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It is. It really truly is.

On Christmas Eve around 5 pm San Francisco time, Adora posted the this piece looking for future employees.

  1. i can’t be 100% sure but i think people choose to work here because they believe homejoy is not just another cool startup; it’s a mission; it’s a passion. we’re building things that enable and will change the way people live and work. this is not an overnight venture; we know it’ll take a long time, and we’re all committed to it.

    First: they work there because a) they are (presumably) paid, and b) they believed that your offer was less odious than the other choices they had at the time. It’s not a mission, it’s a company. For your employees, the expected added benefits exceed the expected added costs. And bay area engineers will put up with massive crap if they think they might get rich. Even when the actual outcome is a million-to-one reverse split on the stock.

    Homejoy’s business model is to find cleaning services. They’ve had three rounds of funding comprising about forty million dollars. I don’t want to be in any way disrespectful to the industry, but they’re entering a market segment with several other established competitors.

    It’s just an educated guess, but I’d guess that they’re not generating venture outcomes.

  2. Words of Wisdom from Mackieman:

    Being die-hard loyal to a company is like being in an intimate relationship with a brick. The brick cares nothing for you. Do not love the brick; the brick will only cause you pain when it forgets about you. The brick serves only its interests and nothing else is of consequence.

    The brick does not love you.

    He’s right. When push comes to shove, everyone’s expendable, even founders and CEOs. I’ve seen it happen. Organizations value themselves more than the people that make up the company. Growth is expensive, and that’s when control gets dodgy.

    But you’re probably feeling that brick-like pressure from those venture rounds, aren’t you?

  3. “so it’s xmas eve and i’m in the office with several other folks who didn’t have plans for xmas either.”

    It’s all about the poor me, isn’t it? Except in this case, you’re the one doling it out, ensuring those other people couldn’t have plans. Look, you and your brother founded the place and head it up. If you don’t have plans for Christmas, who’s fault is that, exactly?

  4. “don’t get me wrong, many other homejoy folks are back home celebrating a proper xmas with family as they should definitely do!”

    ::rolls eyes::

    So “they should” celebrate a “proper xmas”? Now it’s sounding like you’re insulting both groups.

  5. Never, ever, get a job interview with a company that uses private domain registration.

Look, a job ad would have been fine posted at 9:01 am on January 5th.

On Christmas Eve, it’s just pathetic.

The company’s about cleaning services. It’s not about the timing of some rocket launch that has a narrow window or you’ll miss it until the next time the comet comes around on the guitar.

Remember: When you raise venture, you narrow your options. Rachel explains:

The purpose of life is not to raise venture capital. Not raising venture capital doesn’t make you a failure. And the purpose of venture capital is not to reward the clever or the good. It’s to (say it with me!) redeploy resources from a lower- to a higher-performing asset class.

Working in a Tech Startup isn’t a mission. It’s about being part of a higher-performing asset class no matter what else that costs you. Whether that “you” is a CEO or the engineer the CEO’s looking to hire.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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I’ve seen this link about how women fare in performance reviews going around, and people have been focusing on the fact that women get tone policed.

What I haven’t seen mentioned: women score more negatively in performance reviews in all ways.

58.9% of men’s reviews contained critical feedback, while an overwhelming 87.9% of the reviews received by women did.

This ties into raises, bonuses, and promotions, obviously.

For what it’s worth, I don’t recall ever being called abrasive in a performance review.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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Note: this is part of a much longer piece I’m writing, which I’ll announce later. I thought you’d enjoy this first draft excerpt.

I took my first programming class in the summer of 1975; I was 15 when I started. The programming lab was in the math and science building of Saddleback College. Back in those days, they had a Data General Nova 3 minicomputer with 64K of core memory (not RAM) and 64K of floating point core. Now, those of you who’ve never seen core memory, each bit is a magnet on a larger lattice framework and 64k of core took up a significant amount of space, though what we had, both floating point and regular memory, probably fit into less space than that photo I linked to.

Saddleback’s Nova did have a hard drive that was about the size of a washing machine, with one fixed platter set and one removable one. I don’t remember exactly how much drive space it had, but let’s just say it was a handful of megabytes.

I grew fascinated with the computer lab. The smell of the oil on the paper tape drives, the sound of the hard drives seeking, the gentle clicking of other switches and relays, the drama when the multiplexer melted over 4th of July weekend. I loved every bit of it.

My dad had said, “You like puzzles, you’re good at math. You’d be great at this, and you might actually enjoy it.” Back then, programming wasn’t a big industry, so he didn’t actually expect it to be a field I’d really go into. It was more one of those parental “hey, check it out” things.

At the time, I was extremely shy, and screwing up in front of other people, or where other people could watch, was my least favorite thing ever.

So, even though I considered it impersonal, that was precisely why programming worked for me. If I couldn’t figure something out right away, the computer would tell me I was wrong and I’d suffer in silence. I’d work at different approaches to the problem until I understood it well enough that I’d have the solution worked out.

Because of my immersion into computers and programming, when there was an opening for a lab assistant the next term, I was offered the position, and accepted. I learned more about the Nova minicomputers and read the entire thick manual on operating it, trying to understand the relationship between assembler (which I had not yet taken, but could read through simpler bits of) and the binary it translated into.

The minicomputer took up about half a rack, and its hard drives cabinets were about the size of a modern washing machine. The entire thing needed enough power that it had to have a raised subfloor, quite common in computer rooms of the day.

When booting the Nova every morning when the lab opened, someone had to hand-check the paper tape driver in binary using the front panel switches. Now, one of the beauties of core memory is that it’s non-volatile, so that usually translated to three things: 1) checking that the sequence was still correctly in memory, fixing it if necessary; 2) going to the memory address where the driver started, then 3) start the system running from there. Eventually, I memorized it enough that I could check the entire sequence without thinking. It just became a familiar pattern of numbers.

Saddleback offered a single class in Basic programming (that everyone took first) plus one in Assembler and another in Fortran. All three were taught through the Math department. You had to do the lab work for Fortran at UC Irvine, which was about 15 miles away. The fourth class offered, Cobol, was taught through the Business department, and you had to do the lab work at Cal State Fullerton. This was the one class I never took, though.

That’s it. Four total classes, plus any independent study opportunities.
At the time, there were zero Computer Science degree programs in the United States, so far as I knew. You could get an Engineering degree with a Computer emphasis (EECS), or a Math degree, or a Business degree, but no standalone degree in Computer Science that wasn’t primarily about another discipline. That had yet to be invented.

So if this happened to be your thing, as it was mine, it was a tough field to enter back in 1975. You didn’t really learn enough at the community college level to do it full time in industry, but how else would you learn enough? The four-year programs weren’t much better.

