle case I had left by her bed during my unsuccessful attempt to keep her company while she fell asleep, and then joined me in my bed for some more tossing and turning.

When we got up this morning, she showed us what she'd been doing between 10 and 11, when we assumed she was sleeping. She had cleaned her room.

Then tonight after dinner, she demanded I put a swiffer cloth on our swiffer and she swiffered the entire house, then berated me for not having a kid-sized broom so she could sweep, too.

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In short, my life is full of wonderful things and problems that I can only consider good problems to have. No complaints here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ups and Downs

Chinese New Year is this upcoming Thursday. A former colleague of my husband threw a party to celebrate, so we spent this afternoon and evening enjoying the chance to see some wonderful people we don't see very often these days and eating delicious food. We even got to help make some dumplings, although our technique was nowhere near the standard set by our hostess and the other Chinese people at the party. They were gracious about our ineptitude.

It was delightful... until Petunia announced that her "throat hurt" (her word for feeling like she's going to throw up). It was almost time to go, anyway, so I hurriedly got the kids ready to leave while Mr. Snarky said good-bye to everyone. I even dug a plastic bag out of my purse for the car ride home. Just in case. It wasn't needed, and Petunia is sleeping now. We'll see what the night holds.

The party was at a beautiful house in one of the nicest nearby parts of San Diego, up on a hill with a 180-degree view out to the ocean. Mr. Snarky and I used to live in the flatlands near the bottom of this particular hill (not that I'm complaining- that was when we lived walking distance to the beach!) and we would sometimes go for long walks over the hill and around the neighborhoods at the top of the hill, enjoying the view and gawking at the beautiful houses. This was obviously before we had kids, although Mr. Snarky would sometimes push Pumpkin in our jogging stroller around the same route, since she would only nap when in motion or on a person, and I was almost always desperate for a nap myself.

I remember walking past this house when it was getting renovated, so it was sort of surreal to be inside it. We spent some time out on the deck, enjoying a view of the marine layer that had rolled in. This was still beautiful. It was hard not to feel a little bit jealous.

Early in the festivities, we all walked to a nearby viewpoint. On the way back, Petunia told me that she liked the fancy house, but that she liked our house better, because that was where we played games and slept. It was sweet to hear. I actually like our house and our neighborhood a lot, and while I would love to have a deck with that view, I am reasonably content with our nice backyard with the big avocado tree.

We are, however, looking to add on to our house. We want a bigger office, and to move Petunia from her little room to the bigger room that is currently our guest room and office. I almost started that sentence as "we need..." but that is bunk. We don't need more space. We just want it. It will make our lives better, but our lives are pretty damn good as they are.

Anyway, we have been working with a design firm and have a design we like and think we can afford. We need to do our taxes to be sure. 2014 was an unusual year for us and we have pretty much no idea what to expect when we get our tax return completed.

Meanwhile, I really want the new office, so I can sit and work at a desk with a keyboard tray again. I legitimately need this bit to happen, as my current set up is not doing good things for my old repetitive strain injury. If we cannot afford the remodel, I will have to find a way to make this happen in our current office.

The uncertainty is frustrating, even more so because there is a voice in my head telling me that this would not be a problem if I hadn't quit my full time job. This may or may not be true, but it is irrelevant. Thankfully, I was reminded of this at the party today, too. One of the other guests was telling me about why his wife had quit her job at my husband's company- a company that my husband likes and thinks is full of good people. I recognized something about the story. Sometimes, a good company full of good people can still be all wrong for you. My former work situation was wrong for me, and the wrongness was overflowing to impact the rest of my family. Things are better now, whether or not we end up being able to afford the new office.

Still. I'm feeling a little extra motivation to get things moving. This morning, I finally wrote up and posted instructions for how to buy an ebook some place other than Amazon and load it onto your Kindle. This has been on my list of things to do at Tungsten Hippo since the beginning of the year. I sent an email about a potential contract. It would be small, but it would be a new client and that would be a good thing. I sent an email about a potential review of Navigating the Path to Industry. I also set up a trial Google AdWords campaign for the book. I have some good, specific keywords so I am cautiously optimistic that this will at least be an informative experiment.

As I was telling someone at the party, sometimes I am full of optimism about my new work goals. Other times, I wonder what the hell I've done. The trick, I think, is to write my to do lists during the optimistic times, and just keep trucking through them regardless of the ups and downs of my mood. So that's my goal for the next little bit: just keep on truckin'.

A decorated Pakistani truck. I found the photo via wikipedia.

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