Friday, October 31, 2014

Weekend Reading: The Happy (Halloween) Edition

It is Halloween, which means that I got almost no work done, because I had two Halloween parades to attend. But I am not complaining, because a colleague told me her kids have decided they are too old for Halloween and thinking about the fact that someday my kids will say that to me made me sad. I don't dress up, but I love to see the kids all dressed up. My daughter's K-8 school has a Halloween parade that everyone participates in, so I guess I can look forward to a lot more years of costumes- but I suspect at some point, my kids will tell me they don't really want me to come watch the parade.

So I went to both parades this year (our last one ever at day care and the elementary school one) and I got all misty-eyed at the cute kids like I always do. I have a 5 year old Elsa and a 7 year old detective this year. There were three Elsas at day care, and too many Elsas to count at the elementary school parade. But they were all awesome, and anyone who makes fun of the fact that so many little girls want to be Elsa needs to grow a heart, because the little girls all clearly loved their costumes. From what I saw today, I'd say first grade is peak Elsa, so anyone playing the "drink whenever Elsa comes to the door" drinking game tonight will be getting very drunk in the early part of the evening, and then will have time to sober up as the older kids come by.

Because of the awesomeness that is little kids on Halloween, I'm in the mood for happy things, so my links will be mostly happy stories, although some may have a dark overtone.

For instance, my first link is Arthur Chu's wonderful post about meeting Felicia Day, and GamerGate. It really is a great article. Go read it. Chu and Day both come across as really good people, and Chu has some very insightful points about how geek culture is changing due to things like GamerGate. Those angry troll dudes have no idea what they are destroying, they really don't.

Laralyn McWilliams wrote a really great piece about the lack of women in game development, and has been calmly and rationally answering the idiotic comments ever since. (I'm calling this happy because Laralyn so clearly ROCKS. But yeah, I know, it is a stretch.)

Here's a good piece about how we may be repeating the mistakes of the past in college computer science courses and reducing diversity in the field further. Oops. That one was not happy at all. So here, enjoy the comments on the Sexy PhD costume.

Here's some happy news about Ebola: it looks like they might be starting to get the outbreak under control in Liberia. If this trend holds, it is very good news indeed.

Also: this story about a mother and her brand new baby surviving Ebola made me so happy. I really, really wish we'd stop freaking out and instituting pointless quarantines here, and focus more on how to get better treatment to all Ebola victims in West Africa, so that we could have more happy stories like this one.

One of my favorite Twitter friends, who I think I've "known" since our kids were tiny and we were both hanging out in AskMoxie's comment section, has a book of poems coming out soon and a spruced up author website! Go check it out.

What could be happier than cute animals and cute babies? So here are some beautiful rabbits.

Here's Moon Cat:




Here's a cat staring at something:



If you have somehow managed to miss seeing Ruth Baby Ginsberg, here she is in all her awesomeness:




I'll end with some requests:

1. If you are on tumblr, either follow my Crappy Things I Made to Stop the Whining tumblr or post the link to your blog in the comments. I am looking for more tumblrs to follow! If you don't like crappy toys made out of cardboard, you could also follow my Tungsten Hippo tumblr. I'll follow back from there, too.

2. If you are on tumblr and are willing to help me spread the word about Petunia, the Girl Who Was NOT a Princess, reblog this post I made about it. Bonus: if you do that, you can enter the raffle to win a free copy of the book, a t-shirt, or a button. If you aren't on tumblr, sharing that post or the release day post via your favorite social media network would be hugely appreciated (and also worthy of a raffle entry). Just remember to drop by the release day post to enter the raffle.

3. I could use some more Amazon reviews of Petunia, and some more Amazon and/or blog reviews of Navigating the Path to Industry. If you'd be willing to do either of those things in exchange for an electronic copy of the relevant book, let me know, either in the comments or via email (wandsci at gmail dot com). Now that I have a print version of Navigating the Path to Industry available, I'm also considering doing a GoodReads giveaway- I'll keep you posted about that.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

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:

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.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Space Between

I expected a lot of things to change when I quit my job. One thing that has happened that I didn't anticipate, though, has been the way in which the entire family seems to have taken a deep breath and stretched into the space my change in work arrangements has created.

Pumpkin comes home from her after school care 30 minutes earlier most days. She is a complete bookworm these days, so she after we walk home, she gets herself a snack and then disappears into her book while I wrap up my work.

