Tuesday, December 30, 2014


We just got home from 10 days in Arizona, where we spent Christmas with my family. We stayed with my parents in the house in which I grew up. So I just got home from... home.

We had a great visit, and I decided that I'm going to do a proper trip story about it this time. I'll do that soon. I'm not up to that much effort tonight!

The drive between my parents' house in Mesa and San Diego is roughly 6 hours without stopping. We stopped twice- once for a snack in Gila Bend, and once for lunch and some park time in Yuma. I am the only family member capable of staying awake in the car on a long drive after lunch, so I drove the Yuma to San Diego leg. The kids were asleep for a large portion of that, leaving me free to listen to the grown up CDs that were loaded into the car. Mr. Snarky forgot to pack extra CDs for this trip, so I had exactly three grown up CDs to choose from, and they all happened to be New Zealand music. I had both discs of Nature's Best New Zealand's Top 30 Songs Of All Time and the first disc of Pacific Reggae Volume 1.

I wasn't really in the mood for reggae, although I recommend checking out Pacific reggae at least once- it has a different vibe from Caribbean reggae. While you're at it check out some NZ hip hop. Chains by DLT featuring Che Fu would be a good start. So I listened to the Nature's Best CDs. Although many people would probably recognize the Crowded House and Split Enz songs in this compilation, most of the other songs have a definite "world famous in New Zealand" feel to them. There were several Dave Dobbyn songs. Beside You is my favorite of the ones on the CD;

But if you've ever watched a rugby game held in New Zealand, you've probably heard Slice of Heaven:

(Hard to believe that the two videos feature the same man, but they do- just many, many years apart. Dave Dobbyn had a very long career! Mr. Snarky explains that the backing band in the second video are The Herbs, a well known NZ reggae band, and that the animated portions of this video are from the movie Footrot Flats- "a classic.")

But the song that really takes me back to New Zealand is Dominion Road, by the Mutton Birds:

When I first visited Mr. Snarky in New Zealand, he lived just off Dominion Road, and I remember him playing me this song in the beat up old car we rented to drive around New Zealand for three weeks. That trip was our "trial run," to see if it was worth him moving to the US to give our relationship a shot. We had a great trip, he moved to the US, and the rest is history.

I've written before about how Auckland (the city in which Dominion Road is located) feels like another home to me.

So I was driving from my original home to my current home, listening to music that made me think of the place I consider another home. It made me think a bit about the nature of "home," and I decided that to me, home is a place where I feel a special kind of comfortable. I don't know what exactly gives me that feeling. It isn't just time spent living there. I've really liked living in other places that never felt like home, and I've never actually lived in Auckland. Regardless, I am happy to have three homes. I wonder if I'll accumulate any more.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Year in Review: 2014

It is time for my annual review of the closing year, so that will take the place of my usual Friday links post. I pick a few posts from each month to review, based on the somewhat random criteria of popularity (with me or others) and representative nature.

For more info, see the 2013, 2012, and 2011 editions.

One of the interesting things for me about going through my 2014 posts was seeing the pressure building in the first half of the year. Looking just at my own life, I am ending 2014 in a much happier place than I started it. Looking more globally, though, it is clear this has been a tough year.

In January, I ranted about sexism. I ranted about how to make STEM more attractive to women and about men feeling entitled to women's stories, and people judging other people's decisions even though they do not understand the full context in which they are made... but there is also an epilogue about using mindfulness to deal with this nonsense.

I also was working through a lot of questions about my own choices, which led me to write a list of some things I know but struggle to really believe.

February was a tough month, at least judging from my posts. I looked for a more inclusive view of productivity, and wondered whether it is fair to make people earn your respect. I also wrote about the cost of spending so much time in a male-dominated environment.

In March, I talked about keeping side projects low stress. I posted my recipe for New Zealand steak and cheese pies. And the assholes were getting me down, so I wrote a rant about how having an autism spectrum disorder doesn't make people assholes, being an asshole does.

Things were coming to a head in April. On the bright side, Pumpkin turned seven. But I was really struggling at work. I posted some tricks I use for surviving as a woman in a male-dominated field. And then I quit my job.