These days, you’d buy a computer and work from home on various projects, perhaps open source ones.

Back then, a computer cost on the order of a year’s rent (at least by the time you got enough doohickeys to make it actually useful for anything) and required being soldered together. Of course, this was the kind of project that friends would help you with. In fact, four of us did exactly this for my high school physics project the following year. Having helped my father solder together the parts on a Heathkit oscilloscope, I did an awful lot of the soldering on that project.

Effectively, the price and difficulty barriers meant no one had a computer at home in that era. Computers like the original Apple I were just starting to become available.

One day, the lab got a request for a job interview from a local business, BasicFour, headquartered on the Irvine/Costa Mesa border near South Coast Plaza. They’d asked to interview a more senior lab assistant. He was 17, had a few months more experience than I did, but he’d also recently accepted a job offer.
The lab manager handed the information to me and said, “This could be a great opportunity for you.”

I called and got an in person interview. I was so excited that it wasn’t until after I’d gone home that I realized no one had asked me any programming questions. I was given a tour and offered an alternate, lesser position.
“Normally we start women out in a data entry position,” the man in the suit said. It paid less than half as much money. Since data entry positions have largely gone away—the position was for a glorified typist, still very much considered “women’s work” at that time. If nothing else good ever came of the Internet, at least women don’t have to put up with men feigning being too good to type their own crap.

I turned it down, but gave no reason.

Dejected, I almost didn’t go back to the Saddleback lab the next day. I considered calling in sick. When I did go in, I reluctantly walked over to my boss’s office.

“How’d it go?” she asked.

I told her what they’d said, then I told her that I’d turned them down.

“Good,” she said. “They shouldn’t have done that.” She asked me what I wanted to do, ensuring that I knew that I could report what they’d said.

“Find a job with a company that treats people better.”

“Good idea,” she said, then said she wouldn’t be sending anyone else to interview there. Ever.

At that time, I wasn’t willing to write off BasicFour, even though I probably should have. They were a local employer. They gave me an interview. It didn’t matter that they screwed up so badly. I figured—perhaps correctly, perhaps not—that they may change their minds later. Given limited opportunities at the time, I didn’t want to alienate them. It hadn’t occurred to me then, but would now, that some of the people in charge of that policy would later become involved in other local ventures, so that was probably a wise choice. Unfortunate that I had to even think about that, then or now.

I was sixteen years old, I hadn’t even had a programming job yet apart from some work I’d done for my father, and I was already worried about being blacklisted.

Heck of a way to start a career.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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Some time ago, I realized I’d missed the two opening rounds of tickets for this year’s World Domination Summit and added myself to the notification list for the third round. And promptly forgot about it.

Over the weekend, I’d gotten an email reminding me that more tickets would be available soon, so I went over to the website and read up on the speakers.

I watched this completely amazing (to me) talk by Gretchen Rubin from last year’s conference.

Gretchen Rubin from Chris Guillebeau on Vimeo.

The segment about the Rubin Tendencies (begins around 19 minutes in), four different ways of approaching internal and external motivation was revelatory for me.

If you don’t want to watch the video, here’s a link to descriptions, from which I’ve excerpted the following short quote:

Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%)

Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense (my husband is a Questioner)

Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

(I also think there’s an inverse to the Obliger, which I’ve labeled Self-Obliger for the moment.)

It’s like someone explained my life to me in a way I suddenly understand.

Now, some of us pretend to be one of those that we’re not. And we can have tendencies in other directions. I’m a Rebel with Questioner tendencies, and I’ve gotten through life by masquerading a Questioner.

But I’m not, and the façade is exhausting.

It leads to long stretches of anxious busy instead of katamari busy.

So How Do You Motivate Yourself?

I’m a very in-the-moment person, and I suspect many Rebels are. We make choices without necessarily considering long-term implications. Yet, many Rebels wind up in either the clergy or military/police, which are very structured.

My preference is for well-defined loose structure: several large constraints but without a lot of rules, but where the structure is consistent. I prefer large swaths of nothing on my calendar. A day feels “busy” if it has one timed item on it, no matter how short that time slot is. This week, I have timed items on my calendar three days in a row, and that feels impossible.

Thus, I’ve tended to work best on long projects where I don’t have a lot of daily (or weekly) milestones that are externally imposed, but can proceed making progress at my own pace.

The catch is what motivates me: whatever it is I’m doing has to be the most interesting thing to do in the world at that moment.

And I’m a person who’s fascinated by a lot of things.

You see the inherent problem here.


There are a couple of other things that motivate me.

The thing I want to do can be the thing I most want to do in that moment. I can work on talking my way into that being something I really want to do. “Wouldn’t you enjoy eating something better for you than this bad thing? If you cooked it, you could have that.”

Like most rebels, I’m motivated by a realistic challenge.

A funny story of my teen rebel years. I wanted to take college classes while I was in high school, but the high school counselor said I couldn’t because it was against the law. Went to the library, photocopied the law (which, btw, said the exact opposite), came back and pointed out it said nothing of the kind. He still wouldn’t let me go to college, so I actually switched schools to the alternative school. My senior high school year, I had English, Physics, Horticulture, and (I can’t make this one up) Independent Study Table Tennis. In college, I took French, Calculus, and some other stuff.

Not many people would have done that at age 16.

On the flip side, I genuinely have never given a fuck about my GPA except where it has mattered for some goal I was trying to achieve. Instead, I’m that asshole who took notes during class, dutifully copying down all the professor’s jokes, never looked at my notes, never studied, often never bought the textbook—and aced the test. Obviously, I hated project classes unless the project was The Best Thing Ever.

Yet I wound up not only with a BA but also an MS (Computer Science) and an MA (Writing Popular Fiction). However, when I went back for the “F” (my MA program turned into an MFA program), my brain balked. I wound up dropping out because I realized that, for me, the money/energy/time was better spent on world travel.

That short stint in the MFA program led directly to the book I’m now working on, though, so it wasn’t a waste of time.

How This Affects My Writing Process

Given what I’ve told you already, do you think I’m a planner or a pantser? (Pantser refers to someone who writes “by the seat of their pants,” meaning without an outline or plan.)

Yep, pantser.

My attempts to outline ahead of time essentially wind up like this:

Outline says: “Jake wants rents a boat and discovers a long-rumored sea monster.”

What I actually write: Jake gets mugged while hiking in the mountains.

Me, arguing with mss/outline, “But…!”

Brain: Denied.

At the point where they diverge, I can’t even think.

Or, if I’m trying to interview characters ahead of time:

Me: “So what do you really want out of life?”

