Friday, November 29, 2013

Weekend Reading: The Thankful for the Internet Edition

In honor of Thanksgiving, this week I have some links that show why I'm thankful for the internet. (Yes, I'm old enough to really remember the time before the internet- I first fired up a browser in graduate school!)

There is a kickstarter for a role-playing game based on the novels of Jane Austen. I am not sure it would be prudent for me to get involved in such a game, but I love that someone is trying to make it. The internet makes it possible.

I find more quirky and delightful cartoons thanks to the Internet. Here is one that made me laugh recently.

I love this typewriter bench. I would go visit if only the internet would tell me where the heck it is.

I have learned a lot from things I've read on the internet. And I've found a lot of things that really make me think. Here is a recent example, which I probably should have found a way to include in Wednesday's post.

I am thankful for all of the delightful things I find on the internet, serious or not so serious.

I found The Cyberflâneur blog via my Tungsten Hippo twitter feed. It is delightful.

I found Strange Maps via The Cyberflâneur, and it is also delightful.

I continue to love Stochastic Planet. Recent photos have been beautiful and interesting.

And of course, I am thankful for all of you who read this blog and talk to me on Twitter. Thank you for the funny comments, interesting conversation, and for making me feel at home in my little corner of the internet.

Are you thankful for the internet? Tell me why in the comments.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Toys, Disruption, Arrogance and Finding the Middle Ground

A couple of weeks ago, the start up toy company GoldieBlox put out a YouTube ad. I, like many others, liked it and shared it, even though the ad barely shows the toy it is meant to be promoting, and when it does show it, it is used in a manner completely unlike what is suggested by the materials that come with the toy. Still, the ad's message and execution were good.

Then we heard that the Beastie Boys were suing over the use of the song "Girls." Or were they? It turned out that Goldieblox sued first. (The ad has now been removed, so if you didn't get a chance to see it, you're out of luck now.)

There was a lot of discussion about whether or not the actual toy is any good. Some people said yes, others said no. A negative review from a 10 year old popped up a few times in my feed. We do not own one of the GoldieBlox kits, so I cannot give you a review from my kids. From what I know, the 10 year old makes some good points. However, I think the kits are aimed at kids much younger than 10, and perhaps they are more interested in what it offers. More broadly, I suspect that like most toys, some kids will like GoldieBlox and some won't. Is that distribution weighted more one way or the other for GoldieBlox? I don't know. It looks like a fairly standard building toy to me, with a slant to include a simple machine (which is good) and some link to story-telling, which is supposed to make toys more appealing to girls. (GoldieBlox is not alone in doing this- LEGO cited girls' supposed tendency to want to tell stories with their toys as part of the research that went into the design of the Friends' sets that had so many people up in arms a couple of years ago.)

Do girls really like to tell stories with their toys more than boys? I don't know. My girls both construct elaborate fictional worlds. Pumpkin prefers to be part of the world she builds, and tends towards role-playing games (she loves playing school, for instance). Petunia seems to like to control the entire world, and gravitates toward setting up vignettes with various dolls and figurines. I've always assumed boys do this, too, just using the toys that the world deems are OK for them, i.e., cars and action figures.

The thing is, a toy doesn't have to be the be all, end all building toy for girls to be a good toy. It can bore some kids and thrill others. Kids are not all the same, not even within the narrow gender-based confines society has built for them. Pumpkin loved puzzles. Petunia was so-so on them, but adores trains. Even in a perfect world free of all gender bias, some girls won't want to be engineers. Some boys don't want to be engineers. That's OK. 

Maybe we should worry less about trying to lure little girls into an engineering interest and focus a little more on trying not to repel the ones who have that interest. 

We also don't have to look for one toy to be the savior of little girls. There are a lot of toys out there that can help build the skills kids need to do well in math and science later. You can find more by going to the toy store, thinking about your kids' interests, and finding toys that appeal to those interests but also provide opportunities to develop spatial reasoning, pattern recognition, and other math-like skills.

I also started seeing tweets linking the company to "typical arrogant Silicon Valley start up behavior" or something like that. That may be a fair criticism. The world of tech start ups does have a fair amount of hubris. I have read many things written over the years by techies who think that they know how to "fix" some other industry, even though it is pretty clear that they don't actually understand the years and years of accumulated knowledge about what works and what doesn't in that industry. Andy Grove was sure he had the breakthrough ideas to "fix" drug discovery, but a lot of his ideas were just laughable to anyone who knows anything about trying to develop a chemical that will have a desired effect on the human body without also having a slew of other, far less desirable effects. More recently, the founding father of MOOCs has admitted that his ideas did not work in the actual real world educational environment.

