Sunday, November 30, 2014

Random Short Things

I have a bunch of short things to tell you/ask you.

First up, Anandi over at The Papercraft Lab is running a really cool sounding class starting in January. It is a 14 day "get your photos organized" project, with a goal of leaving you not just with your photos organized, but also with a plan for keeping them organized. Mr. Snarky does our main photo organizing, or I'd probably be signing up for this. Check it out. The timing is perfect for helping you deal with the gazillion photos you'll take over the holidays and you can make "get the photos organized" one of your New Years Resolutions and get an easy win in the first month.

She has kindly offered me a free spot in the class to giveaway. Let's do this the old-fashioned way: leave me a comment that says you want the spot, and I'll do a random drawing to pick a winner.

Update: I forgot to say when I'd pick the winner! I'll do it Friday at noon pacific time.


Sincere thanks to everyone who has shared my call for short ebooks to publish. I've gotten some very interesting queries, but I'm still looking for more- so please keep telling people about it.

I'm also sending emails to people who might be able to help me find good things to publish. This is the song I hear in my head every time I send one of those emails:

Except, I hear the Erasure version, because I am a child of the 80s. (I put the ABBA video in here because having seen it makes the Erasure video make waaaay more sense.)


One of the people I've known on social media for a long, long time recently came back to Twitter after a long break and posted a link to one of the things that'd been keeping her too busy for Twitter- namely, a series of craft and eat events. Those were in Montreal, but following the links on that post led me to her business website where she makes "modern heirloom" quilts.

I love seeing (and sharing!) what my online friends are up to, so if you have any new endeavors to share, put them in the comments or tweet them at me or something, and I'll post them sometime.


Do I have any social media mavens out there? I have two questions for you.

First: my Twitter feed is getting overwhelming. I have been dealing with it by unfollowing or muting people from time to time, but honestly, that is the reverse of what I want to do. I'd love to follow even more people, but can't handle the volume all the time. I split the following among my accounts, and that helps a bit, particularly since I engage with my different accounts with different frequency. But that is just a stop gap.

What I really want is to have a big, diverse feed that I can dip into when I have the time to read a lot, but a smaller subset that I can follow more carefully. I suspect the answer is lists, but since people can see what lists you put them on, I'm stuck on how to do that without being a jerk.  Maybe I'd just have to give my lists nonsense names?

Anyway, if there is anyone out there who has solved this problem, please tell me how! I was recently feeling a bit overwhelmed by email, too, now that I get more work-related emails on what used to be my "personal" account. There turned out to be a fairly straight-forward fix to that, involving adding a few custom labels and making some minor changes to my email using behavior. I'm hoping for a similar miracle with my Twitter problem.

Second: I think I need to get on Facebook. I don't have much desire to use it for its intended purpose, but if I have an account, I can create a page for "M.R. Nelson, children's book author," and I've had a few requests for that. However, once I have an account, I don't see how I can avoid friending some people (again, without being a jerk) and once I've done that, I don't have a clear idea for how I can avoid getting sucked into the vortex of doom in which I end up hating a bunch of people and they end up hating me. So- any successful Facebook users out there who just post occasional updates and see cute baby pictures from their friends? If there are, please share your secrets.

I don't really have much desire to be on Facebook. I'm more tempted to revive my personal Pinterest account and use it for fashion and home ideas like everyone else does. I wonder if there is some way I could do that and also make that the place for people who want to keep tabs on my children's books? I can't really see how to do that, though. Again, I'm very open to ideas for how to make that work.

Or maybe I should just set up a website for "M.R. Nelson, children's book author" and leave it at that. Thoughts?


I have a little snippet of personal good news: Navigating the Path to Industry has sold enough copies to earn back the money I put into publishing it (e.g., paying for an editor and the cover design). That was my goal for it for 2014, so I'm quite happy with this result. In 2015, I hope to make it earn enough money to compensate me for the time I put into writing and publishing it!


That's all, folks. Weigh in on any and all of these things in the comments!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Weekend Reading: The Things We Need to Face Edition

I've been off this week. We spent a few days camping in Joshua Tree National Park, which was beautiful but cold at night. I may write a post about that trip next week. We got home Tuesday evening, and immediately launched into Thanksgiving preparations- we hosted this year.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the emphasis on being thankful for what we have without the attendant commercialism of Christmas. I love the time spent with family and friends. However, the Thanksgiving history we tell our children (and ourselves) is woefully inaccurate, and I can understand how my favorite holiday is a painful day for Native Americans. I don't think we can look away from that, but I also don't think we need to abandon the holiday. I think we need to own our history, which is much less heroic and far more complicated than our traditional stories imply. I have been remiss in explaining this to my daughters- although, to be honest, we don't focus on the history of the day much at all. However, they do cover it in school, and I should start attempting to add context to this much like I attempt to do for Martin Luther King day.

But first, I need to educate myself. Experience has taught me that explaining a difficult topic to my kids is a great way to discover the holes in my own knowledge.

Anyway, here are a few links to things I've been reading:

Over at Talking Points Memo, Tim Weed argues that it is time we updated our Thanksgiving stories.

The Smithsonian Magazine site has a fascinating long article about the motivations of the Native Americans who helped the Pilgrims. I came away from reading that piece wanting to read more, particularly about Tisquantum, the man we call Squanto in most of our stories.

Any historians of the appropriate era out there who are tempted by my search for short ebooks to publish: this would be a really great topic!

Simon Moya-Smith wrote about how Native American history month gets little attention.

I think I also came across this fundraiser via his Twitter stream: the Oceti Sakowin Nations are raising money to help cover the cost of purchasing the last portion of their sacred land.

I didn't come back from camping solely to happy preparations for Thanksgiving. As soon as I was back in cell phone range, I checked my Twitter feed and saw that the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson. I was disappointed but not surprised by this. Whether or not Darren Wilson would be found guilty under our current laws, I thought he at least should have faced trial.

This piece from the Washington Post argues that Bob McCulloch did a poor job prosecuting this case. I am not all that well-versed on the grand jury system, but the handling of this case as seemed tone deaf at the very least, particularly in light of this case in which a Black police officer was suspended and charged with assault for using his baton.