Character: “If you followed me around, you’d know this shit.”

Me: “…?”

Character: Turns back to me, and, like a cat, thumps her tail loudly on the wooden floor.

Fuck that shit.

I just can’t do an outline before I do the work. If it doesn’t lead to an outright block, what it does is drain the “new” energy out of the piece. That “new” energy is exactly why I like writing. I feed on it.

Some day, when I dig through this pile of stuff, I’ll upload the “outline” I did for grad school when I had to turn one in. Basically, I reasoned that I had X deadlines throughout the program, and each of those deadlines would be a chapter, and therefore I had X chapters to write. I was in a restaurant that had paper placemats, so I moved my plate aside and wrote down a short phrase (2-5 words) for each chapter.

That got me through the first draft, and it stuck.

I can only do that once I’m to a certain point in writing a piece, though. I generally have to start blind, write down a few ideas, and then Just Start Writing. I usually start at the beginning. In a short piece, I usually need to write the ending (so I know where I’m going) before I write the middle, but even that’s not consistent.

I often write longer books out of order, which I’m doing with the current book.

I keep a list of things I want to accomplish in the piece at the top of my document, and I’ll just delete those items as I use them. It’s not an outline, it includes all kinds of things like places, characters to introduce, a scene I want to write but don’t know where it goes, etc. Most of the items are plot pieces, though. (This was easy when I was writing in Byword, but not so easy in Scrivener, and I need to figure out a way that works for me in Scrivener. In Byword, I just peeled off a chapter as I finished it and kept writing in the same working document.)

When I know the order of those items, I’ll move them into order at the top before any of the unordered items.

At some point, usually 1/4 to 1/3 of the way in, I hit a wall. I know I’ve hit the wall when my productivity slumps and every time I write I feel like I have more questions than answers. Often those questions include, “Does this really go here?”

That’s when I need to start organizing a loose outline. It’s not what I’m keeping at the top of the document, but something more like a short synopsis.

The important thing here, though, is that it’s when the number of raised questions exceeds my comfort level. That’s something that happens organically during writing.

I’m Not Uncomfortable with Open Questions

I’ve discovered that I’m happier with more open questions than the average person.

As a real example of that, last year my boss told me a week before I was headed out on a long trip that I needed to cut it in half. I made a bunch of changes to my itinerary, but one of the questions that was left open was how I was going to get home from South Africa. I had a tentative plan in place, but it didn’t meet the constraint he’d set. Close, though.

I don’t know how many people would set off on a trip with such an important detail hanging. But I did.

Did it bother me? Only insofar as I wanted to meet my boss’s constraints.

I trusted that I had the ability to return from South Africa. After all, as an experienced traveler, I know how to work the system, and I know that there is a system. Plus, there’s always the “pay more cash for what you really want” option, even though that’s not the way I preferred to do it. So I waited for something to open up, and returned via London, catching a show I’d wanted to see.

Part of My Process is Trust

Trust that I can make it work, trust that I will make it work. When it’s something I haven’t done before, I worry, but then I remind myself that I’ve done similarly complex things before.

I trust in my ability to be resourceful and adapt to new information.

One of the things I know I’ll need to do for an upcoming project is to make a small font. I have no fucking clue how to make a font. Worse, I’m going to have to learn Illustrator for some of the mockups I’m working on, and I’ve been resisting learning that for about 25 years.

I know I can do it, though. I just haven’t had a real need to before now. I’m excited about it because I know it’ll be interesting and different. Yay.

That’s the single hardest piece of the stuff I’m doing. I am working on other things (to go with the font), and it’s all new and fun.

World Domination Summit

Getting back to the start of this post, why yes, I am going to the World Domination Summit. July in Portland, Oregon. Fun times.

I’ve also updated my events page with other places I’m going to be this year.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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Last weekend, I was on a panel at FogCon about invisible disabilities. I told this story for the first time.

After I’d been working at Apple for a while, I needed a handicap placard. I’ll go into why later.

Apple culture has had an “execs get a pass” culture as long as it’s been around. There’s a story (possibly apocryphal) that Jean-Louis Gassée once saw Steve Jobs park in a handicap space (long before SJ was seriously ill) and JLG quipped, “Being morally handicapped doesn’t count.”

Now, I knew that story before I started at Apple, but what I didn’t know was that more than just SJ got a pass.

At the time, I worked in Infinite Loop 3. There were 4 handicap spaces outside the building, and 3 underneath the building. For pretty much anyone handicapped, the spaces underneath the building were the better accommodation for reasons I’ll explain later.

An average of once every two weeks, there would be a car without a placard in one of those spaces. The first time it happened, I asked the building receptionist (at Apple, they are part of Security) what I should do. She said to give her the license plate #, so I did. In practice, it was easiest to do so by taking a photo on my phone. Over time, I got quite an iPhoto library of said license plates on one of my work computers.

If someone without a placard parked in the handicap space, there’s always the possibility it’s someone who actually needs the space (and the striped zone for a wheelchair)—and they’ve just managed to screw up somehow and forget to put their placard out. Anyone who’s had a placard for a long time has managed that once or twice. So, essentially, it means I was denied a space I was entitled to, and I didn’t know if I was denied for a good reason or a bad one.

Depressed that nothing was happening, I filed a complaint with HR about it.

It kept happening. I kept reporting it to the receptionist.

I go on vacation. Specifically, we go on a cruise. (April 2011, so Tim Cook was interim CEO)

When I come back, my manager pulls me into a meeting, but not a normal one-on-one kind of meeting. He says that while I was gone, some Apple exec got their car towed, and Scott Forstall was angry about it. The way my manager said it at first, I thought Forstall’s car had been towed. Maybe so.

I said, “I was in Morocco on that day. Would you like to see my passport?”

I was actually trying not to laugh at the whole situation, because, looking at it from the point of view of my frustration, it was pretty hilarious.

So I pointed out that there were three handicap spots under the building, and there were three handicapped people using those spaces every single day. Some days, one of us would have to use the outside spaces because another handicapped person was visiting our building.

My manager, I had noticed, was not at all clued into mobility issues. He bicycle commuted from Santa Cruz. Over the mountains. Hardcore stuff. That doesn’t prohibit understanding, of course, but it sure seemed to elude him.

My manager said, and I wish I were kidding, “Well, couldn’t you park in one of the handicap spots in another building?”

I was so gobsmacked, I couldn’t even form curse words in my head. What I wanted to say was, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

So, in order to protect the able-bodied special snowflakes and save them two minutes, I’m supposed to put myself at risk?

