Friday, April 29, 2016

Weekend Reading: The I Should Keep a Stash of Cute Animal Pictures for Weeks Like This Edition

First of all, thank you for all the supportive comments on my last post. Vitamin D supplementation is tricky for me due to my asthma (vitamin D is also implicated in boosting immune function), but I'll look into it, and other potential vitamins I might want to supplement.

Second of all: I have a favor to ask. I've signed up another novelette for my publishing company. This is a sci-fi novelette, and depression features in the plot. I'd like to get a couple of beta readers who either have depression themselves or are close to someone who does. If you're interested, email me (wandsci at gmail dot com). This can be a paid thing, or I can owe you a favor: whichever way works better for you.

Third of all: Let's have some links!

This NY Times interactive graphic about money, race, and educational success showed up in my inbox from a couple of different sources. It isn't really surprising, and that is sad. If you've never looked at this sort of data, take a look. One limitation is that it is only by school district, so it isn't very informative about large school districts like mine. San Diego Unified comes in at about average, but I am fairly certain that educational attainment is not uniform across San Diego Unified, for exactly the reasons this graphic is highlighting.

On being angry while female. I completely missed the Kelly Ripa story, and honestly, before I read this article, I didn't really know who she was... but this is a nice article tying a lot of things together. I think it would have been stronger if it had acknowledged that women of different races experience this prohibition on being angry differently, though. But perhaps that is too big a subject to really tackle in a short article. I think there are common threads, and then also things that are different for women of each race. I'd love to read more about this, though.

This post about the men who email women who have written something is really good. Every once in awhile, something I write at Chronicle Vitae prompts a bunch of emails, always from men, always telling me either that I'm wrong, or that I failed to consider something.

The most recent one, which was about how being organized is a skill that you can learn, prompted a hilarious crop of emails earnestly explaining that maybe the writer (again, always male) could learn how to be organized, but they would never be quite as good at it as their wives are, and therefore it makes sense that their wives handle all the minutae of their lives. I don't know what they were looking for? Absolution? If so, they should be talking to their wives.

I didn't answer any of the emails. I'm not in the business of ajudicating how other people arrange their home lives. If both parties are happy, great. If not... they need to talk to each other, not me.

Lest you despair about men... this essay by Detroit Lions linebacker Deandre Levy about how men need to "man up" to address sexual assault is wonderful. What struck me is that according to the essay, his change of perspective came from attending training about domestic violence from the NFL. Also clear from the essay is that the training didn't reach everyone... but it reached him. Imagine how many men we'd reach if we'd talk with boys and young men in high school and college. We will not reach everyone, but if we reach some, I think it would be worth it.

Turning to the state of digital media... this article from Mother Jones editors Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery is really good. If we want good, independent media, we have to be willing to pay for it.

This article about the extra problems older women face in the workplace is sobering for me. What if I find I need to go back to a full time job... and run into age discrimination as well as gender discrimination? Mostly, this makes me work harder on my projects, but it also makes me worry.

This post about aphantasia is mind-blowing. Read it. Really.

The Grumpies hosted a really interesting discussion about online vs IRL personality.

Bad Mom, Good Mom talked about Facebook's privacy policy. Boy, I'm looking forward to talking about privacy settings with my kids!

Finally, here's David Frum thoughtfully considering the case for a third party run by a conservative candidate. I disagree with his politics, but I am glad there are still some Republicans who think that giving in and unifying behind Trump is a fundamentally wrong thing to do.

And now, we need something fun to end on.

Sorry, I don't have anything really light-hearted, but Alexandra Petri's post about the woman card is hilarious in a "laugh so you don't cry" sort of way.

And this made me laugh:

I feel like I should have a cute animal picture to end with or something, but I don't. Sorry. Have a good weekend, anyway.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Lying Brain and The Limits of Empathy

I don't really mind getting older, but I have to admit, I am hating perimenopause.