Then there is the case of 23andMe, who recently received a ruling from the FDA telling them that they must stop selling their testing kits. It is not 100% clear to me what happened, but from what I have read it seems like they thought the FDA regulations were just another thing in need of disrupting. Maybe they are, but they carry the force of law and to willfully flout them was crazy if it wasn't arrogant. This is particularly puzzling to me since the biotech downturn has no doubt freed up many talented people in the San Francisco area with expertise in regulatory affairs, who would have been able to help 23andMe develop a more realistic regulatory strategy. (If you need a reminder of why the FDA might need to regulate the personal genomics industry, consider what might have happened if a less tech-savvy person had found the bug Lukas Hartmann describes finding in his results.)

On the other hand, though, the tech world does produce a lot of good ideas, and has developed real expertise in many areas that would be beneficial to other industries. But no one will listen to the arrogant asshole who stands outside the room and loudly tells the people inside that they are a bunch of idiots in need of disruptive technology. Instead, the people on the inside will muster their arguments against the new ideas, and fight to reject them wholesale. If that is what happens, then I think we all lose out.

Every human endeavor has unique characteristics. They don't all behave like a tech start up and they certainly don't all operate under the same rules and regulations as a tech start up. In many cases, directly applying tech start up ideas in other fields is likely to cause a lot of pain, and then fail. But completely ignoring the ideas that come out of the tech world risks missing an idea that truly can change how your industry functions, and make it better. 

Surely there is a middle ground, where we can recognize the complexity that makes life so interesting, and be open to new ideas but not dismissive of the accumulated knowledge in established industries. I want to find and inhabit that middle ground.

And GoldieBlox? We've decided to give it a pass. My kids already have a lot of building toys, which they love. I am, however, considering a buildable Barbie house
for Christmas. That doesn't mean GoldieBlox is a terrible toy. It just means that it isn't the right toy for us.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Eyeless Rabbits and Other Curiosities

This week's Tungsten Hippo post is about how our current "mash up" age might not be as unique as we think it is. It is inspired by ideas from a couple of different short ebooks. It is not long, and I feel like perhaps there is more to the topic than I have understood at this point. I'm still thinking about it, but decided to go ahead and post what I have now, anyway. Maybe there will be some follow up posts later.

And that's about all I have this weekend. Mr. Snarky came home on Thursday. It is good to have him home. He brought the kids a couple of Manga dolls (which they love) and some colorful Hello Kitties (also loved, and currently riding in the back of a dump truck). He also brought them yukatas, which made them squeal with glee. The girls are ridiculously cute in them, but I have no idea what we'll do with them now that we have pictures of them being cute in them. He brought me a rabbit, which is appropriate because I collect rabbit things, and like to find interesting rabbits to buy when I travel.

I was initially puzzled as to why it lacks eyes, but between @BetsyPhd and the day care teacher who is Japanese-American, I have learned that it is a daruma doll. I am supposed to draw one eye in and make a wish. When the wish comes true, I can draw in the other eye. I haven't decided if I'm going to do that yet, but I'm enjoying thinking about what wish I might make.

What do you think? Should I leave it eyeless? Or attempt to add the eyes?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Weekend Reading: The Outrage Edition

Roxane Gay had an interesting article at Salon about why we need internet outrage.

So I thought I'd link to some of the things that are outraging me lately.

The growing level of economic inequality, and the way we let corporations like WalMart and MacDonalds off the hook, saying that they "can't afford" to pay decent wages. Yet somehow they can afford massive salaries for their top executives. We all talk about it being a free market and forget that we have the power to set some of the rules of that market.

The fact that we are heading toward a post-antibiotic age, and we refuse to take steps to stop it. If that doesn't outrage you, read this news story from New Zealand which should scare you. Some patients are already living in the post-antibiotic age, and it isn't pretty. (One quibble with the first article: there are companies working on this problem. Cubist comes to mind, and they recently bought two San Diego biotechs working in the area: Optimer and Trius.)

The NSA and security theater and the spineless/clueless politicians who have enabled this. I think the people charged with identifying threats need some new tools in this age, but we should get to have a debate on what is acceptable. And that debate needs to include people who actually know how the internet works.

Misogyny and the way women are told to just ignore it and not worry about it because most internet trolls don't act on their threats.

Sexual Harassment, and how so many men choose to not see it and try to find "alternate explanations" for the things women experience.

The way some men can't stand the idea of having a job title that a lot of women also have, so they come up with another title for the same damn work.

George Zimmerman and the fact that only know are we taking away his damn guns (and only temporarily). Enough said.

Umm... happy weekend? Sorry for the downer set of links. I'll try for some happy stuff next week.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Manicure Monday Thoughts

Today, a bunch of scientists took over the #ManicureMonday hashtag that Seventeen magazine had set up. The takeover was instigated by Hope Jahren, and was meant to be all-inclusive. Anyone could play. So I decided to play along, even though I haven't had an actual manicure since my wedding day (8+ years ago).