What I was aware was that I didn’t need to share the specific details of my disability, so I did not. What I did, however, was say how much accommodation I actually required. I pointed out that I wasn’t in a wheelchair, so I didn’t need the striped part of the space. So if they parked in the stripe zone next to my car (and not next to the car owned by the dude in a wheelchair or the person I didn’t know), I’d know the regular part of the handicap space was available for me.

Which started happening.

Instead of Apple accommodating the disabled properly, I accommodated the able-bodied.

My manager detailed a different way of reporting violations that cc’ed some honcho in facilities, but I never needed to use it. Not long after that, my group moved to City Center, where there were not only green parking spaces (which I could use), but there were also more handicap spaces.

The Why

There are a lot of reasons people get handicap placards, and mine is a fairly common reason. When I was shopping one day, my leg suddenly went numb. Terrified, I went to sit in my car (using a shopping cart for support to get there) while I waited for the others to finish shopping. As I sat, the numbness went away.

Turns out, I’ve had a defective lower back for some time, it’s just now gotten bad enough that that happens, and I never know when it’ll happen, how quickly or how fully numb my leg will become (sometimes it’s just slightly tingly), or how much time I have until I actually fall. Because it happens, it makes it unsafe for me to walk across traffic (which is why the outdoor spaces were a significantly worse accommodation, especially since drivers tended to speed around that end of the Infinite Loop oval).

On the other hand, continuing to walk really is my best long-term strategy.

I’m also significantly stiffer in the morning (every morning), and being that much closer really did make it easier to get into the office every single day. The accommodation was important.

In addition to falling, one of the other side effects is extreme pain if I stand too long on hard surfaces, and “too long” can be a minute or twenty. I don’t know until the pain hits. In this case, the pain flare usually precedes numbness, but again, I don’t know how long I have for that, either.

Which brings us neatly to the next section….

Stand-Up Meetings

My third (and final) manager at Apple believed in the so-called stand-up meeting. For me, that’s an inherently problematic name to call a meeting when you have a mobility impaired person as a part of your staff, though I’m all for the concept of more frequent shorter meetings. It excluded me by its very title.

A good manager might actually come to the new staff member being transfered into the group (as I was) and ask if there’s any accommodation that needed to be made. Which didn’t happen.

A good manager might actually invite the mobility impaired person to the daily meeting. Which didn’t happen. Really.

Only quite a few weeks later did I hear about it from one of my coworkers, but I thought it was a new thing. Turns out it wasn’t, I was just forgotten. In a company where physical presence is as important as it is at Apple, that can cause huge perception issues.

Now, I will grant you: people are mobility impaired in different ways. Some people need to stand instead of sit, and regular meetings are hard for them, so a stand-up meeting better accommodates their needs. For those who need to stand, Apple provides standing desks as an ergonomic accomodation. And I did make a point of standing some every day at mine.

Still, if you’ve got meetings where most people stand, really try to make the person who has to sit comfortable and feel like they’re really a part of the team and not just some fucking afterthought. (Likewise, the reverse for the reverse situation.)


I don’t know how common the execs parking in handicap spaces problem is in other companies (I’d never encountered it before), but it’s surprising that it survived that long at Apple. Much as I liked Tim Cook’s statement about not comsidering the ROI of catering to blind users, it left me even angrier about my own treatment when I was at Apple.

When will people who can’t walk or have difficulty walking be as fully human to Apple?

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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In 1986, I turned down an opportunity at Apple. Stupid. I came to regret it and would apply for pretty much any job I thought I could do at Apple for years. I’d occasionally get calls. I’d occasionally get interviews. Once I was a front-runner, but then a hiring freeze struck.

Finally, after a particularly frustrating set of interviews in 2006-2007, I actually wrote Steve Jobs a one-page snail mail letter. Some of it is really dated now.

What does it take for an Apple loyalist to get a job at Apple?

Yesterday, during a phone screen for a .Mac position, Apple’s recruiter [name deleted] noted that I worked in Ruby on Rails in three positions spanning two years. She said, “The problem I see is that all our work [in the WebObjects group] is done in Java.”

It’s apparent she hadn’t read my resume because, in my previous position, I wrote and deployed WebObjects applications. In Java.

I’ve sacrificed a lot to be an Apple loyalist over the years: I’ve turned down numerous jobs; I’ve tended to move toward technologies (e.g., Ruby on Rails) where the overwhelming share of developers were Mac users. I’ve done what I can to stay with the Apple energy.

I started owning Macs in 1985, when I went to go buy a PC, and walked out with a Mac. I became a Mac programmer, producing shrink-wrap apps for small companies. For fifteen years, I worked only as a Mac programmer, moving toward Unix-related technologies when Apple was headed toward MacOS X.

I’m not just someone who stood in line for an iPhone, nor just someone who gets a new Mac every year, nor just someone mentioned in Guy Kawasaki’s The Macintosh Way (under my maiden surname), nor just someone who just bought her sixth iPod, nor just someone who has soaked up the energy and knowledge at WWDC.

I’ve been trying to get a job at Apple for twenty years.

Is there some way you could help me with that?

I never got a response from SJ, nor did I expect to.

I did get a lot more calls from Apple recruiters, though. The job I was hired into a few months later, on the Safari team, wasn’t one I’d applied for. The recruiter thought, rightly, that it would be a good fit, and I happily analyzed and triaged bugs for more than five years.

If you’re not getting the results you want and you write a respectful letter, you’re not going to be any worse off. You could be a whole lot better off.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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(Repost of something I wrote on LiveJournal in 2010)

A while ago, Jay Lake talked about his privilege in his cancer treatment, and it got me to thinking about my privilege in a number of contexts.

I’m white, and that comes with power in our culture, but it’s not that that makes my own set of privileges interesting, at least I don’t think so.

Without further ado:

  1. My parents, grandparents, and so forth, went to college. My mother has documented family members going to college as far back as the 1400s. My great-grandfather had three doctorates, one of them an M.D. So I never had to struggle with family to get a better education. It was expected.

  2. Not only did my father work in the sciences when I was born, so did my mother. Not only that, my mother appeared in a science textbook in the 1950s, as though that were perfectly normal. More to the point, I was raised thinking this were normal and common, and that is a very odd privilege indeed.

    My Mother in The World of Science, © 1958

  3. My parents worked at an atom smasher:

    Where My Parents Worked, late 1950s

    Later, my dad worked in aerospace. He worked on one of the Viking Lander projects (his specialty was mass specs, and the GCMS project was affectionately known as the “Green-colored Martian sniffer”). An early project where I worked for him was measuring the helium line of the sun. Later, he won a NASA prize for his work on the TOMS (ozone-mapping mass spec) project.