Mr. Snarky has started going for a run every weekday morning, except Mondays, when I get up early for a run or other short workout. Monday mornings are the only day of the week I can force myself to get up earlier than I absolutely have to these days.

Petunia is requesting- and getting!- more after dinner games. She is also requesting, but not yet getting, Mommy to pick her up from day care more often. Her day care is close to Mr. Snarky's work, not my home or any other work location I go to right now. She did get one of the periodic "special days" I do with each kid from time to time, though, and we had a blast.

And everyone is just more relaxed in the morning.

This is not a complaint- I don't really begrudge anyone the extra space. I've taken some of the space, too. I go for a run on Wednesday and Friday afternoons, as a mid-afternoon break (this is awesome both for my fitness levels and my ability to think of good and/or creative solutions to problems I'm working on). I can usually stop working early enough on Thursdays that I can go to my favorite spot for a nice long rollerblade while Pumpkin gets her Chinese lesson. I am reading more.

Still, I am keeping an eye on this trend, because it plays into one of my fears about my new, more independent work arrangement. I worry that without the external pressure of a boss and a full time job, it will be too easy to prioritize other things over my work, and this chance I've given myself to try to build something of my own will slip away.

On one hand, part of what I wanted when I quit my job was more freedom to optimize my time use globally, instead of in little local "work" and "home" namespaces.  On the other hand, both those namespaces are notoriously greedy.

I've decided to handle this by just acknowledging my fear, to both myself and Mr. Snarky. The kids are too young to really understand the issue, although I think Pumpkin halfway gets it. At least she can see the benefits of me getting the work stuff sorted out, if only so that she can again have an easy answer when people ask her what her mother does for work.

I'm also using time-tracking to try to keep me honest. I "charge" all of the hours I spend on work and work-related things (including blogging, which I call "work-like," since it has created the platform from which I have been able to launch other things). My goal is to make sure I get in at least 30 solid hours of charged time, which past experience tells me translates to roughly a 35 hour work week. I charge more time sometimes- for instance, in the run up to our vacation, or when I was pushing hard to get Navigating the Path to Industry released. But my past time-tracking experiments tell me that 35 hours per week is peak productivity for me, so that's what aim for.

The other tool I'm starting to use to make sure I don't let "home"  crowd out "work" is Trello. I decided to use Trello to organize my projects, mostly because I wanted to compare it to KanbanFlow and JIRA, both of which I've used and liked. It took me some futzing to figure out how best to use Trello for my current situation, but I eventually settled on a system that includes having a "master" board that I fill up from my various project boards once per month. What I put on the board is what I intend to do that month. It is early days, but this seems to help keep me focused, and to get me past issues I have with asking people for help (for instance). If I put it on my board, I have to do it and I push past my silly hang ups.

The final tool I'm using is a real surprise to me. I decided to write a monthly newsletter that focuses on starting my business. I'm only on my second month, but I'm settling into a format in which each newsletter has three parts: a story about starting/running the business, promos for whatever I've released in the last month, and links to things I've liked (including my favorite Tungsten Hippo recommendation of the month). Due to when I decided to start the newsletter, it comes out on roughly the second Friday of each month. When I sat down to do this month's newsletter, I was annoyed by the fact that I didn't have that much for the promo section. I anticipate that I'll be a bit more focused on getting things done and out there in the world in time for future newsletters- which is a good thing. (If you want to follow along on this part of the experiment, the newsletter is called Founding Chaos, and anyone can subscribe.)

So I think I've got some checks and balances in place to allow me- and everyone else in the family- to relax and enjoy the space I created. And that, frankly, is just awesome.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Happy, Fluffy Things

It has been a dark week on my Twitter feed. Normally, I love Twitter. I have learned so much from following people, and I have found people all over the world I consider friends. I am not ready to step away from it, but I also have to make sure that I limit the bouts of ugliness that I let into my life. It is a hard balance to find, and I haven't even had any of the ugliness directed specifically at me.

Anyway, I'm feeling like I need some happy, fluffy things. Also, I have the antsy feeling I get when I want to create something, and I'm having a hard time quelling it. I went through the little notebook I carry with me and use to jot down ideas, to see if I had any ideas ready to move closer to reality. I didn't really. I did transfer some ideas for kids' books into my digital ideas list, to make sure I don't lose them. While I was in that folder, I added some lines to the story I'm currently working on, but quickly got stuck again, so I went back to looking through my idea book.