There were a lot of great photos.This one may be my favorite:

And there was some discussion, about whether the takeover was a good thing or not, since the relative prevalence of unmanicured hands (like mine!) and the comments about real hands, doing real science might be taken by some as a putdown of women and girls with manicured hands.

David Wescott also asked a question that made me think. We had probably gotten Seventeen's attention. What did we want?

The question wasn't directed to me, but I tweeted some thoughts about what I would want. Tweets are never long enough for topics like this, and I feel like expanding on those thoughts. None of this is meant to be a criticism of any of the scientists involved in #ManicureMonday. I have thoroughly enjoyed looking at everyone's pictures and reading the snippets about what people do.

As I mentioned in my tweet, the reason my fingernails are short is because I play the fiddle. I don't play often these days, but back in my formative years, I practiced an hour most days, and played in orchestra for another hour or more. I played the viola back then, and was semi-serious about it. There were girls in my orchestra who wore their nails longer than they should have for playing stringed instruments, but I was not one of them.

This does not mean I was immune to the social impacts of unmanicured fingers- and yes, there were social impacts. I would sometimes try to paint my nails anyway, but that always looked a bit strange. Nails kept short for playing strings are kept really short, otherwise you tend to play out of tune, have bad vibrato, and a poor bow hold. I sometimes let my left thumbnail and right fingernails grow longish, but that also looked strange.

Mostly, I had short, unpolished nails and felt the scorn of the popular girls whose fingernails were long and always painted.

I'm not saying this was a major pain point in high school, but it was real, and I can remember some of the specific comments about my nails all these years later.

So, I can understand and feel a certain camaraderie for the women whose Manicure Monday tweets were defiantly unmanicured. It is nice to revel in something that was once reviled.

However, I can also understand the women who thought those tweets might be off-putting for young women considering science careers, as if we were saying that there is no place in science for frivolous pursuits like fancy manicures.

I feel a certain camaraderie for those women, too. Upon graduating high school, I left the world in which anyone gave a damn about whether my fingernails were polished behind. I entered the University of Chicago unsure of my major, but was smitten by my first chemistry class, and soon declared as a biochemistry major. Most of my classes where in the chemistry department, and most of my classmates were male. I don't think they always remembered I wasn't also male, except when they were looking for an explanation for why I won an award or scholarship that they did not win. They would often talk to me as if I were one of them, disparaging women whom they didn't think were "serious" enough and laughing at the sartorial choices of our sole female chemistry professor. I preferred that to the other extreme, when some male classmates would assume I didn't have a clue about the coursework because I had long blond hair and sometimes wore skirts.

When I took the graduate level biochemistry course my major required, I would often bump into the graduate teaching assistant on the way in to class, since we lived in the same part of the neighborhood. From that, a rumor sprung to life that my high grades in that class were due to the fact that I was sleeping with that TA (I was not, in fact, sleeping with the TA, and my high grades were due to the fact that I was good at biochemistry).

After college, I went off to graduate school in sunny San Diego, which was quite a delight after suffering through four Chicago winters. So I dusted off my mini skirts and started wearing them again. Until, that is, I overheard some of the other women graduate students calling me "Barbie."

That first year of graduate school was the closest I have ever come to abandoning my STEM focus. Years of never feeling like I fit in were taking their toll, and my confidence that I could be a "real" scientist was faltering. Really, the reason I ended up staying was that I didn't know what else I would do. I also met a man who took my work seriously and also thought I was attractive. (That man is not my husband, but the description also fits my husband. That is not a coincidence.)

So I am all for science being a bit more welcoming of women who want to do stereotypically female things, like paint their nails and wear mini skirts.

What I really want is for the state of our fingernails not to mean anything at all. Fingernails don't need to be painted for your hands to be pretty, hands don't need to be pretty for you to be feminine, and women don't have to be overtly feminine to be valuable and lovable.

On the flip side, women can paint their nails and follow fashion trends and still be serious scientists.

By complete coincidence, the quote I have up over on Tungsten Hippo this week is an appropriate one. It is from Coke with a Twist, by A. R. Hartoin: "For the record, pretty doesn't equal weak." Pretty doesn't equal stupid, either, and the world would be a lot better place if we all remembered that.

While we're at it, maybe we can all work on remembering that most people have multiple interests, and there should be absolutely nothing incongruous about a cheerleader who is also an awesome mathematician.

Long time readers know that Pumpkin is into cheerleading. She loves it. She tells me she is going to do it "forever." We'll see about that. But if she does indeed continue with cheer "forever," that is fine with me. I am officially no longer rolling my eyes behind her back about this interest. The cheerleaders at my high school may have looked down on girls like me, but I know better than that. I will not return the sentiment.

Pumpkin loves princesses and Barbies. She likes cheerleading and is particularly proud of her high kick and her "arrow arms." She is also fluent in Spanish, reads in English and Spanish at well above grade level, is really, really good at math, and is extremely proficient with her LEGO. It kills me that as she gets older, peer pressure and the stereotypes in our society will try to make her choose between her academic interests and her other interests. That is wrong.