Ever since puberty, I've known women whose monthly cycles have a profound effect on their moods and mental states, but I've never considered myself one of them. Until now. I'm not sure why this has changed for me, but perimenopause seems like a plausible thing to blame, so I'm blaming it.

Sure, I got a little irritable for a day or two, but honestly, the strongest mental effect of my cycle was a powerful craving for cookies for a few days. (I still get that, by the way. I always love cookies, but for a few days each month I basically transform into Cookie Monster.)

Now, though, something much more profound happens. For three specific days of my cycle (and I'm on the pill, so I know it is always the same three days), I feel like a failure. I feel like everything I'm attempting to do is doomed to fail. I am sure I should just give up.

The first couple of times this happened, I was completely unaware of any reason, and I actually started searching job ads for a full time position. This despite the fact that my contract work is bringing in enough to meet my financial targets for the year, and so I have decided not to start to look for full time work until November, at the earliest, and then only if I can't convince myself that I have a chance of making my financial targets next year.

After a couple of months, I caught on to what was happening, and to be honest, it sort of blows my mind. I strive to be empathetic to what other people experience. I thought I was being empathetic to what my friends who experience powerful emotional effects from their cycles were telling me. But clearly, I didn't really understand. I was thinking of it as "oh, they get really sad." No, this is much worse than that. Honestly, I have started treating it as if my own brain is lying to me.

This week happens to be the week in which my three monthly days of feeling like a failure fall. So starting on Sunday, I had to keep reminding myself that this feeling was an illusion, that the objective data indicates I still have a chance of pulling this new career thing off. (To be fair to my three days of pessimism- I'm not doing so great that the idea that the venture will fail is ridiculous. It very well might fail. But it is not failing yet.) Since I was in the grip of Lying Brain, I didn't really believe this pep talk, but I told myself to just go through the motions anyway. I'm pretty good at going through the motions despite crushing self-doubt, it turns out. (A hidden benefit of my years in a male-dominated industry! Or perhaps the reason I've lasted so long in a male-dominated industry? Hard to say.)

Today was the day my brain stopped lying to me, and I felt so much better that I can't describe it. I had one of those days in which there is an unfortunate confluence of a bunch of different work and home things, so the day was a tough one. But I sailed through fine until after dinner, when I went to make scones for the kids' lunches and accidentally cooked the pumpkin instead of defrosting it. Then I melted down. If only I'd remembered to take the pumpkin out of the freezer earlier, I self-flagellated. But that sort of emotional response is more inline with what I'm used to from my monthly cycle, and after a brief time feeling sorry for myself, I got my act together, opened a can of pumpkin, and made the damn scones. At no point during the day did I think "I'm a complete failure and I should just give up on all my goals now." Whereas yesterday, which was a pretty uneventful day, I thought that at least 30 times.

So anyway, I now have a little bit of personal experience with my brain lying to me, and it sucks. And I have just about the best scenario of lying brain I can imagine: there is a physical cause I can identify and the effect is time bounded and predictable. I am trying to imagine what it must be like to have your brain lie to you like this in unbounded and unpredictable ways, and I can't really do it. I have even more respect for people dealing with illnesses like depression and anxiety than I did before.

And I have a new appreciation for the limits of empathy. Empathy is not the same thing as understanding.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Weekend Reading: A Sort of Grim Edition

First, an update on my poor snail: While I was in Portland, it stopped spitting out grey stuff and started moving around again. I was so excited! Today, it is giving me another scare by floating around the tank. The information I can find online says that this does NOT mean it is dead. As far as I can tell from the online info, the only way to tell your snail is dead is if it starts smelling bad.

I think this one might be dead, though. It doesn't smell bad, but neither did the first two (smaller) snails we tried in the aquarium, and those eventually just disappeared from the shells.

I think the sniff test has a high false negative rate, is what I'm saying. I'll wait and see what happens.

Anyway, on to some links:

Here's another water poisoning story to remind you that not everyone in this country actually can count on safe drinking water. This one was discovered by a Navajo graduate student, who was studying the impact of the old uranium mines near his home.