  4. While I certainly know people who know more decorated scientists than I’ve met personally, especially as an adult, the fact that I’d met any as a child is a form of privilege. (My father taught the Feynman course on physics as a grad student, just as one example, and was asked to write part of the handouts for it.)

  5. When I was a teenager, my father suggested I take a programming class. After I finished it, he asked me if I wanted to do programming — that’s how I got started on my career. He thought, correctly, that I would enjoy it, and his urging me to take classes like that was partly motivated by the fact that he didn’t enjoy programming that much but did have programming work that needed to be done. So it wasn’t just a class, it was the beginning of 35 years of work (so far) in the industry.

    It was a long, long time before I met another female software engineer; I’ve never worked on a team that was even majority female. In many cases, I’ve been the only woman with a group of a handful to more than 30 male software engineers.

  6. Even when I wanted to be a musician, both my parents were willing to support that choice if and only if I got adequate education for a plan B. I got lured in by the consistent money in programming and for quite a while resented that I’d gone that way, but later came to peace with it after a summer off busking in Ireland. It met enough of the music goal that I was able to move on with my life. This is not to say that I don’t burn out occasionally — I have.

  7. After my mom remarried, we always had a plane and a boat, and tended to travel places. I got to see a lot of places that other people just don’t. San Clemente Island while it was being shelled in a military exercise, for example.San Miguel Island, where a ton of stuff floating in from Japan landed on the long beach, and its odd caliche forest:

  8. I didn’t realize how odd my upbringing was until I was in college and we were asked to write about our mother’s cooking, and most people wrote about white kitchens and poultry. Here’s an excerpt from my piece:

By far my favorite sea dish was the one I usually got to prepare–abalone. Abalone clings very hard to rocks and has to be pried not only off the rock but out of its shell. Once out, it doesn’t have the decency to just sit there and behave. No, it has to crawl all over. Abalone is inherently tough, so I would pound it with a meat tenderizer as it crawled across the cutting board. I’d stop wailing on it with the metal tenderizer and watch it to see if it had stopped moving, but it would curl up its edges and slide away.
So it’s hard for me to remember that some people have to fight to attend even two-year college, hard for me to remember that some people fight with their family about careers in the sciences and so on. It’s just so normal for me.

Then again, I grew up thinking radioactive hazard signs were normal, too….

So, yeah, I’m the weird kid, but I come by it honestly.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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So Kenneth Kuan, the outgoing guy at Penny Arcade, has spoken up about the position he’s leaving And toomanyjens has ripped into that. Before Kenneth posted, I’d previously commented on PA’s job listing.

For a bit about my background: I’ve been in the computer industry longer than Kenneth Kuan’s been alive. I’ve seen and heard a lot in the industry that is disgusting and vile on levels that Penny Arcade hasn’t touched. Pink slip fire drills. The “nobody pisses on me” episode that involved actual urination. And firing (of the people whizzed on, just for clarification). And the mortuary vulture capitalists that were using life insurance payouts for AIDS sufferers to fund tech startups.

The Penny Arcade stuff is far more ordinary evil, the kind that some people, like Kenneth Kuan, have bought into.

For the record, I’ve done web development (for companies like Nissan and PGP), software development (for companies like TiVo and Nortel), sysadmin and DBA (for companies like Honda), and general IT work though the last is the weakest of those four. In other words, I am also a unicorn, so I know whereof I speak.

Work-Life Balance Isn’t Just About Time Off

I’ve only had one job ever where I felt that everything I was interested in, no matter how peculiar, was relevant: when I was a bookseller at Kepler’s during the dot bomb era when most of the people we knew who’d been in tech were unemployed. I felt weirdly guilty that a non-tech job gave me this particular satisfaction that no job in tech ever has.

The point of work-life balance is to be able to have time to invest in those parts of who you are that aren’t describable by your job alone. I offer the following phrase out of Kenneth’s own post:

but I have goals that won’t be fulfilled by working there

Yes. But see? That’s true of pretty much everyone, pretty much all of the time. It doesn’t matter how wonderful your job is, how cool the technologies are you work with, how amazing the people are.

Even if you own your own company, part of your goals will involve things for which people won’t pay you money. Or enough money. Kids are a classic example of that.

The point is: you’re a complex individual who has a lot of goals and interests. It’s great to have a job that fits those as much as possible, but it’s actually impossible to have a job that fully fits who you are. Work-life balance is about having the opportunity to be all of yourself.

In other words: Kenneth, despite his protests to the contrary, is in fact leaving because of work-life balance issues. He just can’t see it from where he is. He says he’s not burned out, but he’s been there, what, two years? That’s barely enough time for a good singe.

I think the line that got me the most was this one:

Want to go on a hike somewhere there’s no reception? Sorry, you can’t.

I’d have missed the best opportunities I had in 2013 if this were true, and not just because of the number of hours I spent on a plane. I had no cell reception in Federated States of Micronesia, Maldives, or Myanmar, all of which were amazing to visit.

If you can’t fully detach, then you can’t really be who you are. This is why on-call rotation is so much more helpful in dealing with stress and preventing burnout.

Happy Thanksgiving, Kenneth. May your new career be far more rewarding for you.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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Tales from the archives.

In 2000-2001, I was an engineer at TiVo, working on the TiVo service. When I started, all TiVos were still using dialup to get schedule updates. One of the things we did during the time I was there was to record an over-the-air broadcast aimed at TiVos, clip it into little bits, and use that for a lot of TiVo content updates.

So there I was, with my engineering machine tethered to a TiVo daughterboard via a serial cable, working away on something. I needed a few minutes’ break while I ate my dinner, so I hopped on IRC.

Some kid in some linux-related channel was doing the geek version of the a/s/l check, posting his cat /proc/cpuinfo (from a Celeron, groan) and wanted to know what everyone else had.

Well, my workstation was faster than his, so I ran the command on my work TiVo and pasted it without comment into IRC. It was a 54MHz PowerPC, which was about 1/6 the speed of the server I had at home.

# cat /proc/cpuinfo
processor : 0
cpu : IBM 403GCX
clock : 54MHz
revision : 20.1
bogomips : 53.86
machine : Teleworld Customer Device

(Teleworld is the original name of TiVo, and TiVo machines are called “TCD” internally (for Teleworld Customer Device.))

Kid ridicules my slow machine, then someone else said, “Is that a TiVo?”

Kid’s like, “Dude! You hacked your TiVo?”

Suddenly, I became of great interest to everyone on the channel. All I said was, “I’m not a dude, I’m female.” (Normally, being from California, dude is an inclusive term and I don’t normally comment if someone calls me dude, but I just felt he needed it.)