I found a page on which I'd written some things Petunia-isms I didn't want to forget. These are definitely happy things. I can't remember if I ever made a blog post from them, and already some are in the past.

She doesn't call my Kindle a candle, anymore, or say "chopstick" when she means "chapstick." (She calls it lipstick now, anyway.)

I haven't asked her recently if she still wants a Yo Gabba Gabba bed when she grows up.

She still calls ketchup "checkup," though.

I also found a note about this song:



It is really good.

I don't have any notes in my book about Pumpkin, but there are a lot of happy things about her, too. She loves to read right now. Her current favorite books are the A to Z Mysteries,by Ron Roy. She's read some of them at least five times by now. I keep having to remind myself not to be frustrated by how slow she is to decide to try new series. She'll get there on her own time.

The title promises fluffy things, not just happy things. The fluffy things are bunnies. I love bunnies, but am sadly allergic to them and cannot have one as a pet. Since I now have a tumblr, I decided to follow some bunny tumblrs, so that I could vicariously enjoy other people's pet bunnies. Also, looking at cute bunnies cleanses some of the ugliness from my brain. If you, too, want to replace ugliness with bunnies, here are some particularly cute ones.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Weekend Links: The I Already Miss Seriouspony Edition

Let's start with the happy news, shall we? The first two reviews of Petunia, the Girl Who Was NOT a Princess are in, and they are good. Read more at  Today Wendy and It's a Jumble.

You can pre-order the book if you are so inclined.

This week, I tried out Facebook ads for Navigating the Path to Industry. It was an interesting experiment, but worth it only in the sense that I found the data about which versions of my ad people clicked on fascinating. I may write more about this at some point, but I will be looking at other ways to market the book. The Facebook ads were simply not cost-effective.

I love Atul Gawande's writing, and his book on mortality is looking like a must read. Here he is in the NY Times writing about handling the end of life.

I also love Roxane Gay's writing. Here she is writing about the price of Black ambition.

If you have not read Kathy Sierra's eloquent explanation of why she shut down her Seriouspony twitter account and went offline again, read it now. (That link goes to Wired's repost. It is identical to her original post, which she has said she may take down later.) 

Sierra's post is very important, because it clearly explains what so many women in tech and online fear: that success and visibility will bring harassment and threats, aimed not just at us but at our families. Look back at the prominent stories, and see what actions unleashed the fury: saying that it is OK to moderate blog comments (Kathy Sierra). Making videos that critique video games (Anita Sarkeesian). Tweeting about a juvenile and offensive joke (Adria Richards). Having made some games and then having the misfortune to have dated and then broken up with a vindictive asshole (Zoe Quinn).  

And yet, I keep reading men in tech say "it's complicated." No, it isn't. There should be nothing complicated about looking at what has happened to these women and saying it is wrong, and should not be tolerated. Threats are not an acceptable response to someone saying something you disagree with. Papering the internet with false stories about someone and her children is not an acceptable response to anything.

I remain frustrated by how so many people refuse to acknowledge what a chilling effect these cases and have on other women. I have known for as long as I have been active online that for me, success in this space brings with it the risk of harassment and threats that it just doesn't bring to my male counterparts. And yet, being online has also brought me wonderful opportunities, and in a very real way has made my recent career change possible. Beyond that, I have learned and grown from things I've read online and found via social media. I do not want to leave the internet.

I think that my particular interests are such that I am unlikely to find myself targeted, but the sad reality is that none of us is really safe. And I haven't reached what Sierra terms "the Koolaid point." It is impossible to predict what will happen if I ever do, but the evidence from other women's experience indicates that it will not be a uniformly good thing. This is the world that the tech guys have built, and I think that the fact that they are so overwhelmingly guys has a lot to do with why it has ended up this way. They simply do not understand the world in the same way that women do, because they do not move through the world with the same undercurrent of threat that women do. In some ways, the tech world is just a reflection of the misogyny in the rest of the world. It is not their fault that there are misogynistic jerks out there. But by refusing to take steps to limit the misogyny on the platforms they've built, they perpetuate and amplify it, and for that they are responsible. 