This story about an Oklahoma woman's hard life and premature death is really sad. Consider it an anecdote to go with the data about declining life expectancy for white women... but as far as I understand, the data aren't yet clear on whether this is a representative story of that decline.

I'm really drawn to the idea of a minimum income, to make life less crushingly hard when it doesn't work out for you. There is a large trial of this approach just getting underway in Kenya.

Are you feeling sorry for Andrew Jackson for getting booted off the $20 bill? Don't.

If you think ads are killing the web pages you try to read, you're right. Our system for paying for the content we read online is completely broken. I wish we could scrap the entire thing and try again. Maybe bundle paying for what we read into our internet access fees and/or the price of devices. Or something. The ad-based system is good for no one but the middlemen selling ads.

Why don't women go to hackathons? NASA is studying that, and making progress on improving participation rates. That article made me stop and think about why I have never once considered attending a hackathon. I think the answer is that I exhaust all of my energy and patience for fighting for space and respect in male dominated spaces with my main work. The idea of doing that "for fun" just does not appeal.

Men are ruder than women. Really, there's data on that now. There was a lot of light-hearted cursing from the women on my Twitter feed in response to this study. But the cursing part interests me the least. And for the rest of it- I'd rather work to make men less rude than work to make it OK for women to be more rude.

These were sort of grim links, so let's end with some fun: Modern Solo Adventures. I can't even fathom the amount of time it would take to put these together, but they are very entertaining!

Happy weekend, everyone!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

We Can't All Be Geniuses. And That's OK.

Like every other Gen-Xer on my timeline (and a good many people from other generations), I'm a bit in shock to hear that Prince has died. His music was everywhere during my high school years, and even though I wasn't "supposed" to like it under the rules that governed coolness in my high school world (I was "mod" and we only liked "new wave," mostly British stuff) I loved it.

People are tweeting about how his music helped them through tough times, and how his example helped them embrace their own unique identities. I don't have any such stories, but I loved to dance to 1999 and Little Red Corvette, and I can still remember being blown away by Purple Rain.

He clearly was a genius, and he is gone too soon.

I've been thinking a lot about genius lately, perhaps prompted by my musical obsession of the moment, Hamilton. I think Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius, too. I'm using the word to mean "someone who has understood or created something amazing that no one else even realized was a possibility." I wish we had a better word for this, because I don't just mean "super smart" or "super talented."

I'm always humbled and a little discouraged when I come across genius like this. I don't think I'll ever create or understand something no one else even realized was a possibility. In my teens and twenties, I assumed that I just hadn't found the area in which I would shine. In my thirties, I realized that there was no area in which I'd be that kind of genius, and I consoled myself with stories like the one about the two guys who saved Shakespeare's work for posterity. Now, in my 40s, I think that not everyone gets to make that much of an impact on the world, and that's OK. You can tell I was starting to realize that at the end of that last post. Some of us- most of us, really- will just pass through, and no one outside of our immediate circle will be much changed by our having been here.

And that's OK. Really, it is.

I keep working on my projects, because they matter to me, and I want to accomplish my goals. I try not to worry about whether they will matter to anyone else, beyond the obvious fact that I want enough people to buy the things I make to allow me to live my comfortable life. If they don't, well, I guess I'll keep my day job, and keep trying.

The older I get, the more I think the most important thing in life is love and kindness. Love for family and friends, and kindness for everyone else. Not superficial kindness, but profound kindness. The kindness that accepts where other people are, not where I think they should be. The kindness that remembers everyone is important and has value, and that everyone is struggling along their own difficult path in life, even when I don't understand or can't really see the difficulties.

I haven't really figured out how to handle assholes in this paradigm, though. Maybe that's what I figure out in my 50s?