Vox has published two very good pieces about this case, one from Amanda Taub pointing out how much discretion police officers have in the use of force and one from Matt Yglesias discussing the role of our lax gun laws in this mess. I particularly like Yglesias' piece. I have long been trying to formulate a coherent post about how if we want to be a country with such loose gun laws we should try to become a society in which that is not such a dangerous thing- i.e., one in which people handle their guns safely and keep them away from children, in which we teach our young men how to deal with pain and rejection without funneling these emotions into anger, the only emotion which is allowed them by our "boys don't cry" culture. And yes, one in which we don't assume all young Black men are dangerous (see Yglesias' piece for links about that). At the very least, we need to train our police officers to understand their implicit biases and work to fight them so that situations like the ones that led to the deaths of Michael Brown, or Oscar Grant, or John Crawford, or any number of other young Black men can be de-escalated and not lead to death.

I cannot accept our current situation, in which white men can open carry assault rifles into stores and in marches but Black men and boys cannot hold toy guns or cosplay as Samurai.

Stacia L. Brown wrote a moving piece about how three generations of women in her family responded to the decision not to indict.

Edwidge Danticat's piece in the New Yorker about how little has changed since the Abner Louima was attacked by the police is heartbreaking.

Ta-Nehisi Coates' piece in The Atlantic about what cannot be said is heartbreaking in a different way.

I don't know how we change to be a society that does a better job of living up to its ideals. I think the first step is to be honest with ourselves about how far short of those ideals we currently fall. We need to read and own our actual history, not myths we tell ourselves to feel better.

And we need to respect the pain and anger of the communities we've treated poorly and try to stop heaping insult on top of injury. It doesn't matter if the Black boys and men who are shot by police are imperfect people. We all are. They deserve the same benefit of the doubt and attempt to de-escalate that imperfect white people get from the police. It is clear they are not getting it. This does not mean that the police are evil, or even intentionally treating people differently based on race. It does mean that there is a problem in how our police are interacting with a subset of the population, and we should want better and actively look for ways to make it better.

That's all I have. It is tough reading this weekend, but I think we need to do it. Still, I have to end on something happy, so here is a picture of a bunny jumping onto a bed, found via Awesome Bunnies.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Weekend Reading: The Lots of Categories Edition

Oh boy, do I have a lot of links for you this week. I've decided to organize them into multiple categories.

The tech world struggling to get its sh** together:

Uber continues to show us all what a not-nice company it is. The latest scandal is threatening a smear campaign against a journalist who was critical of them.

I am not an Uber user. I came across an article earlier about women being harassed by their Uber drivers, and that was enough to put me off using them. I'm also broadly sympathetic to the arguments against these services based on labor issues. But I also recognize that these services also helped address a problem that many people- particularly Black people and people in poorer neighborhoods- have getting taxi service.

This post by Jem Yoshioka does a better job than I ever have of explaining why I'm increasingly disenchanted with the "open internet" movement. They need to reckon with the multitude of ways speech is suppressed and the fact that their focus on only one way is de facto prioritizing the speech of straight white men over the rest of us.

Last week, I linked to Erica Joy's post about feeling alienated as a Black woman in tech. She has written a follow up that is equally worth your time.

Feminist rage inducing:

A bunch of you sent me links about the Barbie "I can be an engineer" book that turned out to give the exact opposite message. I happen to follow Pamela Ribon on Twitter (she's very funny!) so I saw her post that started it all when it came out.She also tweeted a link to a response from the author of the unfortunate book. You can rewrite the book on this fun site.

Warning: the next two links are very, very disturbing- particularly if you follow the links to the Rolling Stone article.

Roxane Gay addresses the Cosby case and the recent Rolling Stone article about rape at the University of Virginia with her characteristic insight.

Woman who are trafficked in the US are often "branded" with tattoos. This article tells their story, and the story of a survivor who has started a charity to help them get those tattoos covered with better ones.  Here's a link to the charity, called Survivors Ink.

Feminist chuckle inducing: neither a raccoon nor a sea lion be!

Raccoons giving advice when you don't want it.

Medical things:

Fighting the tide of the preposterous... I like this one in part because it reminds us of the origin of the anti-vaccination movement. When I was a kid, the kids in my class who weren't vaccinated had libertarian parents, not lefty parents.

I've seen a lot of people share this link to an article about a man with a tapeworm in his brain, I link to it primarily for this passage:

"The worm’s rarity means that little is known about its complex lifecycle and biology, however it is thought that people may be infected by accidently consuming tiny infected crustaceans from lakes, eating raw meat from reptiles and amphibians, or by using a raw frog poultice – a Chinese remedy to calm sore eyes."

Pull this story out next time someone tells you alternative medicines are always safe.

Great, thought-provoking things:

The Toast has launched a new sister site called The Butter. It is helmed by Roxane Gay, so I am not at all surprised that it is posting such great things. This post from someone who said something racist is one of my favorites.

Julie at A Little Pregnant writes so well about infertility and this post about not being in the midst of it anymore is no exception. Here is a snippet, but go read the whole thing:

"It's not like you forget it, the grind of infertility, once you've had children and distance. The best way I can describe it is that it's no longer who I am, but it's still who I have been. (It will never be who I was. I wonder if that's true for anyone.)"

I did not have to deal with infertility, and opening my eyes to how incredibly lucky I was (and making me more aware of the pain I could cause by talking about it) was one of the first mind-broadening experiences I got from being online. It is far from the last!

I really liked today's Tungsten Hippo quote. It is from one of the books that makes me love short ebooks so much- The Sixth, by Ali Immran Zaidi is mind-bending, thought-provoking, and impossible to categorize, and I don't think it would have worked at all as a longer piece of writing.

The just plain fun:

Because I always have to end with some fun....

Randall Munroe's explanation of dimensions is as awesome as you'd expect.

My husband found this tumblr of maps without New Zealand. It is probably not quite as much fun if you're not a Kiwi or someone who knows a lot of Kiwis, but it thoroughly amused me. And speaking on New Zealand: how does New Zealand to Iceland sound for a commute?

