Photo by Sylverado

When I moved to southern Virginia, one of the historic cities in the region was not in good shape. Home to a major Navy base, and with a history reaching back to before the Revolution, Norfolk had grown shabby throughout the years. The downtown was stagnant. There were swaths of high-crime area, including the downtown, as I learned when I worked for the police department downtown.

It was a couple of years later than the downtown sprouted a new high-end mall. The area around the mall started to clean up, and that was good. But another shopping venue right on the water struggled and eventually closed. The street that I was working on had mostly empty store fronts. The grocery store, opened to support the new apartments, shut its doors after a couple of years.

Three years ago I worked in downtown again. There was a new library extension going in, and a new hotel. The mall was still going, but there were empty stores, and a new Sephora opening proved not to draw any crowds. There were a few restaurants down there, but they were sparse.

I hadn’t really been back down there until my daughter entered an arts program centered in the city. Walking down the same street with the previously empty store fronts I saw all the little local restaurants, coffee shops and stores. Not big chains…little stores run by locals. There is almost no empty space now, and the choices are everywhere. And the restaurants are hopping, too, even on a Thursday night.

It’s a place I would consider going out of my way to visit now. Before, I would eat at one of the restaurants simply because I wanted to get out of the office at lunch. But now I am looking at places I would like to go to eat in the evenings; and perhaps even walk around the area.

It’s good to see this historic city in a rebirth.

Photo by Sylverado



Photo by schmopinions

I listen to many podcasts during my walking and commuting. I am amazed at how many people can say the same things over and over in different ways (in the same podcast). One striking example of this is a podcast where the main presenter and his guest talk about topics, and it becomes a “yes fest”. One person will say something and the other person will parrot it back in different words, agreeing with the first point.

It’s hard to listen to.

The irony of it is that the podcast is about increasing your productivity, yet the podcast itself is a blather of verbosity that provides little new information.

Brevity without sacrificing clarity is an art form, and it is one that requires practice. Too much of the noise that is part of modern communication is due to lack of brevity, IMO.

I’m not immune. There are blog articles that I go back to and wonder at the stream of consciousness that communicates little.

So what can be done? I think it is just a matter of awareness, and taking action. I can email the podcasters and point out that 1.5 hours is too long to cover a list of 10 bullet points in a productivity podcast. And I can make sure that what I say is concise as well.

Photo by schmopinions

Back to School

Photo by justine warringtonIt’s back to school time. My daughter and my former colleagues start back to school today.

This year I have been missing it…sort of. The idea of having space of my own, to anticipate the teaching, the creativity involved in creating planners and forms and lesson plans. The energy and anticipation of new ideas, new students, fresh pencils.

But I’ve also been having nightmares. Nightmares about the rudeness, the disrespect, the violence. The administrators chastising me for something I had no control over.

Teaching high school wasn’t for me. But I still long to teach. It’s amazing to watch when the concepts come home. When they truly understand, and realize they understand.

But no more high school. I’m putting together an online class right now. And perhaps at some point in the future I will teach at the college level.

Photo by justine warrington

Why I Gave Up My Troop

AnonymousThis fall brings a big change to my daughter and myself. We are no longer part of a Girl Scout troop. Instead, I chose to switch my daughter to Independently Registered status, and I will be working with her much as I would as a leader…but without being a leader.

There are a few reasons for this. But the main one is uniform (the adjective, not the noun) requirements for troop size.

Last year the council rolled out a new system, which included new procedures and rules. First and foremost was the ability for parents to register online (YAY!) and then also have the ability to pick a troop that met their requirements (YAY for the parents, not having to wait on a placement specialist). Along with that was the rule that a minimum troop size was 12. The leader cannot turn away anyone if she has less than 12 girls.

The purpose behind this is to open up troops of younger girls to new members. It is difficult to find troops that will accept girls, and this is a good way to make sure there are enough troops to go around. What used to happen is that girls would wait months until their placement was finalized, so this is a good thing all around.

Unfortunately, troops of older girls are much smaller. As girls get older and other interests and activities become prominent, many drop out of Girl Scouts. That means that with the smaller troop sizes people can add girls to the older girl troops…up to 12.

This is fine in theory. In practice, in the city in which I live, it is not.

My city has 12 high schools. Most of these high schools have academies, where students leave their home schools and are bused to other high schools to receive specialized education. We have International Baccalaureate, math and science, performing arts, languages, business, law, health sciences and STEM academies, to name a few. What that means is that for the troop of 8 girls I had, I was dealing with 7 different schools with 7 different schedules with 7 different transit times. In other words, an impossible schedule. We lost our meeting place because we couldn’t find a day and time that worked for all in the fall, forcing me to hold meetings in my home.

So rather than opening up my troop, each girl added meant more scheduling difficulties. What should be a great idea for the younger girls was an insurmountable problem for my troop of older girls.

I applaud the Girl Scouts for doing their best to attract and place the younger girls. But one-size policies don’t fit anymore than one-size uniforms.

I do wish the Girl Scouts had looked at the various age levels and planned the rules according to the needs of the girls of that age. They do that for supervision and travel restrictions; they should do that for troop size as well.

But as it stands, we have a workable solution. I can still work with the independent girls, outside of the traditional troop context, and see them through to the end.

No known copyright restrictions. Image from Flickr


The Google Diversity Memorandum

I am upset about the Google Diversity Memorandum.

A young white man misinterprets scientific studies and presents them as an excuse as to why there are not more women at Google.

I am a woman in technology.