Anyway, I mourn the loss of Prince and his unique genius. From what I've read, it sounds like he was a good guy as well as a genius, and I mourn the loss of a good guy, too. The world needs more of those just as much as it needs the rare genius. We can't all be geniuses, but we can all try to be good, kind people. We can't all create something that helps ease the paths of people we've never met, but we can try to help ease the paths of the people we do meet. Surely, that is enough.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Do What Matters Now

I spent the weekend in Portland. The weather was beautiful, and overall, I had a rather nice time. I got to see an online friend (I won't say who, out of respect for that person's anonymity). I got to meet some new people, and I got to spend time with my parents, my sister, and wonderful family friends from my childhood. 

The weather was beautiful, and it showed the city off well. We were staying in a hotel on the Willamette River. I could stand on the balcony of my room and watch people fish for Chinook salmon. In fact, there was a regular traffic jam of boats on the river. The hotel restaurant had a nice deck we could sit on and talk over our drinks while we watched the river. That was good for the soul.

But I was there for a very sad reason. A good friend of my family died unexpectedly at the end of February, and there was a service for him on Saturday. I am so sorry he is gone, but I am really glad I went to the service. He was a wonderful man, and the testimonials from his friends and family at the service made that abundantly clear. He was remembered as a man who helped others, and who made sure the people he cared about knew he cared about them. There were people at the service from all phases of his life, from childhood friends to recent colleagues. We all cried and laughed our way through stories about his strengths and his quirks. 

He was not a young man, but he was not especially old, either. It felt very much like he was someone who died before his time here should have been done. Many of us talked about how this was a powerful reminder not to put off the things that matter. He had plans for travel that I wish he had gotten to fulfill, and no doubt many other great things he would have done if he had more time. But on the fundamentals, I think he succeeded in doing what matters in his life. When I saw him last (during our pre-Petunia Oregon vacation), he seemed genuinely happy with the life he had made. He liked his work. He loved his garden and his deck, and he enjoyed showing people around the city he had settled in. He liked to travel, and he saw a lot of places in his life. He was a wonderful father, husband, brother, son, and friend. I feel better for having known him. That is a pretty good legacy, really, and after listening to his oldest friends talk about him at the service, I think he has such a good legacy because he didn't put off the important things.

We none of us know how long we have. It is not especially profound to say it, but perhaps we all just need to be reminded now and then.  Do what matters now. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Weekend Reading: The Busy Season Edition

I think it is time to admit that I'm in a busy season, both personally and professionally. We're past Pumpkin's birthday now, but the end of the school year is going to come up surprisingly fast, and with it, our family vacation to New Zealand and the Cook Islands, which I need to start planning.

I've had several networking events recently, not to mention the Bindercon conference in LA. I've been working more hours than I anticipated at my main gig (which I am most definitely NOT complaining about: that's my major source of income). I have three books in flight, all of which are coming along nicely, but still require attention.

And of course, I'm about to fly up to Portland, for a trip that is mostly personal but has some professional bits tacked on. My husband has no problem running the home show on his own, but to be fair to him and the kids, each trip out of town requires at least a little extra planning on my part. For instance, I made scones today so that the kids would have their usual lunch at the beginning of next week. Did I have to do that? No. The kids could eat something different. But I've been gone more than usual of late, so I wanted to do that for them.

In my experience, busy seasons exist not so much because there is so much I absolutely have to do, but because there is an unusual concentration of things I want to do.

Anyway, that's neither here nor there. You're here for things to read this weekend, and I have some links for you.

First up, the Whitney Plantation museum looks like a place we should all try to visit.

We need to stop holding girls and women responsible for the behavior of boys and men. Also, grown men who are creeping on teenage girls that they teach aren't going to stop just because the girls are wearing longer skirts.

Amanda Taub lays out the reason that the utterly unsurprising results of the Guardian's study of their comments section is so disturbing. The fact that women and people of color take the most abuse and the way that abuse correlates with the topics they cover is almost certainly limiting whose voices we get to read on some topics.