This video of ice crystals forming inside soap bubbles is awesome. As the site says- the kids should see it!

That's it for this week. Happy weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ask Cloud: Have Kids, Will Travel, Want Career

A long time reader has sent me a question for my occasional Ask Cloud series. Here is the question, edited lightly to preserve anonymity:


I've been following your blog since grad school (7+ years) and have really enjoyed seeing into the future as I'm probably 5 years behind you kids and career-wise. I'm struggling with what to do next and since your career has taken a few twists and turns, I'm wondering if you have any insights.

Short summary is that I have a life science PhD and have been working at a small company in a related field for 6 years.  It's great for flexibility as I've built up my career capital there but not so much for career (or salary) development. 

I am currently on a maternity leave and the odds are 50/50 whether my company will exist a year from now.  This has let me dream about the future a bit - my husband and I have decided we want to make travel with our kids a priority and have started on a 5 year plan. We realize taking a full year off could be difficult career wise, but working remotely is definitely a possibility. We'll be traveling a lot this year so we know we'll learn a lot from this experience!

I'm in a long scanner phase trying to figure out where the next career move is - do I: 

1. move to a bigger company, develop my career more and salary more? 
2. go back to my company (if it exists) as the flex work opportunities would be high
3. Work towards a travel friendly career (I was taking some programming courses before pregnancy brain made it too difficult. I've decided to start a blog/twitter travel account and experiment with social media this year (@raisingtravelrs). I've considered a teaching English to adults certification, and I've picked up crocheting, which maybe could support a small business if we lived in a low-cost country, who knows!)

As you can see I don't need traditional resume help, I'm more focused on how I want my resume to look in 5 years.


First of all, wow! Someone who has been reading my blog for 7+ years has essentially been reading from the start. I am truly honored to have someone who has stuck with me that long.

Now, on to an attempt to answer your question.

There is a lot to think about in there. I can certainly sympathize with wanting a career that is more conducive to a travel-heavy lifestyle. That is in fact one of the things that pushed me to make a change in my own career.

I'll give you my thoughts on your options one ant a time:

Option 1: Move to a bigger company

There can be a surprising amount of flexibility in a big company, but I think a lot depends on your boss and how invested he/she is in having you stay. I think this is true even in companies that have great flex work policies- the culture of your particular team will determine whether or not using those policies will be possible without stalling your career.

My gut instinct on this option is that you'd need a couple of years of standard work hours to build up the credibility and track record that would make an average boss willing to stick his or her neck out for you and fight for the flexibility that you really want. You could get lucky and get a better than average boss, or land in a better than average corporate culture- but that is very hard to suss out ahead of time, so my opinion is that if you go with this option, you should be mentally prepared for it to be a couple of years before you can really get much flexibility

However, the better money is definitely something to consider. My current work arrangement was made possible by the large buffer of savings we'd built up. Money really can buy career freedom, and it might make sense to have a long term strategy that includes time spent just accumulating money.

Option 2: Return to your current company

This is certainly an appealing option, since you've already got the credibility there to get the flexibility you want. I'd think about a couple of things when considering this option: the extent to which your lack of career growth will bother you and whether the uncertainty about the company continuing to exist would hinder you in taking some of the "big" flexibility you want. There is no right answer to either of those questions- it is a matter of knowing how you (and your husband) react to different types of risk.

Option 3: Change to a more travel friendly career

I think this is the hardest option on your list- even though it is the option I've decided to go with myself. Sure, coding and writing (for instance) are both careers that can be quite travel friendly, but getting to the point where you can actually make that work is tough.

Most of the coders I know who manage this are quite experienced. This helps both because they are great developers (practice improves performance, for sure!) and because they have a deep network of potential clients. Their high hourly rate and large network make it easier for them to turn work down when it doesn't suit them, secure in the knowledge that they'll be able to survive until the next job becomes available.

Writing as a full time career option is tough for different reasons, mostly around the fact that the supply side of that market is quite full. I fantasized about quitting my job and becoming a full time writer for quite awhile, and then I came across an old post of John Scalzi's in which he laid out some details about his finances. At this point, he was a NY Times bestselling author with a solid collection of books, and he was still making roughly what I was as a middle manager. Now, neither of us were hurting for money (and I'm almost certain he now makes far more money than I do, given how his career has taken off) but it gave me a shot of realism, which changed how I thought about that career option.

Now, I don't want to say you wouldn't succeed in either of those careers! Obviously, people do. I am just explaining why I consider this such a difficult option.

Towards the end of your description of this option is a potential way to mitigate this risk, though- which you could actually use to mitigate the risks in any of the options. I'll call it option 4.

Option 4: Build multiple income streams

There is no natural law of the universe that says you have to have a single career. There is a lot of advice out there claiming that you HAVE to focus on one and only one thing to be successful, but I think that is not universally true. Some people really do best when they focus, but others do better when they have multiple things going at once, some folks like to do different things in succession. It might help to read (or re-read?) one of the books I referenced in my old post about being a "scanner" with special focus on figuring out what approach seems most natural to you.

Also, consider that you have skills that you've already built up over the years that you can use to contribute an income stream. You mention crocheting, for instance.

I think the key to using this option is to be clear about how much money you're likely to garner from each stream, and to pick realistic projects given your skill level. For instance, I have an idea for some apps that I think could do pretty well. But I don't have anywhere near the skill level required to write those apps. In fact, I don't even feel like I could do a good job specifying the apps right now. So, instead of jumping straight in on those apps, I have a couple of easier projects to do first, to help me build the skills I'd need to tackle the more complicated apps. (And I have other income streams that can keep me fed in the meantime.)

Once you start thinking about income streams, you can get quite creative in building a work life that will really work for you. For instance- my recent decision to become a publisher wouldn't have occurred to me before I switched to an "income stream" mindset. In this mindset, I don't have to make heaps of money as a publisher. I just have to do well enough to make it worth my time (and to convince authors to publish with me). Only time will tell whether or not this approach works for me, but I am loving this new mindset right now. It is helping me take risks that I wouldn't have had the courage to take when I was in my "build a single career" mindset.