And don't tell me that it won't happen. One of the saddest things about #ManicureMonday for me was the woman who tweeted that she didn't think she could participate in the taken over hashtag, because she wasn't a scientist, as if we women scientists are some sort of breed apart and can't even share a hashtag with the rest of womanhood.

In fact, Seventeen Magazine apparently decided to move to a new hashtag, unpolluted by us scientists.

What a missed opportunity.

What do I wish Seventeen Magazine would do in response to the science takeover of their hashtag? Find some of the examples of scientists with awesome manicures and highlight them. Tell the world that you can be a scientist and like to paint your nails. Help to fight the stereotypes. Don't leave the seventeen year old girls to fight them on their own. If they do that, I won't fight it when my daughters start wanting to buy their magazine. I may even buy them their first copy myself.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pleasant Surprises

The radiologist did finally return from the long weekend and confirm that Petunia's arm was broken. However, when I took her to the orthopedist, we got some good news. Her arm was indeed broken, but it was not a bad break, and he thought she'd only need to wear a cast for 2-3 weeks, and she can go straight back into her activities once the cast is off. Since one of those weeks is Thanksgiving week and gymnastics and soccer class are canceled that week anyway, this greatly simplifies the decision of what to do about our classes. We do nothing and just start up again in December.

Petunia is doing fine with the cast. She puts up with the inconvenience it introduces without complaint, and likes showing it off to her teachers and friends. She runs around just like usual- so much so that I find myself having to remind her that her balance is a bit different with the cast on. I don't want her to fall and break the other arm, after all.


My Tungsten Hippo post this week is about how the site got its name. If you were one of the people who wondered about that, now you can know- just click over and read the story!

As I say in the post, I'm currently trying to work my way up a steep learning curve about using social media to market a website. Facebook gave me some advertising credits, so I used those and now have enough likes on my page to get to see analytics. So far, that hasn't been particularly informative, but it is nice to know that some small number of people are seeing my posts there.

I clearly have a lot left to learn about using Facebook to reach people, but I have at least started to make some progress. It will be interesting to see if my number of followers continues to grow now that my ad campaign is over. I suspect not. I am currently thinking about how much money I am willing to invest in this little project. Regardless, I think the next thing to try is some Google ads, so my Facebook followers will probably remain at 42 for the time-being. Since I am a Douglas Adams fan, that amuses me.

I've also accumulated a small number of Twitter followers, and am slowly working to add more. I have a plan of sorts for how to do that. It is taking time, but at least I have some direction. Twitter is the social media platform I actually use the most, so I guess it is not surprising that it is the one I feel most confident about using for Tungsten Hippo.

On Tumblr and Pinterest, I'm really lost. I don't think my content is currently visual enough to be a natural fit for either of those platforms. I am browsing around, trying to get my head around how people use those platforms, and trying things out to see if I can land on something that works. Given my theory that short eBooks should appeal to parents with limited time to read and the statistics about women reading more than men, Pinterest seems like the better fit for Tungsten Hippo. But there are a lot of fun book-related Tumblrs out there, so I stay somewhat active on Tumblr just so I can follow those. Also, I sometimes find interesting things I can use as content on one of the other networks.

I obviously don't have enough time to really work these networks. I miss a lot of great things, I'm sure. However, one of the pleasant surprises about the Tungsten Hippo project is how much cool stuff I've found just by growing my social network in a new direction. Here are some of my favorites:

Mr. Snarky left on his business trip yesterday. So far, the kids and I are doing OK. My sister came over yesterday to accompany us to Pumpkin's cheer event, and while I'm glad she came along, I think I could actually have managed on my own if I'd had to. Pumpkin and a bazillion other little girls (the cheer school runs programs at several elementary schools) ran onto the field waving their pom poms and proceeded to do a cheer and a dance routine. It was cute. Pumpkin was proud of the high kicks and forward rolls she did. I agreed they were good.

As I sat watching the first half of the game, waiting for Pumpkin to do her thing so we could go home, I was struck by the fact that this was my first ever college football game. My college wasn't a sports powerhouse, and I was never big on sports. My grad school didn't even have undergrads. It amuses me that the thing that finally made me go to a college football game was my six year old's love of cheerleading.

My sister stuck around for awhile after we got home, which gave me time to go do the grocery shopping without having to drag the kids along. That was a major help. In fact, let's call that another pleasant surprise, because I was dreading the shopping trip this weekend. The kids loving grocery shopping with me and actually behave quite well, but the amount of time it takes to shop increases exponentially with the number of kids accompanying me, and anytime I shop with both of them, sometime around the dairy section I just want to scream.


Thanks to my sister's help and the kids' good behavior, I was able to get most of our chores for the weekend done yesterday, so we had time to go do something fun today. After some deliberation, they decided they wanted to go to the zoo and ride the Skyfari. So that is what we did. Despite what seemed like an eternity spent getting everyone dressed and sunscreened, we got there so early that a lot of things weren't open yet.