In May, I discovered that quitting my job didn't immediately relieve the pressure. (I found my driver's license, by the way. It had fallen down between the driver's seat and the center console in the car.) But following my arrow was already starting to feel pretty good. Things weren't that great outside my head, though- and the horror of the Isla Vista shootings led me to write about starting the work against racism and sexism with myself.

Mr. Snarky and I also continued our tour of unlikely tourist spots in Southern California, and spent a weekend in Torrance. I also turned 42! I didn't write the post about it until June, though. I also wrote about some things I want to remember and wrote a post for National ASK Day, about asking other parents about guns in their home.

July started with me writing  about what a wonderful June I had. July itself wasn't too shabby either- we had a terrific family vacation in Colorado. I also worked to make peace with my aging body.

Ugly things happened in August. Words failed me as I contemplated the events in Ferguson and beyond and I wrote about how we can't skip the hard part in confronting racism. In response to Robin Williams' suicide, I thought about the difficulty of maintaining health, particularly when you have a chronic disease.

In September, I released Navigating the Path to Industry. I've been pleased with how well it has done, but by all means- buy a copy and tell all your friends! On the family front, Pumpkin started asking some truly hard questions and I discovered a miraculous recipe for pretzel chicken.

I apparently failed to write a post for Petunia's fifth birthday in October, but I did write a post with some of her trademark phrases. My second children's book, Petunia, the Girl Who Was NOT a Princess, was released. I haven't received my first royalties report on that yet, so I don't have a good feel for how it is doing, but by all means- buy a copy and tell all you friends! Around the time my Petunia book was released, the We Need Diverse Books campaign was in full swing, and I wrote about the need for diverse books for kids, and included some recommendations.

In November, I did a fun science experiment with my kids (it demonstrates gravity).
I decided to become a publisher, and the fallout from the sexist shirt worn during the Rosetta comet landing led me to ponder the difficulty of fitting in.

I didn't write that much in December, but I did write about how small changes can help me feel more organized. I have several interesting post ideas written down in the writing journal I mentioned in my gift ideas post, so stay tuned for some more posts soon.

I'm on pseudo-vacation until the new year, though... so those interesting post ideas may have to wait until January. In case I don't post again in 2014: thank you for reading this year. I am so grateful to have my community of readers and commenters here. I wish you all a happy new year!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Weekend Reading: The Concise Edition

Today's been a busy day with home and work things and the school holiday show... so my links post is going to be unusually concise. It should give you more time to read the links themselves, right?

Funny: Ayn Rand Reviews Children's Movies, by Mallory Ortberg.

Sad: Three female MIT computer scientists do a Reddit AMA... and it goes exactly how you think it would. If you wonder how it would go, just read the comments on the Wired article! Otherwise, don't. They are depressing.

Finally: A big name tech guy tells of GamerGaters

Thougt-provoking: I Don't Know What to Do With Good White People, by Brit Bennett.

Honest: Men Just Don't Trust Women. And This Is a Problem, by Damon Young.

Eye-opening: A design flaw in the criminal justice syste, by Sarah Lustbader. The problem is probably not the one you're thinking of.

Insightful: Torture should not be a partisan issue, by Jamelle Bouie.

Nifty: Volvo created a bike helmet that warns drivers about nearby cyclists.

Case study in unintended consequences of incentives:  Pennywise and pound-foolish: misidentified cells and competitive pressures in scientific knowledge-building, by Janet D. Stemwedl

True: the problem with "just be yourself," by Charlie Bink.

Smart: Interview with Shani O. Hilton on building the BuzzFeed newsroom. "The fun thing has been in practice that means that the more diversity that you get in your office, the easier it is to get more diversity, because you hire people, you trust them.

You say, “Hey, I’m looking for this position to be filled.” Then their networks open up to you in a way that is really great. It’s been really nice, because we’ve seen this kind of accelerated growth, in terms of diversity on staff, and it’s just really rewarding."

Good: an essay on science, art, and life... and three mice at the Smithsonian, by E. A. Farro.

Happy weekend, everyone! And maybe Merry Christmas, too... it remains to be seen if I'll post again before Christmas.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Books Make Great Last Minute Gifts

I am uncharacteristically on top of my Christmas shopping this year, so for once, I am not clicking through gift guide after gift guide with an ever increasing sense of panic. I hope you are in an equally good place, but in case you are not... I have another set of gift ideas for you, this time all books. (If you want some non-book gift ideas, check out my earlier post.)