“No way!” Kid genuinely couldn’t believe there were female software engineers. I felt really sorry for him, but wonder how much that changed him over 13 years, if at all.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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A few weeks ago, I was at Milford. Let’s just say that it was a much-needed experience.

On my flight home on Monday, I was seated next to a guy who seemed to be starting his midlife crisis that very day. One of the things we have in common is a dislike of the “Where do you see yourself in five years?” kind of question. Our goals are not tickable boxes that way; they never have been. What we seek is experiential: a great environment with interesting problems. In both our cases, our definitions of interesting problems had shifted recently.

And he said, more than once, “Respect your dreams.” Always good advice, but also something I needed to hear that day.

Interesting conversation to start the week with, and something that keeps coming to mind.


Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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Once upon a time, when I was talking casually with a guy about bringing me in for an interview, he asked, me, “So how do you feel about working in a group that’s almost all men?”

Until that point, I hadn’t really thought about it. The reality of my job as a software engineer has been that I’ve been surrounded by men in my professional life. Fortunately, I like men. Bunches.

What I very rarely say, though, is how male dominated it has been. For the first sixteen years I worked as a software engineer, I worked with no female software engineer peers.


Just imagine what it would be like to work in your field, whatever it happens to be, with every one of your same-sex peers erased. For sixteen years.

What’s perhaps odder in retrospect was that it didn’t seem the least bit strange until this guy lampshaded it quite a few years later. I wrote down everyone I’d worked with at every company and what they did. Surely I’d missed some woman somewhere.


Part of this was the type of programming I was doing: I started out in scientific programming. I didn’t work (as I do now) for a large company in a large team that has a large percentage of women (less than half, but the highest percentage of women I’ve ever worked with). Even when I previously worked as a consultant for a large company on a team of almost 40 people, there were two other women, but neither were software engineers. Thirty-odd of us software engineers, and I was the odd.

So I guess part of how I feel in the whole SF/F thing is: I feel no less welcome than I have in my day job career. Which is: it basically hasn’t been an issue for me.

Oh sure, there was the one boss who was trying to overthrow all women of power. He, uh, Got Resigned. And there was his replacement, who was worse. I could tell you stories, but they’re frankly the kind of thing you wouldn’t believe in a novel, much less in reality. But I can say that he didn’t act sexist toward me. Flying his “admin” back and forth every week, though, that was another story. That’s two bad apples, and there were many good ones.

I was never treated as though I was there simply because I was female. Nor was I treated like I was unique because I was female. I was just another person, there to do a job.

I’ve worked with quite a few non-white software engineers (and managers) over the years, but in my entire career, I’ve only worked with two who were black: one was an African immigrant, and the other was an African-American man who was just beginning the transition from support staff to engineering. I’ve also worked with a number of LGBT* folks, too, though I suspect I’ve worked with more than I’ve known about.

So, coming from my professional background, the field of SF/F has felt to me like it’s stuffed to the rafters with talented and diverse people, except for the relative paucity of Indian SF/F writers relative to the numbers I’ve known professionally.

No one ever called me a “lady software engineer,” nor would they have been able to do so twice. So I sure as hell am not a “lady writer ”or “lady editor,” either.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

deirdre: (Default)

My former boss^3, Don, posted this article referencing this BusinessWeek article, which has some stellarly bad interview questions.

Like: what are the top five cities you want to go to, and why? And: where do you vacation in the summer?

The latter is worse than the former because it gets into illegal question area pretty quickly, like the prospective parent who wants to use the time as a part of parental leave.

But even the former is tricky, because there are people who do religious tourism, and there are people who, like me, love to visit religious places where people might overinterpret our interest.

For example, I absolutely love Islamic art because I love anything complicated and geometric. Likewise, I like Celtic art, there’s just so much less of it in the world on big structures. But people can and will misinterpret my desire to visit Istanbul, you know? Or my visit to Morocco’s Hassan II Mosque in 2011.

That’s not even getting into issues about going around the world last year, specifically my trip to Dubai. I’d been wanting to go for years, I had gobs of frequent flyer miles, and I went because the trip organizer, eightblack, sounded funny when he wrote up a trip report. Specifically, it was this post about a visit to the Ferrari factory in Maranello.

So yeah, because Rick didn’t want to go (and we didn’t have enough miles for both of us to go anyway), and because I wanted to do it and Rick didn’t, I went. So here I am trying to imagine how people in a job interview might interpret the fact that there I was, sitting in a restaurant the last night in Dubai, talking with lovely people (almost all men) I’d never met bet before halfway around the world from home, and wondering WTF anyone would think about cultural fit from that.

Especially if it involved the conversation with Khalid where he said, “You could drive the gulf states in 19 or 20 hours,” and I pointed out, “Well, you could. I could not.” (Saudi Arabia and women driving, y’know.)

Also, as a point, I generally don’t vacation in summer because it’s high season and I’m a shoulder- or low-season tourist by preference. The assumption that one is vacationing in summer implies kids and school schedules, which also implies an illegal interview question.

Someone who knew I visited Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico in 2012 might think I actually spoke Spanish rather than made half-hearted attempts at it.

Funny story time. A couple of years ago, I friended an ex of mine on Facebook. We’d dated on and off for 11 years — really, when we weren’t involved with other people. So, somewhere between “friends with benefits” and a real relationship. We hadn’t seen each other in quite a few years.

So he proposes to take me to Cancun (as an affair), rapidly succeeded by my blocking him on Facebook.

My first reaction was, “Wow, that’s the best you’ve got? No wonder I didn’t marry you.”

This is not to diss Cancun. Okay, well, maybe it is. But Cancun is really not a Deirdre kind of place. Not at all. It’s not that I couldn’t have fun there, I could. It’s just that it ranks so low on my list of places I’d like to go, it doesn’t even make the top 250.

I’d far rather stay married to the guy who took me into the exclusion zone on Montserrat for Christmas, you know?

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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2014 Update

In the original post, I never said what triggered the EEOC complaint against Problematic Boss. Documentation had been building against his treatment of women, but that’s not what finally nailed him.

Coworker, looking at resumé of someone he was about to phone screen, looks at the person’s name and asks Problematic Boss, “What kind of name is X?”

Problematic Boss laughs. “Terrorist.”

In honor of events of today, I thought I’d share a tale.

Once upon a time, in a city gay and proud, a small firm hired a woman to move up from a city of relentless beige.

One bright person who interviewed the woman warned her about the boss: he didn’t like women very much. Before she started, events unfolded, the bright person got into an argument with said boss about hiring practices such that bright person got fired. Everyone was stunned, and everyone wanted to react. The woman said, hold on, if the reports are true, he’ll be there less than a month. Don’t do anything, keep your jobs.