This amused me
As promised, we rode the Skyfari.

We rode it both ways, because there was no line at the top station.

This is not posed. They both spent both rides peering over the side.

We also saw some animals, climbed on some animal sculptures, ate lunch, and rode on the Balboa Park Railroad just outside the zoo.

Metal animals are the best kind
I drew the line at the merry-go-round, though, and said they'd have to wait for some other weekend to do that.

So I'd have to say that so far, the temporary solo parenting is going better than I expected it would. I end the weekend more tired than usual, but not unusually frazzled. We'll see what I say after tomorrow (swim lessons) and Tuesday (parent-teacher conference day).

How about you? Had any pleasant surprises recently?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Weekend Reading: The Do It for the Kids Edition

Like pretty much everyone with an internet connection, I was touched by the #SFBatKid thing today. If you somehow managed to miss it, SFGate (or the Gotham City Chronicle) has the story.

This was probably my favorite picture from the day. I love that his little brother got to play along, too.

And this tweet... well, this tweet made me cry a little:

He is right. I saw so many tweets about this event restoring faith in humanity and the like.

So what I wish we could do is harness that big-heartedness that made a bunch of people create the best day ever for one little kid, and try to create better everydays for all little kids.

We can start by letting them be who they are, and not let our grown-up issues get in the way.

We could make sure they can eat, and restore full funding to SNAP. Reading the stories about the people who rely on food stamps, it makes me angry how quickly we have all moved on after the program's funding was cut. In the meantime, here is a nice holiday campaign to help out some vulnerable families. (h/t to AskMoxie for posting about the campaign.)

But really, what I want most is for the love and support that Batkid got today to be there for every kid, everyday, even if it doesn't always manifest in such a flashy way.

And that's all I have for this week.

Oh, OK, that and someone trash-talking The Sound of Music. Just because I am still scarred by playing in the pit orchestra for a production of it in high school.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dig Down Deep

I'm not sure how I'm going to pull all my thoughts tonight together into a coherent blog post. That's never stopped me from writing a post before, though, so why let it stop me now? I'll do my best, and you've been warned....

First, the easy part. I have a new post up over at Tungsten Hippo with my top five reasons for reading short eBooks. It is, appropriately, quite short, so you can go check it out and be back here before anyone notices you're gone. Hint, hint.

I had written the majority of that post earlier this week, and it is a good thing, because our weekend, which was already verging on overpacked, took an unexpected turn yesterday when Petunia broke her arm. Except we didn't know right away that she broke her arm, so we let the poor girl sit around with a broken arm for a couple of hours before I took her to the doctor.

We were at a birthday party when it happened. It was a party for one of Pumpkin's friends from school, but Petunia had been having a great time. It was a costume party, so she got to dress up (she decided to wear last year's Halloween costume, which was a zebra). There was a pony giving rides, and another pony pulling a carriage ("like Cinderella!" Petunia said). An ice cream truck came by and I caved and bought her a fudge bar. There was a little house she could play in, and an old Radio Flyer rocking horse that she adored.

And there was a jumpy. At first, there were too many big kids in the jumpy for her to go in, but she waited until she big kids got distracted by a costume competition, and then she got in and jumped and jumped and jumped.Then the big kids started coming back, and it was getting a little to rough in there for her, so she got out. She was sitting on the inflated step into the jumpy, waiting while I picked up her shoes to put on her, when one of those big kids also decided to get out. He came out enthusiastically, in a head first dive, and he created a catapult-type effect on the inflated stair. Petunia bounced up and off the stair. I dropped her shoes and managed to keep get close enough to keep her from hitting the ground head first, but she fell hard and awkwardly on her right arm.

She cried and cried and cried. I don't think I've ever seen her cry so long. She eventually snuggled into me, and let me hold her until she stopped crying, and then she fell asleep. She woke up about fifteen minutes later, but I held her for the rest of the party. She perked up a little when it was time for cake, but she barely ate any of her cupcake. We left as soon as Pumpkin was done with her cake. Once we got home, I was able to take Petunia's shirt off and inspect her arm, and I couldn't really tell if anything was wrong. It was maybe a little swollen, but not a lot. She could move her fingers and stretch out her arm. She let us touch her arm without complaint, but she said her arm still hurt.

I was worried, so I called the nurse line. They couldn't rule out a break, so I took her to urgent care, expecting to get an x-ray and confirm that she was fine. The x-rays, however, came back showing a buckle fracture in her forearm.

Waiting for the splint to set
We'll get the final read on the x-rays from the radiologist tomorrow or Tuesday (no one knew if the radiologists would be working on Veteran's Day), and assuming that confirms the break, we'll get a referral to pediatric orthopedics for a cast to replace the splint they put on in urgent care.