Maura Qunit's How to Negotiate a Raise (If You're a Woman) is definitely funny, and definitely sad. It ties in to what I've been thinking lately about my career goals. My current career goal is to build a satisfying and reasonably rewarding career in which I can go for an entire week without having to hold back an urge to scream at someone. I plan to achieve this via a combination of changing what sort of work I do and learning to be more zen.

Do you remember hearing legislators poking fun at "shrimp fight club" and shrimp on a treadmill? Well, the scientists whose work was singled out for ridicule held a poster session. Surprise! None of it is ridiculous.

Sometimes Farm to Table is just a nice story someone is telling you to make you feel good (and buy their food). I wonder about regional variation in this sort of fabrication. I mean, farm to table is all well and good when you live somewhere with a year round growing season, but it is a trend in a lot of places that don't have that. Does that influence this sort of fabrication?

Ending with some happy things:

I really like the idea of this sculpture. More genrerally, I like the idea of sculptures that you can interact with like that.

This tumblr of Classic Programmer Paintings makes me laugh.

And I'm going to leave it there, because I told my kids I'd pick them up a little early today, so we could hang out a bit before I have to leave.

Happy weekend!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Tuesday Hodge-Podge

I am sitting in a Starbucks, drinking a so-so tea. I have a networking event to attend this evening, and it doesn't make traffic sense for me to go home before the event. I brought some work to do, but find that my brain is not willing to focus on it. My work at my main gig today was pretty intense, and involved a lot of user interface design, which is not something I enjoy or think I am all that good at. And yet, it falls to me to do it on this project, so I do my best.

Anyway, I can't focus on the work I wanted to do, so I'm going to write a blog post instead. It will be a hodge-podge, because I doubt my brain could handle anything more intense.

The networking event is one that sort of scares me and I almost convinced myself not to go. Then I asked myself what "grown up me" would do, and it turns out she'd totally go to this networking thing and work the room like a boss.

It turns out, imagining "grown up me" and asking what she would do is a pretty good way to figure out what I should do to achieve my goals.

Grown up me is way more confident and willing to put herself out there than right now me is.


On a related note, it turns out you can be 43 and not think of yourself as really being "grown up me." 


I really appreciated all of the tips and ideas people posted in the comments on my post abut style, or the lack thereof. I had just about convinced myself to hire a stylist to come in and give me some tips and help me sort out what I need to buy... and then we took our car in for some service and discovered we needed about $1700 of repairs. 

We are very fortunate to be able to absorb that sort of surprise without too much trouble, but it did make me think that perhaps spending several hundred dollars to figure out what clothes to spend another several hundred dollars on wasn't the smartest thing to do right now.

So I decided I would have to invest time, not money. I spent a little over an hour trying on everything in my closet. I filled a garbage bag full of clothes to give away. I made another big stack of clothes that I should probably give away, but that I would first try on with other things- I did the first pass through without doing a lot of mixing and matching.

I have identified a few things I could go and find that would alleviate my immediate issues. I need some professional blouses that work for spring/summer here. I need a new black blazer. Unfortunately for me, both of these are really hard things to find. I will almost certainly need to get things tailored, if not just made to order outright. The problem with getting things made to order outright is that if I do it through the online services (definitely the easiest optiion for me- I can shop at night), I can't return anything I have made custom. I've already got one skirt that fits beautifully but didn't turn out to be as flattering as I thought it would be.

I might start with the easier things: a pair or two of casual pants (maybe crop pants) for weekends, and some new black shoes. 

On the other hand, I had a really hard time figuring out what to wear to the networking thing today, so maybe I should suck it up and go find some blouses.


I am a complete hair product skeptic. I tend to think that hair products don't really deliver on what they promise in their labeling, so it doesn't matter which product I buy.

But.... I needed some new gel/mouse/styling product, and I picked this L'oreal Boost It mousse and damn, if that didn't really do what it said it would do.

I wonder if I need to reconsider all of my hair product choices now.