I'll divide this post into categories, because I love organizing things.


I think the trick to buying books for kids is to make sure you are picking fun but somewhat obscure titles. Fun because then the kid is more likely to like the book, and somewhat obscure because that increase your chances that the kid doesn't already have the book. The only downside is that implementing this approach for last minute gifts requires that you have either Amazon Prime or a bookstore with a really good children's section.

Obviously, I think my own books fit this description nicely. Petunia, the Girl who was NOT A Princess would be good for a preschooler or early grade schooler, and The Zebra Said Shhh would be good for a toddler or preschooler.

But this post is not just another chance to plug my own books! I have some other suggestions, too.

 I Kissed the Baby! is a good choice for the board book set. It is fun for the grown up to read, and you get to kiss you baby at the end.

For the picture book set, take a look at A Mammoth in the Fridge, which has a great twist at the end that still makes Petunia giggle. Another good option is The Beasties, which both of my kids have loved. It would be a particularly good gift for a kid who has had to move house or is afraid of the dark. Neither of those describe my kids, though, and they still really liked it.

Chapter book readers who can handle a little bit of tension and a lot of adventure will probably love The Monster in the Mudball. Pumpkin does not like tension, and found this book a little scary- but she liked it so much that she finished it anyway, which is high praise from her. We've abandoned a lot of books due to tension!

Grown Ups

Giving books to grown ups is harder than giving them to kids, I find, because grown ups are pickier. But here are some ideas to consider.

Oomph: A Little Super Goes a Long Way is a hugely fun book, and might be a good option for a sci-fi fan or even a comic book fan (although it is not a comic book or graphic novel).

If you know a feminist who hasn't read Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist yet, consider it as a gift- particularly if your friend is someone who enjoys a lot of pop culture.

Biomedical scientists, particularly ones who have worked in drug discovery, might really like Breakthrough: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle. It was fascinating and frankly a little fun to compare the free-wheeling development of insulin into a drug with the much more regulated processes I know today.

Grown Ups You Know Really, Really Well

These books are "useful" books, and as such can backfire terribly if given to someone who takes the gift as a subtle dig and not a "here's something useful!" But, for people who you know really well, useful books can be great options. I, for instance, love getting useful books. One Christmas, before Mr. Snarky and I got married, we were in Arizona with my family for Christmas. I opened my gift from Mr. Snarky to find a practical book about personal finance and a new trackball. I was delighted- I needed and wanted both things. But it definitely raised the eyebrows of one or two members of my extended family!

Cookbooks are probably the safest of the useful book gifts. If your recipient is someone who needs tasty, quick options for weeknights, Robin Miller's Quick Fix Meals is a good option.  Another nice one is Fast, Fresh & Green, which I keep checking out from the library in my quest to find good vegetable recipes that I can make in the time I have and that I might actually like. I've liked the recipes I've tried from it so far, but I only get through one or two each time I check it out, so I haven't vetted it extensively.

Of course, Navigating the Path to Industry is an option if you know someone who has decided to leave academia and needs some practical tips. You're definitely on shaky ground with a gift like this, though- you want to be sure the recipient has already expressed an interest in job searching!

The ground gets even shakier with Playing Big, but if you know a woman who is trying to figure out how to reach for her most ambitious goals and/or who would be open to a gift that nudges her in that direction, this is a good book. I plan to write up a full review soon. The only caveat I'll give now is that the book contains some things like guided visualizations, which might be too new age-y for some people. It is easy to skip them, though. I mostly did, and still found the book useful. I wish I'd read it about five years ago- I found my way to a lot of the same insights, but I think that process would have been faster and easier if I'd read this book.

All of those options are ones for which a physical version of the book exists. If you're open to ebook gifts, you can always check out Tungsten Hippo for more ideas.

Your turn: share you book gift ideas in the comments!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Getting Organized: Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference

I've seen a lot of tweets recently about people feeling disorganized and like they've tipped over to a chaos level they are not OK with. I completely understand why- the holidays dump a bunch of things on our already full to do lists and calendars, and a lot of companies compound the mess with year end goals reviews and the like.