Kathy Sierra was able to separate her anger at how the man who attacked her behaved towards her from her assessment of his other activities. Why can't other people do the same? That's the minimum that I want to see: prominent men in technology straight-forwardly stating that the harassment and doxxing and threats are wrong, no matter what the women who are on the receiving end said or did, and no matter what other possibly laudable things the people (usually men) on the other end have done. This should not be hard, and yet apparently it is. I have been watching for those straightforward condemnations over the past few days, and have not seen as many as I would have hoped.

And then Julie Pagano, another prominent woman in technology, announced she has also decided to go offline.

The need to protect my own sanity and ability to persist in the work I want to do is why I disengage from the effort to improve the science and tech world from time to time. I cannot stop working on this altogether because I very much want to make this a safer, better world for my daughters and all the girls in their generation. But I have to preserve my ability to work and enjoy my life first and foremost. I am sad we are losing the online voices of Kathy Sierra and Julie Pagano, but I completely understand why they needed to go.

Michelle Goldberg writes in The Nation about what we might do to fix things. I love the title: There Is No Constitutional Right to Harass Women Online,because it calls out how people who refuse to condemn these attacks often hide behind "free speech." If you want to go on a rather depressing deep-dive into the subject,  Catherine Buni and Soraya Chemaly's article in the Atlantic is very good.

If you are a man who wants to starting working to make science and tech more welcoming to women, here's a list of things you can do.

I don't know why we're surprised that law enforcement isn't much help in handling online threats, when they apparently think it is OK to impersonate an actual real woman online, without her knowledge or consent.

I like to keep quotes around that help me through difficult times, or remind me what I think is important. Or just make me laugh. The quote I picked for Tungsten Hippo this week is a good one, particularly for a week like this.

This story about a boy who got to see the northern lights before he goes blind made me cry, but in a good way.

And now for the happy ending:

Over on Crappy Things I Made to Stop the Whining, I shared some recent improvements to two of our toy cars.

Speaking of tumblrs, the Worst Cats tumblr was pretty funny, but the existence of a  Worst Hippos tumblr makes it even better.

And speaking of animals, AWWWWW:


Tuesday, October 07, 2014

How We Plan Our Travel: The Gory Details

Now that I've finally finished writing up stories from our summer vacation, I can get back to a topic someone asked me to way back at the start of the stories- namely, how we plan and organize our trips.

Long time readers may remember that I touched on this a little bit several years ago, when I had a toddler and a preschooler instead of a preschooler and an elementary school kid. To be honest, much of that old post is still true. I think the biggest change is that we no longer try to schedule our driving for afternoon nap time, and we can get away with a few longer travel days now, particularly if we break them up with a visit to something fun after lunch, before the second leg of the drive.

Our most difficult travel struggle now is around food. Pumpkin is not the easiest child to feed even at home, and travel seems to make her even less willing to try new foods. We generally deal with this by buying portable foods that we deem acceptable meal substitutes (e.g., Go-Go Squeeze applesauces, granola bars, peanuts). We also try to have a lot of potential restaurants researched ahead of time (more on that below), and prioritize getting a good solid breakfast, since that is Pumpkin's best meal.

I think the request was primarily for me to write about how we accomplish item #1 on that old list of advice: planning like crazy. Before I launch into what we do, a few caveats:

  1. Eating issues aside, we have the extremely good fortune to have two very enthusiastic travelers for children. They don't mind sleeping in new hotels, and are generally up for exploring new places. They even like airplane rides. Believe me, I know how lucky we are in this regard, and we are grateful. 
  2. We are also lucky in that we can for the most part avoid the type of trip that my kids don't enjoy so much: the extremely long drive through not-so-interesting locales to get to a destination. The most difficult vacations we do in terms of travel are the ones in which we drive from our home in San Diego to my parents' home outside Phoenix. We generally split that into two 3 hour drives, and stay overnight in Yuma. 
  3. We have a lot of money, relatively speaking, and this definitely makes travel easier, in so many ways. We are very grateful for that, too.

So, to our method. Most of this is done by me, because I enjoy it. Mr. Snarky helps out on some parts, and also recognizes that even if it is a chore I mostly enjoy, it is still a chore, since it is a lot of work, benefits the entire family, and has a deadline.

Step 1: Defining the Framework for the Trip

The first thing we do is agree on an itinerary. We get a guidebook, do some internet reading, look at a map of the general locale we're thinking of visiting, and pick out some potential stops. When the kids get older, I hope to involve them in this. In fact, Pumpkin could probably be involved now, if I could find books written at the appropriate reading level.