That brings me to my final thoughts on this. I think one of the hardest things about making this sort of change is that regardless of which option you take, you're stepping off the usual path. A lot of people will express incredulity at your plans. You'll probably have an internal critic that expresses incredulity at your plans! Also, like most changes, it will take time to execute. You can be executing your five year plan flawlessly and still look a bit scattered or lost in year two, and people won't necessarily keep their opinion on that to themselves. So, if you do this, you have to have some method for keeping your final goal in sight, and you need to develop a way to get a realistic (i.e., not overly pessimistic OR overly optimistic) gauge of your progress.  I'm still working on that part, but I'm far enough into my own career change to know that these things will be important for my long term success.

That's all I have. Any readers want to weigh in with ideas and/or advice?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

On Fitting In

I am having professional head shots taken next week, because I need some appropriate photos to use for LinkedIn and other places where I post under my real name and not as a mass of condensed water vapor floating in the sky. Basically, if I'm going to set myself up as a consultant who should be taken seriously, I can't keep using the head shot I cropped out of a family vacation photo taken in 2008.

So I got my haircut (I really like the new style, too, so BONUS). And this weekend, I spent a total of 5 hours looking for a god damn blazer. Men, you have no idea how fraught shopping for something like this is when you have breasts. My old go-to blazer dates from my pre-child days, and no longer fits properly, because HA HA HA breasts. Now I am awkwardly between two standard sizes, and since I put this shopping trip off too long, I didn't have time to wait for alterations. Also, it pisses me off to pay over $100 for a jacket and then turn around and pay more money to make it actually fit. To make matters worse, I live in Southern California and work primarily with scientists and techies who tend to be suspicious of anyone wearing an actual suit, but the aforementioned breasts make the "dressy button down shirt and trousers" look not really an option, unless I want to pay to have the shirt tailored. GAH. I hate getting dressed.

Let's just cut this rant short and say the blazer I needed was not an easy item to find, as much as you think it would be.

I also needed a new pair of jeans, so really the only way I could have made this weekends' shopping trips less fun would have been to try to buy a swimsuit, too.

I stopped for lunch part way through today's shopping excursion (I had to split the shopping fun across two days because... oh god I can't go there. Let's just say KIDS.)  While I was eating my pretzel bits and slurping my diet Coke (I am a paragon of healthy eating when the kids can't see) I scrolled through twitter, and I saw a tweet that made me want to cry. It was from a feminist I admire, making light of the reaction to Matt Taylor's questionable shirt choice for the comet landing. And because I am an idiot, I expanded the conversation and then I really wanted to cry. Basically, people were likening the response to the shirt choice to an internet mob, and saying "come on, there are real problems for women and this isn't one" and "he's just some dorky scientist dude." Most strange was the tweet saying that the people who object to his shirt should spend their time doing something to support women in science. That one bends my brain because the vast majority of the objections I've seen have come from women in science or science communication. I guess we aren't adequately supporting ourselves. (More charitably, I am assuming that the person who tweeted that simply follows a very different group of people than I do, and is unaware of the fact that the initial objections were from the people watching the landing live, who were by and large STEM people.)

I'm not going to identify the people or post the tweets. I have hopefully paraphrased enough that you can't go search and find them and I honestly hope you won't even try, because you know what? It doesn't matter. The point of this post is not to argue with the women making those tweets and it certainly isn't to start an internet fight. I'd lose it, and I know that. They are entitled to their opinions, and perhaps in the grand scheme of things they are more right than I am. I truly don't know, because I haven't been able to get emotional distance from this event. Or maybe I'm more right, and they just hadn't really thought about how that stupid shirt might be part of a larger pattern making life harder than it has to be for women in science. Perhaps they hadn't thought about the fact that this was a huge, huge event in the science world, and Matt Taylor knew he'd be on camera and beamed into classrooms live... and chose a very strange shirt and no one else stopped him. I can get how for someone outside of science it could look different than it looks to me, and hey, we can't all think deeply about everything. I get that, really, I do.

But damn, I wish that the big names with the big follower counts had taken the time to look around for what actual women in science were saying before just laughing the whole thing off and, worse, calling people who criticized that shirt an internet mob. (In the unlikely event that any such person lands on this post: Dr. Jen Gunter does a good job summarizing how most of the women in science I read and follow have reacted.)

It took me a few hours, but I finally figured out that the reason finding those tweets made me want to cry was that last bit. I was sad because it reminded me that being a woman in STEM can be a lonely thing, and not just because I don't always fit in with the other people in STEM. It is also lonely because the things I care about are often so far removed from what other women care about that we can have a hard time connecting. To be honest, at times I think other women overlook the fact that women in STEM actually exist as more than hypotheticals.

I tweeted about that and I can share those tweets:

Maybe the reason that this whole event is annoying me so much is that I am just sick and tired of seeing women of all sorts get death threats and rape threats. But I think it is also that I am sick and tired of seeing the voices of the women I want to look up to and learn from disappear from the only place where I have been able to find a community of people who "get" me. Maybe we should all open Ello accounts and see how long it would take for the trolls to find us there. Sadly, I don't think it would be long. Our community is so dispersed that we need open settings on social media to find each other, but then the trolls can find us, too.

Whenever something on the internet makes me sad, my husband asks me why I don't just quit the internet. Shut down my blog and twitter account, and find a different way to build the business I want to build. Perhaps I could do that, but I would lose something real and important, too. Humans are social animals. There are all sorts of studies showing that we are happier and healthier when we have a peer group in which we are comfortable. Our need to "fit in" goes deep, and honestly, the only place I've been able to find a community in which I truly fit in is here, online.

On Wednesday, Matt Taylor chose a shirt that reminded me that I don't really fit in the STEM world. But that is old news. I've been getting reminders of that for most of my life. Today, some other women on the internet reminded me that I don't really fit in with most other women, either, not even the feminists. That should be old news, too, but for some reason, it stung more.