People don't generally want advice when they are venting about being disorganized on Twitter, so I usually don't reply. It gets my organization problem solving impulse twitching, though, so I'm going to indulge myself here.

The fact that I have an organizing impulse is amusing to people who have known me a long time and remember what my room looked like as a child (hint: not neat and tidy). For that matter, people who know me now and see my desk could be forgiven for thinking I am hopelessly disorganized.

But here's the thing: I have accepted that I cannot keep everything organized, and so I focus on the most important things. It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to arrive at this insight, but now that I've had it, I embrace it. I don't have to be all the way organized. I just have to be organized enough. It doesn't matter if my desk is a cluttered mess as long as I can find my important documents. It doesn't matter if I haven't cleaned out the kids' outgrown clothes as long as I remember to check the hand me downs from Pumpkin BEFORE I go out and buy Petunia new shoes.

I won't claim to have applied this approach everywhere I could, but I'm making progress. I am much more zen than I used to be about the clutter that remains. That is what really matters to me. The goal isn't to have a perfectly organized house and life. It is to be happy. I just need to be organized enough to keep the inevitable chaos from causing me to be unhappy.

My other hard-earned insight about getting organized is that it is OK to focus on just one area at a time. When I'm feeling overwhelmed by the chaos, I try to figure out what specific chaos is driving me crazy right now and address that. For me, feeling like I might let someone down  and forget to do something I've said I'll do is a big trigger for feeling overwhelmed by chaos, so it often makes sense for me to look at our scheduling methods and try to improve them. The most recent improvement there was the decision to print out monthly calendar pages (I use the monthly horizontal calendars on Printfree.com) and stick them to the fridge. We write all non-routine events on this calendar, and since it is right in front of our eyes when we get into the fridge, it helps us remember things. We've been using this method for a couple of years now and I can't really fathom how we managed before we implemented it.

Now that my work schedule is less regular, I have also ramped up my use of my Google calendar. I would LOVE to get Mr. Snarky more on board with online calendaring, but he can't seem to stick to using it, so I've given up.  I just put important things in my Google calendar, but treat it as a back up to the "master" calendar on the fridge. Again, my goal is to be happy, not to be optimally organized. Constantly harping on Mr. Snarky to do something that obviously is not natural to him does not advance me towards my goal, particularly since the printed calendar is an easy workaround that he will use.

There are lots of other little enhancements I've made based on stopping and trying to figure out what chaos is actually causing me stress at the moment that I tip over to the "too much chaos!!!!" feeling. For instance, we added a small whiteboard to our fridge where we write things we need to buy, divided up by the stores we visit regularly. This one was based on a suggestion in a comment from a reader on a post I wrote right after one of my "too much chaos!!!" meltdowns. (Here's a follow up to that post, about stress-busting and mental unloading.)

Fridge, with calendar, shopping lists, and menu plan.
Plus a lot of magnets.
More recently, it was my email that was making me feel overwhelmed. Turning on all of the built in categories and adding a few labels of my own ("attention needed," "save for later," and "biz receipt") ratcheted down my email stress significantly. I no longer worry if I'm going to forget to respond to an email, because I can now just flip over to the "attention needed" list and see what emails still need me to do something (usually respond). And when I do my monthly accounting update, I can more easily find any receipts I forgot to download and save.

I love getting new ideas for how to organize things- even if I don't implement an idea right away, I might come back to it at my next "too much chaos!!!" moment. Give me your organization tricks and the seemingly small optimizations that have made a big difference in the comments!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Weekend Reading: The Don't Let It Get You Down Edition

Today has been an object lesson in pulling out of a funk. I was in a funk for a variety of reasons.

I settled into a funk last night, after concluding that the t-shirt printing place I found doesn't seem to respond to customer queries. I like their quality and prices, but I sorta need them to fix it if they make a mistake, so it was back to the drawing board on the t-shirt front, all while Mr. Snarky pointed out that t-shirts are a crowded market and selling t-shirts is unlikely to ever make me much money.