Petunia has adjusted remarkably well to having the cast on, and was running around and playing happily today. Mr. Snarky and I are trying to figure out what to do about her activities. Obviously, she cannot go to swim lessons or gymnastics for the next 6-8 weeks. We suspect soccer (which just started on Friday) will be out, too. We're not sure if we'll need to pay for her spot in those lessons anyway, to keep it open for her return. We're not sure if we will pay if the various organizations tell us we need to do so, or if we'll just stop paying and take our chances on there being a spot for her in six weeks. We'll have to sort that all out this week, in addition to getting Petunia to at least one doctor's appointment.

To make matters more complicated, Mr. Snarky leaves on a business trip on Saturday morning, so even though Petunia won't be doing gymnastics or swim lessons, she'll have to come along to them. I'm not sure how that will go. And if there are follow up doctor's appointments, I'll have to be the one who handles them for that week, even though this is a very busy time of year for me, and that is compounded by the fact that my company is moving at the beginning of December.

In short, I'm feeling a bit logistically overwhelmed, and have basically stopped making decisions. I need to snap myself out of that ASAP, though- Pumpkin has a cheer event at a college football game on Saturday, and I need to figure out the plan for going to that. My sister has volunteered to come along to help me entertain Petunia while watching the game and waiting for Pumpkin's big moment on the field. Mr. Snarky is quite sad he'll miss this event, since he has yet to go see a football game, and was looking forward to it. I am not at all a football fan, and never was, not even before the current controversies over concussions and players being assholes, so I am less excited about the "opportunity" to watch a game. But Pumpkin is excited enough about the chance to perform a cheer in public to cover the excitement quotient for the entire family, so we'll go and it will no doubt be fun.

(Yes, Pumpkin does cheer at her school. Don't get me started on that. She loves it, and it is cute, and I guess if it turns out she's still into it by the time there is an actual cheer squad to try out for I'll deal with that, but I cannot really believe I have produced a daughter who likes cheerleading- it seems so improbable.)

Anyway, Petunia breaking her arm just feels like one more thing in a string of things that have been piling on and making me figure out a plan, and I find myself all planned out. I'm not sure what the remedy is for that.

I don't really feel justified in asking the universe to cut me a break already, because frankly, I am well aware of the fact that it really, truly has cut me a break. Looking on a global scale and/or a historical scale, I am leading an unbelievably lucky life. This is particularly obvious right now, when the news is full of coverage of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda.

So I will find a way to get my act together and deal with the logistical issues, new and old. At times like this, I find myself thinking of a song by Marc Cohn, called Dig Down Deep:

Mr. Snarky likes Marc Cohn, and at one point, the CD got left in the car long enough for this song- or really the refrain- to worm its way into my brain.  I don't think the song is actually all that appropriate for the feeling I get of needing to just take a deep breath, grow up, and get on with it- but that refrain is. So I'm off to get some sleep. Tomorrow, I'll get up and dig down a little deeper.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Weekend Reading: The Awesomeness Edition

I have things in my list of links to share that aren't full of awesomeness, but I think I'll just save those for another week. I've had a very frustrating week in which all of the time I had reserved to work on performance reviews for my team (due Monday!) got eaten up by a problem that was supposed to be the responsibility of a different group, but kept boomeranging back to me. Guess who's working on performance reviews this weekend? I could rant further, but not without breaking some of my rules for blogging, so I won't.

I fear that if I include any of the links I have on serious topics, I will devolve into ranting, because there were too many things in my links and in the news that remind me how screwed up and unfair our world can be.

Instead, I will remind myself of the awesomeness in the world, and in doing so, I will share it with you.

First, a story about an opera performed in LA's Union Station, amongst unsuspecting commuters.

This poem about a scene in an airport lounge restores some of my faith in humanity.

I love this bunny. OK, I love all bunnies. But this is a particularly smart one.

Periodically, my husband gets emails intended for someone else with the same first initial and last name (xkcd covered a similar scenario recently). Tonight, one of those emails arrived, and it had a link of such delightful absurdity that I have to include it. I give you: 15th Century Flemish Style Portraits Recreated in the Airplane Lavatory.

I am a bit jealous. I also occasionally get emails for someone else. My name is more common than my husband's so the emails I get are for someone else with my same first and last name. But they are just about a community theater and never contain links to toilet paper art.

This video comes from Mr. Snarky, too, but he found it on his own, without the help of mysterious correspondents.

As always, you are welcome to leave additional awesomeness in my comments.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Ask Cloud: Resources for Someone Looking to Learn Management

I have another Ask Cloud post for you, and this one is a hard one:

I'm a scientist in an academic environment who has increasing management responsibilities.  You've commented on this some before, but I was wondering if you might have some advice on books or MOOCs that could provide insight in to managing projects and people?  I ask about MOOCs, besides just books, because for some of my ideas about where my career might go, I think that having a record of management training could be useful.  If I took a MOOC, I could add it to my resume, rather than just 'I read XYZ book'.  