I've debated whether to go ahead and post this or not, because it feels a bit whiny. But I'm going to post, because I need to say it. I apologize for the whine. I know that me getting my feelings hurt was far from the worst thing that happened today.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Weekend Reading: The I'm Not Going to Talk about That Shirt Edition

I have spent the last couple of hours working on setting up my development environment so that I can try my hand at app development, and I am well and truly blocked. So I think it is time to look away for awhile and do something else. Like write my weekend reading post!

My links are completely lacking in theme this week, so I won't try to pretend otherwise. Pretty much the only theme is I'm not going to talk about that damn shirt. If you wonder what shirt I mean, search Twitter for #ShirtStorm. I just don't have the energy to really engage with that level of cluelessness, either in the wearing of the shirt or in the over the top response to the initially fairly lighthearted critiques of the shirt.

So, what will I talk about? LOTS of things.

First of all, Petunia, the Girl Who Was NOT a Princess is featured in Laura Vanderkam's latest newsletter.

Here's a nice post from Kristina Halvorson on (not) doing it all and being yourself.

Andie from Blue Milk wrote a nice article about (among other things) the way caring work gets hidden from view and the costs associated with that.

Now that I'm not just a working mom but an entrepreneur mom, I find myself paying more attention to stories about being a mom and an entrepreneur. There were two in my Twitter feed this week, and they both strike me as fairly honest reports of what it is like to be leading a venture-backed start up as a mom.  Jeni Axline is a cofounder of Parenthoods, and Kristy Sammis is a cofounder of the Clever Girls social media agency.

Both of their articles are worth your time. Neither of them describe anything like what my current life looks like. There are a lot of possible reasons for that. I'm just now really starting to push on the non-contracting part of my company, after all, and I can't really tell yet what kind of work schedule I'll end up with as I start to try to make my Big Ideas happen. But I suspect on of the big reasons for the difference is that I'm not trying to be a venture capital-backed entrepreneur. When you bring in venture capital, you sign on to a different sort of timeline. This is not necessarily because it HAS to be that way, but because the venture capitalists MAKE it that way. They have timelines on which they want their investments to pay out, and that creates time pressure that may or may not need to be there for other business reasons.

I've chosen a less hectic approach. Only time will tell if my way works, too.

Mr. Snarky sent me a link to a pretty decent post about how if you want to follow your dreams, you have to not pursue other things. It has some good points, but I think it suffers from the common problem of taking what works for the author and over-generalizing. Sure, you need to focus. But I don't think there is some natural law that says you have to focus on only one thing. I prefer a different approach, to spread my financial risk around a bit so that I can have time to play a longer game on some of my goals.

Again, only time will tell if my way works, too. If it does, I'll have to come up with some cute illustrations for my approach and try to market it as The One True Way. Or not.

I cannot decribe how much I love this quote from Anne Lamott. So much that I'm not going to try to summarize it, and will just tell you to go read the whole thing.

Women in tech: Cindy Alvarez is collecting stories about the nice things people said or did that made you stay. I'm sure I have some of these, but I can't come up with any, and that is making me a bit sad.

Speaking about things that make you want to stay in tech... or actually, about their exact polar opposite: It turns out Twitter can silence the trolls if it wants to. Of course, there are worries about Twitter using this capability to impinge on free speech. And you know what? I actually sort of agree. Not that there is any right to say vile and threatening things to people on the internet, but that the decisions about what constitutes protected speech don't really belong with the tech companies. It would be far, far better, in my opinion, if we simply enforced the laws we already have against threatening people. But we don't do that. I think this snippet is very telling:

"Last week, Wu put up $11,000 as a reward for information leading to the identification of a perpetrator. Since then the threats have nearly stopped.

Wu says the proliferation of online threats and harassment will continue unless people think there are consequences and there is a real likelihood of getting caught."

On a happier note... sort of: here is an article from Ashoka Mukpo about getting and surviving Ebola. I started following him on Twitter when he started tweeting again during his recovery. He is trying very hard to get people to focus on the suffering this disease is bringing to the people in West Africa.

On a definitely happier note: check out this interview with a guy who designed a font to help dyslexics read more easily. Also check out his font: dyslexie.

And of course, we have to end with some fun.

I think this may be my next hoodie.

Mr. Snarky sent me this picture:

I went searching for the source, and it showed up on a bunch of tumblrs, never really well attributed. Here's one possible source. But, go do a Google image search for "tumblr cat in superman costume" and enjoy what you find. You're welcome.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Doing What I Want, Because I Can

I've had some nice responses to my last post and my somewhat crazy decision to become a publisher. Thank you!

I mentioned that I was doing this to someone I know offline, and their response was essentially: why in the world are you doing that?

The short answer is: because I want to. The slightly longer answer is: because I want to and I can. So why wouldn't I?

One of things that deciding to just quit my job has made me realize is that I am a lot freer than I was acting. I spent a lot of time thinking "I can't do that!" when in fact, I could.

So now, I am.

I still struggle with self-doubt and imposter syndrome and all that. I doubt I'll ever really conquer those demons. In fact, I'm reading Playing Big,by Tara Mohr, to help me keep them at bay. I'm only a few chapters in, but already I've taken some good ideas from the book. (Fair warning: if you are annoyed by things like guided meditations and discussions of your spirtual purpose, you might not like this book. I tend to just skip the parts that feel like mumbo-jumbo to me and focus on the ideas and messages I find useful.)

I just finished reading the chapter about handling fear, and it made me realize I've recently come up with a new way to handle some of my worries. I remind myself that as long as my kids are clothed and fed and we can pay our mortgage, it doesn't really matter if some endeavor I undertake fails.

I still worry about the contracting work that is funding my more ambitious ideas drying up... so I'm motivated to try to make things succeed. But if they don't? Well, for right now, at least, I've got enough money coming in from contracting to keep us all fed, clothed, and housed. And that's all I really need.

(I'll spare you all the Raffi song that just started playing in my head.)

I've also gotten a lot better at filtering advice I come across (or that is shoved at me). What worked for someone else may not be the right approach for me. I know how I work best, and what I want most, and I can chart my own course. And so I am. It may or may not work out the way I hope, but I'm having a great time trying.