I agree, but the market isn't crowded with things I want to wear, so I figure I can make t-shirts I'll wear and maybe a few other people will buy them, too, and it will be grand. Also, designing t-shirts turns out to be a lot of fun.

But the setback almost had me convinced to just ditch the idea, despite the fact that I've finally figured out the technical side of the design process and really like my latest design (it involves dragonflies).

Then there was the rain, which is done now, but was coming down pretty hard this morning, and part of me just wanted to curl up in a chair and sip tea and read a book.

But I'd just done a deep dive into my corporate finances on Wednesday, and that told me I shouldn't get too lazy.

So, I fell back on my productivity tricks and kicked myself in the pants and actually got quite a lot done today- including submitting my latest t-shirt design as a test order at a new print shop.

I still sipped a lot of tea.

Anyway, to the links! Looking at them, I think the theme is, yeah, sometimes things are suboptimal or downright sucky, but it won't do anyone any good if I let that get me down. So, another object lesson in pulling out of a funk, if you will. The links are a mix of things that depress me and things that give me hope- I'll let you sort out which are in each category.

First up, women in tech. Sue Gardner had an op-ed in the LA Times that is a pretty concise summary of how sucky that situation is right now.

But! Here is something nice, from our history- Margaret Hamilton was the lead software engineer 
on the Apollo Project. Wikipedia has a short entry about her.

Ta-Nehisi Coates' piece about the New Republic is characteristically great.

Shonda Rhimes delivered a hell of a speech.

Decreasing implicit racism may be as simple- and as hard- as having more diverse children's literature.

Doing little things to make other people happier always makes me happier, too, so I liked Laura Vanderkam's 12 Days of Microphilanthropy.

And of course, I have a couple of random fun things at the end.

First, I've finally found a podcast that I love as much as the BBC's History of the World in 100 Objects. It is A History of the English Language, and as far as I can tell it is delivered by a hobbyist- but wow, I'm learning a lot. I just finished listening to an entire episode on the history of the letter C, and it was awesome.

I sort of want to hire someone to make some cool moss art on my house. I'm sure there are good reasons not to do that, though.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Looking for a Literature Crunching Tool

Yesterday one of the librarians I follow on Twitter asked whether a specific technical tool exists. Here are the tweets:

I replied that I'm not in lib tech, but I think that such a tool could be written. I said that I suspect it will be a 90-10 problem: i.e., a tool that handles 90% of the cases can be created with a reasonable amount of effort, but if you really need that last 10%, it will get expensive.

I'm basing my opinion on the fact that I know Mr. Snarky wrote a similar tool at an old job, because I remember answering questions about scientific literature for him. However, he does not have that code, it is not in the public domain, and it was focused on a subset of the biomedical literature, so is not as broad as what @mchris4duke is after.

I promised to ask my bioinformatics and computational bio/chem friends, though, because I suspect people have written similar tools. So... does anyone have public domain code that does something like this? Or lessons learned from writing such a tool they want to share?

My only additional advice is that if she hires an undergrad to do this (she's currently at Stanford and is moving soon to MIT, so suitable undergrads should be available), she should keep an eye on that 10% problem, and be sure to keep the amount of time/money spent on the tool in line with the value delivered. When I've written or managed the writing of tools with the 90-10 problem, I've usually ended up stopping development somewhere in the 90-95% of cases handled range, and just handled the remaining cases by hand. Deciding when to stop tool development is a project-specific thing, though. It is all about the cost vs. the return vs. how hard it is to do the analysis of the remaining cases by hand.

So- does anyone have anything useful to add? Put it in the comments or tweet it in reply to the tweet I use to share this post.

(P.S., I am FINALLY about to notify the winner from this giveaway. So, if you don't hear from me by the end of the day, you didn't win. Sorry for the delay. Holiday season, blah blah blah.)

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Something I Need to Say

The Senate's report on torture committed by the CIA during the aftermath of 9/11 is out, and we can read the executive summary. I haven't brought myself to read it yet, because even reading people's tweets about it makes me sick to my stomach. I will eventually read at least some of the more thorough summaries, though, because I think we need to face up to what was done in our name.

And it was done in our name. I didn't vote for George Bush, but he was still my president and that was still my government, torturing prisoners when it is against all we claim to stand for. When we already knew that torture does not work. When the CIA itself knew that torture was not working.