Thanks for any advice on this and all the other great advice you give!


As I said, this is a hard question, because there is not a lot out there about managing science, either from a people management of a project management standpoint.

Back in 2012, I posted some reading suggestions about project management, and I think those are still good. I asked a few project mangement-minded types at work, and we couldn't come up with any science-specific project management books. (And yes, I know, this means that I could still write one. I am on the fence about that. It would be a pretty big undertaking, and I'm not sure it would be worth the effort.)

Out of curiousity, I did an Amazon search, and I did find one book about managing scientists: Managing Scientists: Leadership Strategies in Scientific Research, by Alice Sapienza. I have no idea if it is good or useful. If you know, please tell us in the comments!

Of course, I've written a few things about project management on this blog. I actually have an offer to write more about project management and management in general elsewhere (for money, even!) but that is stalled in my company's broken process for approving outside projects. Assuming I eventually get that unstuck, I will soon have more to say about management in science, and will of course let you know when and if that happens. 

Anonymous was hoping for something for the resume, though, and for that, a class is better than a book or a blog post. I am not aware of any relevant MOOCs, and my searches did not turn up anything I could recommend. All of the management classes seemed focused on strategy and not on operations, and I think for what Anonymous is after, operations is the more relevant area. However, my questions to my colleagues did turn up something useful: one of my colleauges had done a Biotechnology Project Management Certificate program run jointly by the UC San Diego and University of Washington Extensions, and thought that the classes were mostly useful. This will cost money, but is online.

My own formal project management training came via the large contracting company that decided to turn me into a project manager. Those classes were useful for that particular job, but are not all that useful for what I do now, because they emphasized formal project management techniques that I find ill-suited for the sort of projects I run these days. It is true, though, that I draw on some of the ideas (particularly about identifying dependencies and risk management) to help me in my current job. Since there don't seem to be any options specifically relevant to science project management, I think that taking a class or two on traditional PMBOK-style project management might be useful as something more than just a resume enhancement exercise. However, I think you'd want to take what you learn in those classes and seriously tailor it for the research and development environment. The full PMBOK method would be stifling in a research environment.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the more agile methods of project management that are in the ascendancy in the software development world (scrum, kanban, lean startup ideas...) and how they might be applied to research project management, and perhaps even reach into the early stages of drug development. If your interest is in finding techniques to help improve lab productivity, I'd look at those ideas. I'm still reading in this area now, but here are some preliminary reading ideas:
  • The Scrum Primer
  • The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries. I think some of the ideas around the Minimum Viable Product might be applicable
  • Something on kanban. I've got Kanban,by David Anderson queued up to read next, because I think it might help me figure out the solution to some process problems at work. I have also found Pawel Brodzinski's blog to be a source of some really good ideas, and am checking out EverydayKanban for ideas, too.
I am a project management and process geek, so I'm enjoying learning about these things. We have also switched to scrum for one of our large projects at work, and there is a lot I like about it. Like all processes, some portions will be more applicable to some groups and projects than others, but there are some good ideas for working with a team of highly trained and opinionated people, for whom the more top-down approach in traditional processes will chafe.

I am more excited by the idea of using agile methods in research science than I really should be, since no one is paying me to think about that. However, if anyone out there runs a lab (or just more than one research project) and is also intrigued by the idea of using agile methods in research... send me an email (or leave a comment). If we can work out the legal aspects, I'd love to talk to you about my ideas. I think I'd want your permission to write about the outcome, but we could figure out the details.
But back to Anonymous' question. Those are all of the resources I could come up with. Does anyone else have any suggestions?

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Multiple Interests and Social Networks

My Tungsten Hippo post this week is a housekeeping one: it is a description of the social networks on which I'm active as Tungsten Hippo. "Active"  is of course a relative term: there are only so many hours in the day, and I spend only a small fraction of them on social networks. However, I do post somewhat regularly on all the networks I list in my post, so if you're interested in books and reading-related things, you might be interested in the things I post as Tungsten Hippo on the various social networks. I cross-post and/or retweet only a very small number of them as Wandering Scientist, because I don't want to overwhelm the people who are following Wandering Scientist for the things I usually write about here, namely science, technology, improving how we work, parenting, and the interesting things that happen when you smash all of those things together.

One of the things that I find interesting about social networks is the way they allow us to either separate our interests or not. For a long time, I resisted the urge to separate the different aspects of me. The initial decision point came when I started reading both parenting and science blogs online. Would I have distinct identities on the two types of blogs, or just one? I decided to have just one, thinking that it might be useful for those two aspects of my online personality to mix.