Ah hell, I'll go ahead and play you the Frank Sinatra song that just displaced Raffi:

What about you? Are you doing it your way? What tricks do you use to shut down the voice of self-doubt?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Calling All Writers, Current and Future

I decided to self-publish a short ebook about job searching for two reasons: the first was that I wanted to do something with what I learned about searching for a job from the 10+ years I spent as a hiring manager. The second was that I needed a test case to find out how much money, time, and effort it takes to publish and promote a short ebook once it is written.

I wanted that data because I'd been toying with the idea of publishing other people's books. After more than a year running Tungsten Hippo, my short ebook review site, I have gotten much better at finding interesting ebooks to read, even when they aren't high in the Amazon search results. However, I still see a hole in what is available. I want more short science ebooks, and more short ebooks about social science topics, and more short ebooks telling interesting historical stories, and more short fiction ebooks that really make me think. There are some of all of those types of short ebooks, but I think there should be more. I love finding a short ebook that can teach me something worthwhile in an evening or two, and I want there to more of them.

At the same time, I have been wondering whether short ebooks could help fill some of the gap left as traditional media downsizes and online media struggles to find a business model that supports in depth writing. I wonder if a revenue stream from a few short ebooks could help buffer writers against the rough economic tides, whether those writers are earning a living primarily from their writing or from something else.

So I've decided to go for it. I will take some of the money I make from the profitable part of my business (i.e., the consulting work) and invest it in publishing short ebooks. And by invest, I mean: I will pay the upfront costs (cover art, editing, ISBNs, etc) AND I will offer authors a modest advance. I will also give authors the option of choosing a higher initial royalty rate over an advance- for some types of authors, this will be a better deal. For others, the advance with an earn-out period will be a better deal. I think most authors will be able to figure out for themselves which model is better for them, so I'll let them choose. I'll also invest my time by doing a kickass job formatting the book for publication and by working on promoting the book. Authors will still need to do some promotion, too, but I will help line up reviewers and will be experimenting like crazy to figure out how best to market the sorts of books I want to publish.

I want to focus on pieces that are 30-160 pages in length (7000 - 40,000 words). Those are guidelines not firm rules. They are based on the definition of a novelette and a novella. I want fiction and non-fiction. For fiction, I am not picky about genre, but it has to be the sort of story that has interesting themes and makes me think. For non-fiction, I truly am interested in the "meatier" topics. I think there are several other companies publishing things like true crime stories now, and want to instead focus on books that make me learn something new and worth knowing. I would be absolutely thrilled to see people submit a short ebook about their research, as long as it is aimed at a general audience. I don't just mean science research, either- one of my favorite short ebooks is The Heart of Haiku. Science, social science, humanities... I'll consider it all, as long as it engages me and makes me learn.

In all cases, the writing has to be good. Since it is my money, I get to decide what good means, but the shorthand version is "well-written and compelling."

I know that short ebooks are a tough market, and I'm prepared for it to take a little time to make this profitable. But I do intend to make it profitable, which means that I intend for the authors to earn more than their advances. I have some (I think) cool ideas for new things to try to increase the market for the books I'd publish, and some even cooler long term ideas I can try once my basic ideas are working and I have a bit of a catalog built up.

But... none of this can happen if I can't find compelling stories to publish. That's where I need your help. I am looking for three things:

1. If you are already sold on my idea and want to submit your writing for me to consider, hooray! Please do. My email address is wandsci at gmail dot com.

2. If you're not sure, or even sure that you're not interested in submitting your writing, but would like to help out: I'd really like to talk over the terms I'll be offering with an experienced author or two, to make sure they are fair to both the authors and my business. Again my email address is wandsci at gmail dot com.

3. If neither of the above applies to you, you can still help by spreading this post far and wide.

Thank you!

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Surprisingly Profound Kids Art: Rainbow over a Field

It has been far too long since I've posted any of my kids' art. Time to rectify that, with this beautiful painting from Petunia:

She tells me that it is a rainbow over a field. I think the bright primary colors symbolize the happiness of seeing a rainbow, but the artist is silent on this topic, preferring to let her work speak for itself.

In other news, I cleaned a bunch of too small clothes out of Petunia's closet and moved some size 5 things from Pumpkin's "too small" area to Petunia's closet. They never even made it to the storage bin in the garage. I can't decide if that is a big win or a big fail.

I also finally posted another taster flight of short ebooks at Tungsten Hippo. Today's taster flight is stories about love.

Also on my to do list for today: pushing the button that randomly picks the winners in the raffle I ran for the release of Petunia, the Girl Who Was NOT a Princess, and notifying said winners. OK, who am I kidding? I probably won't get the winners notified until sometime during the week. But I am determined to pick the winners!

So, that turned into a bit of a "random updates" post. Feel free to share your random updates in the comments!

Friday, November 07, 2014

Weekend Reading: The Keep On Truckin' Edition

Here it is, Friday again. Both my days at home were short work days, due to self-maintenance things. On Wednesday, I got my first ever full body mole check and learned that as we age, we get more things called sebhorrheic keratoses, at least for we=pasty white people of northern European descent. The doctor who told me this was about 12 years old and thought the "Mostly Harmless" t-shirt I was wearing was hilarious. Today, I got my haircut. That was more fun, and was the necessary precursor to getting some professional head shots taken to use in my professional social media profiles. Apparently, I can't just put a picture of a cloud in those.

Anyway, I thought this week would be a bit of a loss in terms of my non-contracting projects, but it wasn't. That is a testament to the power of the theme I've chosen for this week's links: keep on truckin'. I just wrote my daily to do lists and chugged through them, and here we are on Friday afternoon and most things on them are done. Go me.

To the links:

Cord Jefferson's essay about his mother is just wonderful. I'm going to bookmark it and come back to it when I'm struggling with explaining the bad things in the world to my kids, or with parenting in general. Or life in general.

I've had several LOLSOB sort of conversations with men I know about that famous catcall video, and basically, I am tired of the reminders that I live in such a different world than they do. So many men I know are so incredulous that catcalling happens, or that dudes talk to me even when I've got my headphones, or... gah. So this video in which the New Zealand Herald hired an actress to walk the streets of Auckland sort of made my day. And I reflected and realized that I could not recall ever being catcalled in New Zealand, and my first visit there was when I was not yet 30 and in what was probably the best physical shape of my life. Yet another reason to try to arrange my life such that I can spend more time there!