Already the apologists are out, asking us to remember 9/11, and blah blah blah. I do remember 9/11. I remember the horrible fear I felt that day, both in general and about specific loved ones in lower Manhattan. I remember the grief and anger in the aftermath.

But we let that horror lead us to inflict another horror. There is no excuse for that. There would be no excuse for that even if torture worked.

What we did was not protection, it was retribution, and it was retribution meted out without care.

I would like to see the architects of this terrible, misguided program brought to justice. Perhaps, eventually we will see that. Until then, I will just privately condemn them and wish I believed in a Hell in which they could rot.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Gearing Up for Christmas - a Gift Ideas List

In the midst of being horrified by most of the news, I'm also trying to get ready for Christmas, which means I'm doing a lot of gift shopping.  I suspect at least some of you are in gift shopping mode, too, so I thought I'd share some gift ideas. None of these work for the people left on my list, but maybe they'll help someone else!

I'm a big believer in the principle of giving people higher-end versions of things they need. Nicole and Maggie wrote a post about this not that long ago, but I'm not remembering enough keywords to pull it up in a search (Update: here it is!)

Anyway, here are some ideas if you want to go that route:

For the tea lover, check out Lupicia Tea. They have "plain" tea and tea that is mixed with other ingredients for flavor. I usually prefer a good plain black tea to flavored, but their flavors are pretty awesome. My sister in law gave me a couple of tins from their Australian collection, and when we visited a Lupicia shop during our trip to Torrance I bought several tins from their Hawaiian collection. I also signed up for their newsletter, which comes with a single tea bag sample every month. Every single tea of theirs I've had, I've liked. It is definitely a step up from my usual stuff, and my usual stuff is pretty darn good. Plus, their tins are really pretty.

For the chocoholic, try giving a tasting set of single source chocolates. I first discovered the joys of single source chocolate during a visit to San Francisco, when I stopped by Dandelion Chocolate. It is really fun to try to the different bars and taste the subtle differences. You can order from them (and their chocolate is soooo good), but if you're looking for something more modest, Trader Joe's has a "tasting passport" box that is pretty good, too.

Nice lotions and bath gels are a good "upgrade" gift, too, but in this case you need to know two things: (1) what sort of product the person usually uses, and (2) what smells he or she likes. If someone usually uses a supermarket shower gel, Bath and Body Works or The Body Shop will be an upgrade. If they're usually using Crabtree and Evelyn, you'll have to go even more upmarket. L'Occitane would be an option in that case. Lush is another good option for this sort of gift. Their Dream Cream is a personal favorite of mine. I'm obviously no help on scents, but a light citrus-y sort of thing is usually safe. If you give a bath gel, include the matching lotion. That makes the gift more luxurious feeling.

Another good gift-finding approach is to find a gift that fits an interest, but that the person might not splurge on. This is how I got my first Kindle- Mr. Snarky knew I wanted one but also knew that I'm slow to spend that kind of money (back then, they were more than $150!) for an electronic gadget, so he bought me one for Christmas. This sort of thing only works once- when that Kindle broke, I replaced it almost immediately because I love having an ereader so much. (If you decide to give an ereader, you might want to check out my old post at Tungsten Hippo about it- I recommend giving a few short ebooks to go along with the new ereader, to get the recipient started. That post recommends some good "starter" books, but really, you could browse the entire site for more ideas. For instance, today's post has a taster flight about travel, which would be a good "preload" for an ereader being given to a frequent traveler.)

I've also gotten some good blank notebooks, which I suspect were chosen because people know I like to write. This can be tricky, though. Some people have really strong preferences on notebooks. Moleskines are generally considered good (bonus points if they have a special collection item that fits the recipient's interests). I use a Moleskine for the idea notebook that I started keeping after reading the books about being a scanner/renaissance soul. It is not my preferred size for carrying in my purse, though, so I also carry a smaller notebook for ideas about things to write and snippets and phrases I might use. These tend to come to me at random times and fly away if I don't write them down soon, so I like to carry a notebook in my purse. I have a 5.5 x 4 x 1 inch notebook that I bought on a trip to New Zealand that I'm using right now. I actually find that to be a bit too small for good writing flow, though, so as soon as I fill it up, I'll switch to a 5 x 7 x 0.5 inch notebook my in-laws gave me. I find that size works much better for writing.
Current notebook in front, next notebook in back
Like I said, it is personal. I don't mind getting random notebooks as gifts, though, because I always end up finding a use for them. Other people may be less forgiving, so use this idea with caution.