Long time readers will remember that I set up a separate online identity once before, to discuss gun regulations. I kept that going for a little less than six months. I stopped using those accounts not because I stopped caring about gun-related issues, but because using those accounts was draining my energy and happiness away. There is a subset of gun fans who are just downright unpleasant people to interact with if you do not agree with them. I do not think this is a majority of people who enjoy guns, or even a majority of people who are adamantly opposed to any additional gun regulations. But this subset is out there, and they are incredibly unpleasant. Using the account I set up for discussing gun regulations, I was called names and belittled. I was subjected to emails that I can only describe as pure, distilled hatred. They certainly never listened to any ideas I expressed, just reacted to my refusal to agree with them. Thankfully, they never figured out I was a woman, or I am sure there would have been the usual expressions of online misogyny in there, too.

I have no idea if that account did any good for anyone else, but it was not doing me any good. Logging in to it made me feel nervous and sad. So I abandoned it. My original idea was to read the research and look for solutions. But the solutions in this case are actually pretty obvious (sorry, they are) and well-supported by evidence, and most countries in the world have already implemented them. What is needed in the US is advocacy to overcome the obstacles to implementing the solutions, and it quickly became clear to me that I am not the right person for that sort of work. I do still occasionally tweet out things about gun regulations as Wandering Scientist, so I guess this is a case where I tried to separate aspects of my identity and then ended up bringing them back together. However, I will almost certainly never engage with the gun fans as Wandering Scientist. I do not want that venom here, both because I do not want to pollute my happy little community here and because I am not anonymous enough here to feel safe in inviting the attention of those sorts of people, who seem a bit unhinged and are by definition armed.

Anyway, my point here is not to bash the minority of gun fans who are vicious and lacking in the ability to discuss things with people who disagree with them. It is to think about online identities, and when to keep them separate and when to let them merge.

Since Tungsten Hippo is a distinct project that I want to use to learn about various things, including online marketing, I've decided to keep it separate. Logging into my Tungsten Hippo accounts doesn't make me feel stressed or unhappy- quite the opposite, actually- so it is unlikely I will abandon them like I did the gun regulations discussion accounts. Maybe at some point in the future, I will reference my Wandering Scientist accounts from the Tungsten Hippo accounts, but for right now, I am keeping the references unidirectional and selective. It will be interesting to see what I decide to do in the future if when Tungsten Hippo finds its own legs.

I also find it interesting that while I now have an active online presence under two pseudonyms, I am not active at all under my real name. I don't even have a Facebook page, which is something that is hindering me a bit as I try to figure out how to use Facebook to promote Tungsten Hippo. I do have a LinkedIn account, but I just use it to store my professional history and network. I do not post there.

I am definitely more comfortable online under a pseudonym, although I do not go to great lengths to make it hard to connect my real life name with the pseudonym. As I've said before, if anyone who knows me in real life finds this blog, they'll recognize me in an instant. I always assume that my coworkers read everything I write (although as far as I know, they have not found my blog). I know my parents read my posts, and I like that. But still, I like the pseudonym, and doubt I will ever give it up.

I was intrigued by this tweet from @Seriouspony:

I am hoping she eventually writes one of her excellent but infrequent blog posts on the topic, because I'd love to read her thoughts on why a pseudonym is better. I can't explain it. Maybe she can.

Do you have multiple online identities? Why or why not? Do you use a pseudonym or your name? Talk to me about social media identities in the comments!

Friday, November 01, 2013

Weekend Reading: The Science Edition

In a major mommyblogging fail, I neglected to include the absolute cutest Halloween story in yesterday's post: Petunia came home from trick-or-treating and dumped her bucket of candy on the sofa. She picked through and found the candy she doesn't like. She pronounced it "yucky" and asked to trade it. I asked her what she wanted to trade for, and she said "mommy." I asked her what she meant, and she told me that she wanted one kiss for every piece of rejected candy. I made the trade.


Now... on to this week's links, which are all about science this week.

First up, I really liked this article about techniques researchers are using to help autistic people better understand neurotypicals. I particularly like the point that neurotypicals could also use some help better understanding autistic people. I think that is very true, and if anyone out there knows of a good resource for that, please leave it in the comments.

Science writer Tara Haelle has written a comprehensive debunking of flu vaccine myths. As an asthmatic, I encourage all of you to get your flu shot. My lungs thank you for doing your part to increase our herd immunity!

Another post that I appreciated due to my own screwed up immune system: Christie Wilcox looks at a theory that allergies evolved to protect us from toxins. I often joke about cat allergies being a tiger early warning system... I think this theory is more plausible.

Mr. Snarky sent me this write up of Petunias in Space! It is nifty.

Danielle Lee has put up her first post since the post responding to Ofek that started all the harassment discussions. It is an excellent post about the need for science to become truly inclusive.

Let's end with some geeky humor.

WTF, Evolution had an awesome Halloween post.

Bookoisseur has a great cartoon: Seriously dude I think you're overreacting.

And this last chart isn't really about science but it is so true....

Happy weekend, everyone!