Once we have a list of possible stops, I sit down with Google Maps and measure driving times between stops. This can sometimes go a bit combinatorial on me, as I consider various possible permutations of stops. At one point during the planning of the recent Colorado vacation, I just measured the driving time between every possible combination of a set of three or four destinations, wrote that down, and kept it on hand.

I kept it on hand because the next step is to book hotel rooms. Sometimes, lodging considerations force me to change the itinerary. Sometimes we have a fixed date mid itinerary, too- for instance, we decided early on that we wanted to spend the 4th of July in Aspen this year. Therefore, we booked that room first, and then I shuffled other options around until I had an itinerary that made sense with lodging we liked.

When I'm booking hotel rooms, I look for a hotel in which we can get a suite and that has some restaurants within walking distance. It works best if we can have breakfast at our hotel, too, either provided by the hotel or cold cereal made possible by a refrigerator in the room. We can't always get everything we want, of course, and then Mr. Snarky and I discuss and decide on the best compromise. This will get easier when our kids are old enough to allow us to relax our preference for a suite into a preference for a suite OR adjoining rooms.

Step 2: Filling in Detailed Options

Next, we list various things we might see and do at each stop, and also a range of restaurant options, with some near the hotel, some near the sights we might want to see, and sometimes some that are destinations in their own right. When I research restaurants, I still love to find brewpubs- both because they tend to be family friendly and because Mr. Snarky and I like to try local beers. I also find that Mexican restaurants are good options to include, as most are family friendly. Beyond that, I Google for family friendly restaurants in X, and see what I find. I also enter a location (our hotel or a point of interest) in Google Maps and then search for restaurants nearby, and check out their websites to see if I think there is food on the menu my kids will eat. It makes me very sad when restaurants don't include kids menus in their websites, but a lot don't. I just note that and include the restaurant anyway if I think it sounds interesting.

I also search for playgrounds close to our hotel and/or various points of interest. This is usually the hardest search I do. I will probably rant more about that in a later post.

The next step is to sketch out 1-3 potential plans for each stop. We are flexible and change plans on the fly, but it is nice to have a starting point. Mr. Snarky and I frequently revisit and revise these during the trip, over beers after the kids are in bed (one of many reasons we prefer to get a suite when we can).

I also sketch out potential plans for our travel days. I include potential lunch and snack stops, as well as the location of playgrounds at likely stopping points. If we're planning to stop for lunch mid-drive, I usually have a preferred destination and a destination roughly an hour earlier to fall back to if we hit traffic or anything else delays us. This is less essential now that Mr. Snarky and I both have smartphones and can do some last minute searching, but cell coverage is not always great, and I prefer to be prepared ahead of time if I can.

All of this information goes into a travel plan document, which lives in Google Docs (accessible anywhere!) but is also printed out and stored in our travel folder. Here is an excerpt of the travel document from the Colorado trip:

------------------
Colorado Summer Vacation


Arrive: [redacted]
SW flight 4782, transfer in Las Vegas to SW flight 1848


Leave: [redacted]
SW flight 2868

Car rental: Alamo reservation number [redacted]

.... (entries for each stop, and for any significant travel days between stops) ....

Colorado Springs


Arrive 7/7, stay 7/ 8, leave 7/9. Drive time from Alamosa: 2 hr 40 min


Weather: Highs in the mid 80s, Lows in the mid 50s; weather at top of Pikes Peak can be much cooler.


7290 Commerce Center Drive 1-719-599-9100


Priorities:


14k feet. Cog railway to the top. Railway leaves from Manitou Springs, which is a historic town w/mineral spring water fountains. Trips every 80 mins. Have reservations at 1:20 on 7/8


Cool rock formations. Several short hiking trails available.


The Broadmoor: http://www.broadmoor.com/
Fancy resort. Good restaurants. Paddleboating on Lake Cheyenne


Anaszi cliff dwellings, outside of Manitou Springs
Tours available 9-6
10 Cliff Rd.


Other Options:


Old Colorado City: historic district, now a shopping area: http://shopoldcoloradocity.com/


Restaurant Ideas:


Summit House at the top of Pikes’ Peak.
Run by Aramark, so probably nothing special.. but the only option at the top.