Books- electronic or otherwise- are another set of "go to" gifts. If you have any scientists or engineers on your gift list this year, two good options are What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions  from xkcd's Randall Munroe and WTF, Evolution?!: A Theory of Unintelligible Design  from Mara Grunbaum (who runs the awesome WTF, Evolution tumblr).

That's all I have. If you're looking for toy gift ideas, you might want to check out the series of posts I did on this awhile back:
If you have any good gift ideas, please share them in the comments. I have a few gifts I'm still looking for inspiration on....

Friday, December 05, 2014

Weekend Reading: The Health and Unhealthy Society Edition

I was going to make this post include links about medicine and human biology, but then the world was too horrible to ignore some of the other things I found.

First, the medical links, which are really quite good and deserve attention even while the rest of the internet erupts in flames.

Chavi Eve Karkowsky's discussion of how postpartum hemorrhages are treated is a sobering reminder of one of the many reasons those of us who can give blood should do so. On Monday, I will return the calls from the blood bank, which I've been ignoring for a couple of weeks, and make an appointment to give blood.

The Smithsonian had a good round up of what science tells us about picky eaters (like me). I would like to say this, though: my genetic predisposition towards picky eating almost certainly comes from my Dad's side of the family. My Mom loves vegetables, and if I did not get exposed to their taste in utero it is only because I apparently made her throw up most of what she ate. Also, I made a HUGE effort to eat more veggies while pregnant with Pumpkin, and she still will not touch them now. My money is on the genes that govern taste receptors being more important than the tastes in the amniotic fluid.

This NY Times story about antibiotic resistant infections in India is frankly terrifying. Our blase attitudes toward antibiotics scare me. There are not infinite ways to kill a bacterial cell without harming the human cells around it, and we should not be so cavalier about the drugs we have. There is no guarantee that more are forthcoming.

Now, to the unhealthy society links.

This storify is really eye-opening with respect to the mindset of GamerGaters. I guess this is the flip side of the community I find on the internet. Sure, it lets me find a community that I struggle to find in real life, but not all communities it allows people to build are healthy- for their participants or the rest of us. I don't think we as a society are even close to reckoning with that. And why would we be? The internet is still so young.

I suspect most people have heard about the horrible, horrible mess that the Rolling Stone UVa rape story has become. If not, Megan McArdle has a solid story about it and Amanda Taub has an important perspective on reasons why some aspects of Jackie's story may not holding up to scrutiny. I am not at all impressed with how Rolling Stone has handled this, nor am I impressed by how some prominent male journalists are behaving. The whole thing makes me feel sick, really.

Before I was feeling sick about that, I was feeling sick about the grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death. I do not have anything profound to say about the case and what it reveals about racism in this country, beyond what I said in response to George Zimmerman's acquittal or Michael Brown's shooting and its aftermath. Go read the links in those old posts, if you haven't before. There are people saying what needs to be said far more eloquently than I can.

Then read this compilation of a string of tweets about things Black people should not do. Absorb the sheer number of cases, and the mundane situations.

And definitely read Kiese Laymon's piece about how his Vassar college faculty ID makes everything OK. If you read no other link this week, read that one.

Finally, Alyssa Rosenberg's piece about how not everyone is cut out to be a cop is really thoughtful and thought-provoking.

And this TED talk from Verna Myers is quite good.

I hate to end on such a down note. So I give you the delightfully funny Pamela Ribon celebrating Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist.

And the saddest thing about integers just proves why stringed instruments RULE.

I hope your weekend is a good one. We'll be decorating our tree. It is an artificial one this year, because my asthmatic lungs need a break after the long, allergen-laden "fall" and the discovery in Joshua Tree that the smoke from avocado wood (what was available as firewood up there) triggers my asthma. Bonus- the lights are already on the tree!