And they did.

Sure enough, the woman was able to document enough in the first three weeks (observing maltreatment of others) to do something. But what? Reporting internally was always going to lead to the reporter being fired for poor performance. She’d heard of it happening before. So, instead, she filed a complaint with the government department for equal opportunity.

After the first phone call, when a hearing date was set, the woman approached management and had a meeting with the Head Honcho. The next day, the problematic boss was fired.

You’d think that would be the end of the tale. Sadly, it was only round one.

At the same time as the woman was gathering evidence around her, in another department was a young man who was offered a huge sum to work directly under the Head Honcho. In this case, directly under was intended literally. The young man soon found this out, and he filed a sexual harassment complaint. He was let go for, you guessed it, “poor performance” (one wonders how that was measured), signed his exit paperwork, and went and had a nervous breakdown. The woman didn’t know this until long after, though.

The new boss (Superproblematic Boss) hired to replace Problematic Boss was worse in every way, but cleverer. He lived in another city, as did his minions, and he flew his minions and his “admin” with him every week. The admin couldn’t spell, but then again, she wasn’t really the admin, only one on paper. Superproblematic Boss, it was later found out, was given, yes, given, his admin by a client. She came with a boat, kind of like towels come with a hotel room.

Unfortunately, with money powers that be having more of a say with Superproblematic Boss, the woman wasn’t able to get him fired. He was too entrenched at the top. Since the stress was making her ill, she engineered getting fired (because quitting would have meant paying back a signing bonus). Stupidly, Superproblematic Boss fell for it, and after she got out of the hospital for a very serious infection, she was able to parlay the firing into more money and more stock. The following day, she was hired for a new job paying 25% more elsewhere.

As a result of the stock, the woman was privy to details of things that came up later, including funding rounds and so forth, and eventually the Initial Public Offering paperwork was signed.

Superproblematic Boss was spending like crazy (something like 27 million was wasted on frivolity) and at least two harassment complaints were filed against him internally. Both reporters were fired for poor performance. Both were about mistreatment of the same person whom the woman had been trying to protect over a year earlier.

After that came to light, the woman wrote the underwriters of the IPO (even though that would mean less money for her should the IPO not happen) and pointed them to the government complaint. She heard nothing back, though later, after the IPO was canceled, she heard from a connection to the underwriters that it was canceled not for financial reasons, but for a reason she’d never heard before: “endemic sexual harassment.” Direct quote.

You see, the harassment was far more widespread than the woman realized when she was there, for she had not known about the young man — nor his replacement — nor that the Head Honcho loved to have sex in the office, nor that Superproblematic Boss and his minions loved to hover behind women and make rude gestures behind them or speak in buzzword code about what they wanted to do to them, nor that other people, both male and female, had been harassed over a long period of time. They all believed in the cause that the company represented and downplayed the toxic environment. Of course, they also hoped for a big payout in the event of a successful IPO, and it’s amazing what people will put up with for the promise of Big Bucks.

Shortly after the IPO folded, the woman was contacted by the attorney for the young man, finding out his plight for the first time. She had the only documented external report of harassment. The company was saying no other reports existed, as companies are wont to do. So of course she said she’d help. It was too little, too late, for his case, but it was a valuable lesson: reporting internally will likely lead to retaliation.

So when she hears about reports of people saying they’ve been harassed, then “refuted” with claims of poor performance, this is the saga she remembers.

Oh, that and the stock she had underwent a reverse split a million to one as the company went under and had to be refinanced in a fire sale.

Superproblematic Boss, after three years of making less than the woman, had to file bankruptcy.

Problematic Boss, however, is still spending 1-2 years at companies in the valley of tetravalent metalloids before having to move on to another position. All the people on Linked In who have recommended him are male. Shocking.

I believe you, Kate. (Since someone asked, no Kate isn’t any of the people mentioned in the story above. The story is just relevant to hers.)

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

deirdre: (Default)

I was originally scheduled to come to San Diego on Saturday morning so I could go to a work-related event on Friday, but, well, I had an opportunity for yet another medical appointment, so that took precedence and I flew down Thursday morning.

Getting to the bottom of my medical stuff has been something of a nightmare and has been a multi-year process of peeling the onion. In short, the celiac disease seems to have triggered other stuff, and now I think we’re getting to the last and possibly most critical bit.

Many years ago, I was given a diagnosis of fibromyalgia without excluding other diseases, and fibro’s supposed to be a diagnosis of last resort after everything else is ruled out — and nothing was. I do mean nothing.

For several years, treating it as though it were fibro was enough, but for the last few years, it has not been, and it’s been getting worse.

The good news? I think I finally figured it out. I could be wrong, but I’ve done a lot of reading lately, and I don’t think I am.

So, I found a doctor that agrees with me (thus my earlier trip), but isn’t “in plan,” so it’s more of an advisory role, and there are serious concerns about treating the issue (which I knew). On the other hand, it’s possible that I could get full remission in a few days.

I also got some work done, though I was limited by my doctor schedule and travel logistics.

The event I was coming for is, of course, World Fantasy. So last night I had the opportunity to participate in the mass signing, and I met a local writer who also happens to be a co-worker, so I introduced him to the other sf/f writer co-worker I know. I got Neil Gaiman’s autographs for a friend, too.

Today was my first full con day, and I went to the SFWA meeting at (oh my God) 8 a.m., which went well. As I was leaving, I was just out of it enough that I thought to myself, “Oh, I’m moving well now that the drugs kicked in.” Not five seconds later, I didn’t see that there was a step and took a rather nasty tumble, and I’ve been very sore since. A very sweet African-American teen here for another event helped me up and wanted to know if I was okay.

Because of the pain from the fall, I missed a lot of stuff, and spent the con sitting and talking to people for longer periods and not moving around so much (perfectly understandable). It remains to be seen how well I’ll be feeling the next two days, when the soreness from a fall is generally at its worst. Fortunately, I don’t think I hurt anything seriously.

I have a reading at 10 a.m., and I am now thinking everything I’ve written is crap, and I’m feeling the pressure; I’m reading right before someone I’ve always looked up to and it’s intimidating. I am not sure what I’ll read in the morning yet, but I brought seven things to pick from. I’ll probably read two or three.

I spent some of my downtime this trip reading Steve Jobs’s biograpy. I hope to finish it by Halloween, which seems fitting given the focus of the holiday for me (the annual honoring of people who’ve passed on). I’m going to write a longer post about that when I’ve finished the book. I started reading from the time of Steve’s cancer diagnosis forward, finished the book, then started again at the beginning. I think that’s actually an interesting way to read the book.