Over the weekend, I wrote a Tungsten Hippo post about finding short ebooks. There are more publishers to watch for than there were when I started Tungsten Hippo. I still wish for a better browsing experience on Amazon, though. I don't want to limit my searches to the publishers I know about.


I've been thinking a lot about having control over my own reactions. I want to be better at responding to BS in a way that doesn't derail me from my goals. I think the first step to doing this is being able to recognize the BS as BS, and accept the anger or sadness it creates in me without letting those emotions control how I respond, because even when those emotions are completely justified, expressing them in the moment is not always the best choice for me.

I am not all that good at this right now. I am pondering how to get better. Anyone have any tips?


I think I'll close there. It is almost time to go network like a boss.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Weekend Reading: The Blink and You Miss It Edition

Ugh, I hate it when a week goes by and there are no "real" posts between my two Weekend Reading posts.

But there's nothing I can do about that now, so I guess I'll just plow ahead with my weekend links.

Sadly, I don't have that many links to share, for the same reason that I didn't write a post: I've been busy with offline things.

For one thing, my oldest daughter turned 9(!!!) and we of course needed to celebrate that. I was also catching up after logging some extra hours at my main gig (they had a short term project that they wanted my help on). I want to keep my other projects on track, and they had suffered a little bit during the previous two weeks, so I tried to make that up this week.

So anyway, it was a busy week.

But I do have a few links for you:

Is Soylent really any different from Slim Fast?

This article about the somewhat miraculous recovery of a man with a brain injury was really interesting.

Melissa Harris-Perry interviews Anita Hill. The "Anita Hill hearings" (which were really about Clarence Thomas) were a huge part of what made me realize in college that the men around me were experiencing things very differently than I was. Looking back, I think listening to my male classmates make crude jokes about them was one of the first things I stuffed in my internal "bullshit box." I'm not sure I could stand to see them dramatized, to be honest.

Here's a nice review of Hope Jahren's new book, Lab Girl. And here's a nice interview with Hope Jahren about the book and her science.

The Toast is running a series from Anne Boyd Rioux about women writers that deserve to be rediscovered, and her first choice is Constance Fenimore Woolson. I featured her novella, A Florentine Experiment, in Missed Chances.

Speaking of old stories... one of the things I got done this week was to make good on a goal I've had for months of creating a "thank you" gift for Tungsten Hippo subscribers. I formatted the classic short story Daisy, by W. Somerset Maugham, into an ebook and new subscribers will get that once they confirm their subscription. Existing subscribers will get links to download it in this week's email. My plan is to switch out the freebie ebook every six months or so, always sending the latest freebie to the current subscribers.

I believe this series of tweets was prompted by something that someone said about Hillary Clinton, but regardless of what prompted it, I applaud it:

Happy weekend, everyone!

Friday, April 01, 2016

Weekend Reading: The Spring Break Edition

It is spring break week here. My parents are here entertaining the kids during the day, so I've worked a fairly full week. But I haven't read as much online, because I've been spending my down time socializing or grabbing some extra time with my kids.

Still, I have some links for you.

This New York Times article on the funding struggles of a start up aimed at women's health is... telling. Also, I can't stop laughing at the fact that someone once thought the "S.S. Napkin" was a good name for a line of sanitary pads.

The firing of a Nintendo employee targeted by the GG crowd is disturbing, even if the company claims it was for some other reason.

The oil and gas industry is causing a lot of quakes in Oklahoma... but not from fracking.

This article about people wanting power for autonomy, not to tell other people what to do, really resonates with me, and bears really thinking about if you run a team. How can we give more people the power of autonomy?

In defense of Aaron Burr. (My knowledge of revolutionary era American history isn't up to this... I may have to read some biographies!)

An app that tells you when you're at a location that features in a poem... very cool!

Does the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle explain Donald Trump's hard to pin down positions?

I love this:

Too. Much. Cute.

Happy weekend everyone. We're taking advantage of our short term live in babysitters to have a date night tonight, so I'm signing off early!