I mostly don't have an opinion about Lena Dunham. I don't watch Girls and I haven't read her book, and I have no intention of changing either of those things. So I largely ignore the back and forth about whether we should embrace her or hate her. But the recent flap about one section of her book has been hard to ignore. If you've missed the uproar, Roxane Gay's take on it is (as usual) quite smart. I wasn't going to read more than that, but I'm glad I read Jessica Bennett's piece on this, because while I do not agree with everything she says, I do strongly agree with the point she makes about how women- even feminists- tear down successful women. I have written about this in relation to famous women in tech like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer. It is not that I think these women, or any prominent women, are perfect and above criticism. It is that we focus so much more criticism on them than we do on their male counterparts, and the criticism is more vicious.

While I'm halfway ranting, let's talk about the midterms, and voter turnout. I have seen a lot of disappointed Democrats bemoaning the fact that Democratic voters don't turn out as well for midterms. And I've seen a lot of smug Republicans say that this means Democrats should re-examine their policies or whatnot. But I haven't seen much analysis of why Democratic turnout is lower. Here's my guess: because we've been constructing impediments to their voting. Precincts in districts with more non-white voters are more likely to have long lines. Several states have new voter ID laws. Some states have whittled back early voting and placed more restrictions on voting by mail. These things matter, and I suspect they matter more for voters who are more likely to vote Democratic. I read about lines of up to 9 hours to vote on Tuesday. Ask yourself: would you have been willing to wait 9 hours to vote? I didn't wait at all and the entire process took less than 10 minutes. But I live in a predominately white district in a state that has a vote by mail option open to everyone and good early voting provisions. The fact that anyone has to wait more than 30 minutes or so is a national disgrace, and I don't think it is an accident. I think some very cynical people are doing whatever they can to keep power while the tide of the nation turns away from them. Shame on them for passing these laws. Shame on them for trying to make voting harder, rather than easier. And shame on us for letting it happen.

I am still looking for a good analysis of what impact all of this has on outcomes. I found an article with some early observations, but I suspect it is too soon to have a full analysis. I hope someone produces one. Regardless of the impact of these laws and policies, though, they are wrong, and antithetical to democracy. We should fix them.

(The Democrats should probably also ask themselves why so many white men don't like their message, and think about how to win white men over, but that is a rant for another day. I'll just say I don't think the answer is "be more like the Republicans.")

Moving to happier things- this interview with Cindy Gallop on being an entrepreneur as an older woman is awesome and inspiring, and was the source of some of my resolve to keep on truckin' this week.

Erica Joy's post about being a Black woman in tech is less fun to read, but very important. I've thought a lot about the psychic impact of being so outnumbered- and as a white woman, I am far, far less outnumbered than Joy is. The underrepresented people who stay in STEM careers are doing a lot of work that white men do not even recognize exists. (Sort of like how they don't realize catcalling is an issue, apparently.)

Joy's determination to find a way to stay in tech while also taking care of herself is inspiring. It was in my mind when I picked this week's Tungsten Hippo quote, from Kiese Laymon:

"Your heart was good but you forgot to guard it. You killed yourself slowly because of this."

I am glad she is guarding her heart.

I was also inspired by Molly Crabapple's post about being successful as a creative person in the internet age. The entire thing is really good and you should read it, but I particularly liked rule #5:

"I've never had a big break. I've just had tiny cracks in this wall of indifference until finally the wall wasn't there any more."

Here is a great tweet about aiming high:

And here is a dog herding ducks, because I always have to end with something fun:

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Science with the Kids: Gravity

Who's ready for some fun, quick, and easy science with the kids? The kids and I had some fun science time last night. I thought I'd share what we did, because this is super easy and the kids genuinely loved it.

First, we did a little experiment. I took a sheet of paper and a little bag of pennies and showed them to the kids.
Materials for experiment #1
I asked them what they thought would happen if I dropped both at the same time. Not surprisingly, the both said that the pennies would hit the ground first. I told them that was their hypothesis, and it was good to have a hypothesis, and that we'd test it. But first, I asked them what they thought the other possibilities were. They quickly got that the paper could hit the ground first. I asked if there was a third possibility, and after thinking for a minute, Pumpkin came up with the idea that the two objects could hit the ground at the same time.

I've done this experiment with other kids (probably 50 kids total, over the years) and Pumpkin is only the second child to come up with that third option, so I'm pretty proud of her.

Then we did the experiment. We counted down from three, and I dropped the pennies and the paper. As they expected, the pennies hit first, while the paper floated down.

I asked them why they thought this was, and they both agreed that it was because the paper was lighter.

Then I asked them how we could test that theory. They didn't have any ideas, so I provided one: I crumpled up the paper and said that if their theory was correct, the pennies should still hit first. They agreed.

Materials for experiment #2
Then I dropped the pennies and the paper together again. This time, the two objects hit at the same time, which just delighted my kids. They were literally jumping up and down with excitement.

I asked whether they had any other ideas about why the pennies hit the ground first in the first experiment but not the second, and to my amazement, Pumpkin got it. She said it was because the air was pushing on the paper and in the second experiment, the paper was smaller so the air couldn't push on it as much. Mr. Snarky had been watching in bemusement up until this point, standing behind the kids. I saw his eyebrows go up when she said that. I think I managed to just smile and say that was a good answer.

In fact, I am very impressed with her answer. I think they covered something similar in science last year at school- they talked about wind as part of their weather module, and she came home with a pinwheel. But still, she was able to take that idea and apply it to something completely different. I was not expecting either kid to figure out why the paper fell more slowly in the first experiment.

After talking about our results a bit, we all watched this really cool video demonstrating the same point with far fancier equipment:

The kids really liked the video, so even if you don't do the experiment, consider showing the video to your kids. I think having done the experiment makes the video more fun, though.

One thing I didn't do that I wish I had done was point out that the people in the control room in the video are a physics professor and a bunch of engineers. They all knew what was going to happen, but they still react to the outcome with the same delight my kids showed during the penny and paper dropping experiments. That's part of the beauty of science!