I’m going home tomorrow to a newly-repaired car. I have two follow-ups in-plan medical-wise on Tuesday, then a backup appointment on Wednesday with a different doctor.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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9/11 was my second day working at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park. Kepler’s was founded on peace activism, so all day people would come in looking for answers. Not just that day, either.

I found myself hugging someone who was sobbing and clearly came in to look for — something comforting.

Ira Sandperl sat on a chair and spoke with people who came in for as long as he could, talking about peace and peaceful solutions. (As an example of who he is, Joan Baez became involved in the peace movement because of Ira.)

Months later, when I learned how important Ira’d been to the peace movement, I said, “no disrespect intended, but why aren’t you more famous?”

He pointed out that when attention was focused on him, it wasn’t focused on the message.

I think that’s the single most valuable lesson I picked up from Kepler’s.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

Crazy Busy

Mar. 1st, 2011 08:10 pm
deirdre: (Default)
It's a crazy busy time at ye old workplace, so I am going to declare LJ bankruptcy until about the weekend. Maybe two weeks.

There's two conventions this weekend (Consonance and Potlatch) and then FogCon. Following weekend is a BayCon staff event.

In other words, not a whole lot of discretionary time coming up.

Pic I took on Friday night (on film, no less) of Rick reading a book on his Nook when we were out at the local dive having a late dinner:

Rick at the Dutch Goose
deirdre: (Default)
Link here.

Of the ones on the list, I've been affected by the following at some point over the last 35 years: 3, 4, 5, 6 (more than once), 7 (but not in a job context), 9 (more than once), 10 (offered a data entry position when I applied for a programmer position), 13, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 31, 34, 35, 36, 37, 39.

In some other cases, I've simply not cared what others have thought, and I've always been butch, so some of them don't apply, or didn't apply so far as I noticed.
deirdre: (Default)
Decade wrap up:

1) Changed fields and am now where I want to be work-wise.
2) Finished both my MA (Popular Fiction) and my MS (Computer Science).
3) Moved to Menlo Park.
4) Got married for the second time.
5) Went to Clarion and Viable Paradise.
6) Turned my health around a lot, though it needs more work.
7) Sold my first fiction under my own name (as opposed to the work-for-hire fiction I did in the 90s and non-fiction work). Then resold the same piece. Submitted twice, sold twice.
8) Saw the last daily aspect of my first marriage -- Scruffy the cat -- fade away and die. At that point, it really felt like my first husband was truly dead in a way it hadn't before. (His three sons are still very much alive and I'm in contact with them, but my contact with them wasn't daily like it was with the four cats we had.)
9) Traveled. New countries visited (per the Travelers' Century Club list, which is quite permissive): Greece, Egypt, Turkey (Asia), Turkey (Europe), Crete, Corfu, Denmark, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Australia. This means two new continents for me as well: Australia and Africa.

Ten Things I've Done That You Probably Haven't:

1) Worked as a contractor (albeit briefly) on Cunard's Queen Elizabeth II. Sadly, my contract firm lost the contract to another company, so I had to get off at Barbados.
2) Walked from the Plaka district of Athens up to and completely around the Acropolis, then walked back. (I know [ profile] rinolj also did this.)
3) Recovered from workshop-itis: Odyssey, Clarion, and Viable Paradise twice, plus grad school. I dropped out of my MFA program because I realized that I'd been saturated with workshops and what I really needed was different.
4) Wrote porn for pay.
5) Went snorkeling in a bay while the bay's island was being shelled by the military. (San Clemente Island, California)
6) Have dived in a passenger submarine. More than once.
7) Walked through the caliche forest on San Miguel Island.
8) Have skiied a mogul field of moguls taller than I was at the time.
9) Joined -- and left -- a cult.
10) Have taken a train across the US (Vermont to Southern California). Have also taken a passenger train through Wyoming, where Amtrak doesn't usually travel.

Bah, can't stop at ten:

11) Hand-fed sting rays in the Caribbean. (They are like little puppies, they will rub up against you for food.)
12) Rode an Olympic medal-winning horse. Not while he won the medal, sadly.
13) Stood inside Newgrange.
14) When Rick proposed to me in Esperanto, I answered in a language that had no words for yes or no (Irish Gaelic, fwiw).
And I very much hope this one never applies to you )
deirdre: (Default)
I don't often show my inner geek on my LJ, but I feel it's worth a story.

I remember very clearly when I was reading Benoit Mandelbrot's work -- I was consulting for a company that was at least as global (maybe even more global) than the company I work for now. It shall remain unnamed.

I worked on a team about the size of the one I now work on; I was the only female software engineer (we had a woman tech writer and a woman tech support staffer, though).

I got into diagnosing weird problems as a hobby. My cube was opposite tech support and I kept hearing about application problems with one office. I got a network map of the company's global infrastructure (at the time, they had one quarter of all network lines into China, and that consisted of one sub-T1 line...).

I had only logs about failures, and very very very limited information. Yet, it was true. This relatively close office dropped connections more than all other offices, even the ones over satellite links thousands of miles further away. Continents away, even.

I wrote logging into the application, discovered that one particular version of a network stack was a problem. Got all those upgraded. Still the issue persisted, but was a little less bad. When a third office's traffic got routed through the problem office -- rather than the other way -- that office's traffic also failed.

My findings were escalated all the way up to VP level, which was five or six or eight rungs or something. Meetings were held. I was flown to the other office as obviously I had a better sense of what was going on than most everyone else did.

I'm walking around with the guys and I see a bunch of wire on a floor wrapped around a small post. "Is that part of the network?"


"Is that metal?"


I'm not sure if that bunch of wire took the network length out of spec for distance, if it created a significant magnetic field, or if it created a significant antenna. One or more of the three for sure.

I reported my findings, the wire was re-routed and shortened, and that office never again had trouble with our applications.

I doubt, had I not read Mandelbrot, that I would have had the confidence to see that through. It was a problem solved by sheer curiosity and dogged determination -- along with some sense that there was more to the problem than anyone else seemed to think.

You see, before, they'd considered re-writing the applications, because clearly we didn't know what we were doing. But it was a physics problem, not a software one.

RIP, Benoit Mandelbrot. May you find order in the hereafter.
deirdre: (Default)
So, we're home. It's good to be home. It's great to be at work back in my office and see my coworkers.

It took me twenty minutes to figure out where I'd left my car keys. They were right next to my badge, which I forgot. Doh!

Rick and I both have con crud. :(

I forgot to post my best Melbourne picture, one of the last I took, so here it is:

Melbourne at Dawn


deirdre: (Default)

February 2017

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