I fought my way through engineering school, where women were routinely given the “typing” and “marketing” aspect of group projects. Where no young man would partner us in labs. Where we were a measly 5% of the graduating class.

I earned my place at that engineering school. It wasn’t given to me because of my sex. My degree wasn’t granted because I am female.

I was given my place at the school of engineering and earned my degree because of my hard work and efforts. Period.

Yes, there were whiny boys who complained that we were given preference when they didn’t pass exams and we did. But you know what? Studying does make a hell of a lot of difference.

I work now, as I have since graduation, programming computers, primarily database work these days. And it is still a fight sometimes. I’ve had clients question my male colleagues about my work while I was in the room…even when the colleagues didn’t know databases. I’ve had clients interview everyone on the team about problems with their databases, and not ask me…after I was brought in to help with their databases. I’ve had clients proposition me, try to hire me for less than half of what I making, and force me to do documentation because “that’s what women do.” I’ve dealt with bosses who would routinely send me out for lower skill jobs (Access) that I didn’t know how to do because the men were given the SQL and VB jobs, which were my proven skill areas.

Maybe the lack of women at Google, and in programming in general, has less to do with our supposed brain differences, and more to do with how we are treated.

I’ve become inured to stuff like this. I am only angry about the fact that my daughter seems to think that this man from Google is right. That women really don’t have the brains for math and science and programming.

I would have hoped that that societal brainwashing died with my generation. But it apparently hasn’t, and it makes me so angry.

We are losing a lot of talent because girls are being told that they can’t do this stuff day in and day out.

No one’s brain is the same as any other. Not based on sex, race, sexual orientation or any other factors. And to perpetuate the myth that they are is just a subtle form of hate.

I am glad that Google fired his ass. This sort of behavior has absolutely no place in any employer, because it is out and out sexual harassment. No one gets to make generalizations or comments because of sex.

And I pity him, and the people at Google that are perpetuating this culture where women are not valued as equals. They are shooting themselves in the foot by turning away talent.

And I also pity him (and them) because only fear can lie at the root of such discrimination. Fear that is born out of insecurity.

So my message to him: man up, grow some balls and accept that yes, there are women out there that are better than you. And who won’t put up with this sort of bullshit in the workplace. If anything, it proves that we are smarter because we aren’t willing to constantly have to prove ourselves over and over again and take the bullshit thrown at us.

Not putting up with discrimination and harassment doesn’t mean we don’t have the brains for programming. It means we’re not willing to put up with demeaning situations.

To Those Who Think I Am Turning Away From The Fight

Photo by ernomijland[Warning: this may trigger those of you who have experienced abuse]

I am getting more than a little irked at all the posts I’m seeing on social media about how if I’m not willing to do something than I am as bad as the terrorists.

How if I turn away from violence, if I am unwilling to put myself in a situation when I am punched or kicked or killed, then I am operating from a position of privilege and I am as bad as the racists.

I am turning away from the vitriol, the hate, and the violence. I will not be found at any protests or vigils. 

But that does not mean that I am operating from privilege nor that I am turning away because it doesn’t concern me. It doesn’t mean that I am racist. I hate white supremacist ideas. I detest the KKK. And I believe that there is no place for anything remotely resembling nazism in the world. 

But yet I will not fight. 

I am making a public declaration: my childhood was so filled with violence that my body still bears the scars. I cannot eat asparagus to this day without vomiting because I was beaten so badly over a piece that I had bruises up and down my back and legs. I bear the scar of a cigar burn on my right hand. There is a scar running down my right nostril that I cover up every day with makeup. I still occasionally wake up from a nightmare dreaming I am being beaten. Occasionally situations will trigger me, and I need to get away immediately.

I don’t say this for pity. I survived. I survived on my own. I had no privilege then. I had no advocates. The adults in my life looked the other way. Everything that I am now came from clawing my way out of that situation, earning each and every hard step. On. My. Own. So yes, it appears I have privilege now. And in a lot of ways I do. But it isn’t something I was handed. I fought to get there.

I am saying this because too many people these days make sweeping statements about others should do. What I should do.

Yet no one stops to consider what they are truly saying. How each sweeping statement applies to individual people, individuals whose backstory they might not ever be able to guess.

I’ve already fought in the war against irrational anger and hate. I have the scars to prove it. I won’t go willingly back.

Maybe I am a coward. But that is between me and my own gods. It’s not for anyone else to decide.

And so I remind everyone who is blithely re-posting and retweeting rhetoric about how others are part of the problem that you cannot judge another until you have walked a mile in their shoes.

Photo by ernomijland

Some Thoughts Spawned by Charlottesville

Photo by AnimatedAtlasThe original article I wrote has been replaced by what you see below.

First Amendment
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

First phrase: CONGRESS shall make no law.

For all those people out there whining about how their first amendment rights are being violated because their hate-filled websites are being taken down by the provider, First Amendment doesn’t apply. Unless Congress somehow managed to take over hosting companies or search engines, it doesn’t apply. The First Amendment doesn’t guarantee that any business will continue to support hate and violence.

I would also like to point out that the “protection” guaranteed by the First Amendment applies is only protection against laws Congress makes. It is not protection against societal backlash or other consequences.

So to those who are spewing hate-filled rhetoric, you have no protection. You don’t like the consequence, shut your mouth. If you don’t, there will be consequences. Yes, you can lose your job. Yes, you can be disowned. Yes, you can be spurned by everyone who meets you. That is what can happen. If you don’t want to risk it, don’t open your mouth. Plain and simple.

Photo by AnimatedAtlas