Crystal Park Cantina in Manitou: http://crystalparkcantina.com/
Mexican food, not clear if there is a kids’ menu
178 Crystal Park Rd, Manitou Springs


Colorado Mountain Brewing at Roundhouse (Manitou Springs): http://www.cmbrew.com/
Unclear if there is a kids’ menu, but they have woodfired pizzas and mac and cheese
Not far from Manitou Springs
600 S 21st St #180, Colorado Springs


The Margarita at Pine Creek: http://www.margaritaatpinecreek.com/
Near hotel. Closed Mondays. May not be a good choice w/kids, but looks interesting


Old Chicago: http://www.oldchicago.com/
Chain, with kids’ menu and a big beer list, walking distance from hotel


The Airplane Restaurant: http://www.theairplanerestaurant.com/
Restaurant is actually an old airplane, plus an adjacent room
1665 N Newport Rd, Colorado Springs


Trinity Brewing: http://trinitybrew.com/
Small kids’ menu, might be tough to find [Pumpkin] something, but food looks good.
1466 Garden of the Gods Rd W #184, Colorado Springs


Phantom Canyon Brewing: http://www.phantomcanyon.com/
Reviews say it is family friendly. Unclear on kids’ menu, but they have pretzels. Smoked Gouda soup gets rave reviews.
2 E Pikes Peak Ave, Colorado Springs


La Carreta
Well reviewed Mexican food, no online menu
35 Iowa Ave, Colorado Springs


Possible Plans:

Arrive early afternoon, and spend it in the Garden of the Gods. Visit the Manitou Cliff Dwellings Tuesday morning, have lunch in Manitou Springs, and then take the train up Pikes Peak at 1:20. If there is extra time one afternoon or evening, spend it exploring downtown or paddleboating at the Broadmoor.

-------------------------------

Step 3: Write it All Down and Keep the Documents Organized

The travel folder is a green folder (not sure why I picked green, but it is always green) that has our travel plan, print outs of our airline ticket receipts, our rental car confirmation, our hotel booking confirmations, and any other receipts or confirmations for prebookings. I label everything at the top and keep them papers in the order in which we'll need them. This makes it easy to find your confirmation number if a hotel clerk can't find you. I shuffle the pages to the back as we go past those stops. Over the course of the vacation, the folder picks up random other pieces of paper that we want to save, too, things like brochures and maps that will help Mr. Snarky remember the details when he is writing captions for our pictures.

The final piece of our method is the packing list. It is a list of things to pack for the kids and a few very important things for us (like my asthma inhaler and glasses). We assume that the grown ups can manage to pack their own clothes without a list, although sometimes I suspect that is a risky assumption, as packing can happen much later and in a more rushed fashion than we would like. Be that as it may, the list focuses on the clothes and other odds and ends the kids need. I look up the weather ahead of time, and then we decide how many short sleeve shirts, how many long sleeve shirts, etc., etc., each kid needs. We include toiletries, and when the kids were younger, the number of diapers we wanted to bring. Basically, this is the list to make sure we don't forget anything that would be overly annoying to replace. (We used to buy more diapers on site, but always wanted to make sure we had a healthy number for the trip and first night.)

The packing list came into being because we made our first major trip with Pumpkin back during the days when we weren't getting anywhere near enough sleep to be able to count on our mental abilities, and I was writing lists for everything.  It has been so helpful that it lives on even though everyone (usually) sleeps through the night now. Each new trip, we copy the list from the previous one, rename it and modify it. We print it out and check things off as we pack. Then, as we're on the trip and discover things we wish we'd brought, we write them on the list, with the intention of transferring them back to the electronic document when we get home, so that we won't forget the next time.

Step 4: Go on Vacation and Have A Lot of Fun!

And we do. Our trip plan document is helpful in averting meltdowns and coping with surprise changes. Not all meltdowns can be averted, of course, but I still think I at least have more fun on the trip having done the preparation ahead of time.

------------

At this point you are either sitting at your computer staring at your screen in horror at our over the top organization, or thinking which bits to steal for your own over the top organization. Either way, I feel it is only fair to confess that despite all of this organization, the odds are still only 50-50 that we will remember a bottle opener for the beers we drink in our hotel rooms after the kids are in bed. We've developed a rather impressive collection of souvenir bottle openers as a result.

Feel free to point and laugh in the comments, or to tell us about how you plan and organize your trips.

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