The entire process-two experiments, discussion, and video watching- took less than 20 minutes. I think Petunia is maybe a little bit young for the experiment, or at least for doing the experiment with an older sister who got the answers faster than she did. However, Petunia still really enjoyed the experiment and the video, and both kids tell me they want to do more family science experiments. I guess I'd better find us some more to do. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Unanticipated Things I've Learned about Day Care and School

While I was at the Halloween parades on Friday, in between sniffling about how big my kids are getting and how delightfully cute all the kids were, I was struck by how lucky we've been in our choices of where to send our kids during the day.

Of course, we visited several options and did a bunch of research before making each decision, but in each case, there have been unanticipated things that we never thought to ask about that have made a big difference in how much we've enjoyed our choices.

I'm not sure if we would have made choices based on these factors even if we had thought to ask about them ahead of time, but in the spirit of sharing what I've learned, here are the two biggest things that we didn't consider when making our choices but that have had a big impact on how much we've liked those choices:

Item 1: we didn't ask about how the day cares we visited handle kid-on-kid aggression in the toddler rooms. This, however, turns out to be a point of wide variation. One of my friends spent three solid months stressed out about whether her older son was going to get expelled from day care for biting. He was two. Another friend would hear from her child that she'd been bitten, but not get any communication from the school about the incidents. Both of these extremes are unnecessarily stressful, in my opinion.

Our day care strikes a nice middle ground. Older kids (4 and up) who bite or hit are sent home for the day, and if they can't stop, might be expelled. I'm not aware of that ever happening, though. In the toddler set, these things were treated as something that happens when kids don't yet have the words to express their emotions. The presumption is that they just need to learn better ways to respond, and the school partnered with the parents to make that learning happen. We got reports home of bites given or received, and the school taught very specific behaviors to do instead of physical aggression and shared those with us so we could reinforce them at home.

It was still stressful when Pumpkin was biting and being bitten- something that happened occasionally between 15 months and 3 years, with a peak at about 2 years- but at least we weren't worrying that she was going to be expelled from day care or wondering what else was happening that we weren't being told about.
Pumpkin at the height of the biting phase

Petunia never went through the biting phase. I think this is partly due to Petunia just being more laid back than Pumpkin, and partly due to the fact that Petunia's class is smaller than Pumpkin's was, so the teachers were probably able to see an incident escalating and intervene before any child made it physical. Regardless, this is now the main thing I mention when an expecting parent asks me about how to pick a day care. Most of the other advice I could give is pretty standard, but I never came across this particular issue when I was researching day cares and how to choose them.

Item 2: there are distinct advantages to NOT being at the "best" school in the "good" district. We picked our school for two main reasons: (1) It is a language magnet, and we love the idea of having our kids become fluent in a second language, (2) it is two and a half blocks from our house, which makes the logistics of drop off and pick up soooo much easier. We also visited other magnet schools and our neighborhood school when making our choice, but in the end, we only entered the lottery for our current school. (If we hadn't gotten in, we would have defaulted back to the neighborhood school, which we actually really liked.)

We looked at the various school performance statistics and did all the other things you're supposed to do when evaluating schools, but we didn't think to ask about things like: how much money will you extort from us with "expected donations" and other "optional" fundraisers? How do you schedule your on campus activities? It turns out that in those two key areas, we got lucky.

Our school is a magnet (meaning it draws kids from all over the district) and a Title 1 school (meaning that a large percentage of the kids qualify for the free or reduced lunch program). Both of these things contribute to a school environment that feels much friendlier to working parents than what I hear about from my friends in the "good" (i.e., wealthier) schools. There is an annual giving campaign, but they were appreciative of our donation, not demanding of it. There are a few other fundraisers throughout the year, but there is no pressure for the kids to bring in large amounts of money, so they truly do feel optional. And most importantly to me- they schedule their events in a way that minimizes impact on the parents' schedules. Parades, performances, and other special events tend to be first thing in the morning or last thing in the afternoon, not at random times in the middle of the day like I hear about from other parents.

I would never have thought to ask about event scheduling when visiting schools, but this thoughtful scheduling makes a big difference in whether Mr. Snarky and I can attend the events, so we are able to be more involved parents without having to take large amounts of time off work.

Bonus item: talking about school choice with other parents will uncover racism and classism that will shock you. Only about 25% of the kids in our school are white. The largest racial group is Hispanic, at just over 50%. A lot of parents with Mexican or Central American heritage send their kids to our school so that they can be not just bilingual but bi-literate. The next largest racial group is African-American, at roughly 16%. The school does not have a larger than average number of expulsions or other serious behavior problems (that information is included in the statistics we looked at when checking out schools), but many other parents would respond to the news about where we were thinking of going by getting a moderately surprised look on their face and saying something along the lines of "but that's a rough school!"

I quickly learned that "rough" is the code word for "not majority upper middle class white kids." Our school is not rough, not even in the upper grades (it is a K-8 school). One of my favorite things about going to school events is actually seeing the middle schoolers, who are always involved in the events and participating in a positive way.

I have no advice on this one. Schools are a difficult topic, where your general beliefs about what is right and your worries and aspirations for your children collide. It happens that both Mr. Snarky and I went to schools that would be coded as "rough" and thought that the diversity of our fellow students was one of the best things about our pre-college education. So it is relatively easy for us to ignore the comments about the school being "rough" and just be grateful that we got into such an awesome school that is so convenient for us (it was a lottery process).

Other parents will have different educational priorities and I would never judge a parent for making a different choice. I do judge the people who use the "that school is rough" code words, though. If you want your kid to go to a school where most of the other kids are of the same race and/or in the same socioeconomic class, fine, but don't justify that decision with the lazy assumption that schools with a different student body composition are somehow dangerous. Some may be, but many are not. Also, the biggest local on campus drug bust I can recall hearing about recently happened at one of the toniest schools in town. Using the "rough" code word just perpetuates inaccurate and harmful stereotypes. We need to do better.

Have you learned any unexpected things about schools and day care? Share them in the comments!