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Nov. 11th, 2016 09:26 am
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In the wake of Donald Trump's election, I've have been hearing the usual calls for unity and "putting our differences aside", and lots of pleas to understand the grievances of the people who voted Trump, who are not all horrible racists.

I am, by nature, a consensus builder. One of my favorite phrases is, "Can we embrace the power of 'and'?". I don't believe that everyone who voted for Trump is an irredeemable racist. There may come a time when I decide that the most productive use of my energy and talents is to reach across that political divide, to try to understand that point of view.

But honestly, I am not worried about Trump voters right now. Here is a partial and incomplete list of the people I am worried about: My gay, lesbian, and bisexual friends who are worried about whether their marriages and families will be recognized as valid under a Trump presidency. My friends with disabilities and chronic illnesses who don't know whether they'll be able to keep their health insurance or get the medical care they need. My transgender friends who don't know if they'll be able to access health care or get identification that reflects their actual gender or even visit a public bathroom without being beaten up. Anyone who might experience an unintended pregnancy. My friends serving in the military who will have to serve under a dangerously volatile commander in chief. The Muslim business owners in my community who have to fear being deported or being the targets of hate. Every person of color in my community who gets up and leaves the house every day knowing that a routine traffic stop could be fatal.

I could keep going, but I'm not sure if I'd ever stop.

These are the people we need our attention and our energy right now. The Trump voters might not all be racists, and they might have many legitimate grievances. But right now, as Laurie Penny said, they are people who were "willing to fire at the elite directly through the stomachs of their neighbors." First, we need to stop the bleeding. And we need them to see that there is bleeding, not allow them to kid themselves that it's okay because they weren't actually aiming at us.

Then maybe we can talk about finding some common ground.
The atmosphere around work today was positively funereal. Every meeting I attended began with uncharacteristically glum faces and awkward silences. Everywhere I went, there were little clusters of people standing in hallways discussing the election. People who didn't know me sometimes dropped their voices to hushed whispers as I passed.

I almost didn't go to the Toastmasters meeting today. Of the current batch of regular attendees in my club, I'm the only white person and the only native-born American. I wasn't sure if I could face doing our usual round of cheerful speeches about hobbies and self-improvement and things like that while we ignored the elephant in the room, the fact that a bunch of people who look like me had just voted for a man who campaigned on hatred of people who looked like them.

But I did go, and somewhat to my surprise, we tackled that elephant head-on. When it came time for our impromptu speeches, the table topics master invited people to either speak about "Who I voted for for president, and why," or "What I think of the American electoral system."

And it was an interesting dose of perspective. I'm sure there was a certain degree of self-editing going on, because we were all speaking to a room of people whose political opinions we really don't know. But my colleagues put a much braver face on things than I felt like doing. "We don't have elections like this in China," one of them said, "so watching this one was very interesting." Hey, at least we get to vote for our authoritarian warmongering leaders. A charismatic politician has risen to power by fomenting religious and ethnic tensions? My Indian colleagues have Narendra Modi back home.

I started my speech my saying, "I want to talk about something that isn't exactly the American electoral system, but is one of my least favorite things about American politics right now." And I talked about anti-immigrant sentiment. I talked about various members of my family and my husband's family who immigrated to the United States, how it was a country that offered each of them (admittedly sometimes grudgingly) a chance to make a new life. And I promised that I would work to keep this country a place that offers people that chance.

It was preaching to the choir, in a way, but it also felt important to say that.

Now I just have to figure out ways to keep that promise. Figure out how to walk the talk.
Here's a grab bag of stuff I've been finding interesting today:

Nicholas Whyte put together a very nice guide to election night:

Regarding "making presentations more visual", my sister-in-law tipped me off to this excellent resource of diagrams for presentations: Very useful for those moments when you need a blob with four other blobs radiating out from it, and you don't want it to look like it was created by a five-year-old.

Don't watch this if you are afraid of snakes, but this snippet from Planet Earth II is the most tense action-drama I've seen all year: That un-named little baby iguana is my hero.

Fascinating interview with the lawyer who handles U.S. visas for many heavy metal bands on tour: Hardly a month goes by without an overseas heavy metal band canceling or delaying a U.S. tour because a visa issues. After reading this interview, I'm more amazed that anyone ever manages to tour the U.S. at all.

Music that is scientifically proven to reduce stress:
I've been working on a PowerPoint slide deck for a project at work. The idea is to have a short presentation that we can take around to different groups to introduce the project.

I did a first draft and sent it to a colleague for feedback. "Can you improve the visuals?" she asked, and sent me some examples. I improved the visuals. We sent it out for wider review.

All the feedback got was of the form, "Change X, Y, and Z. Oh, and can you make it more visual?"

I did a complete rework of the presentation. I scrawled pictures and diagrams longhand for days before I created a single new slide. I spent hours experimenting with different types of charts and diagrams. I searched for stock photos. I took screenshots.

I sent the revised draft to my colleague yesterday. Her response, "The content is great but I'm not sure about the visuals."


This is what they call a growth opportunity, isn't it?

New PR!

Oct. 21st, 2016 06:03 pm
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I finally hit 210lbs on the deadlift today. I've tried to lift 210 a couple of times before, and was only able to get the bar a couple of inches off the floor, so to be able to actually lift it was quite satisfying.

Making a bit of progress on the push ups, but it's still very slow.
I can't remember whether I mentioned it here before, but I bought a new phone recently. I got an iPhone SE - I was pretty happy with my old iPhone 5 and I probably wouldn't even have bothered to upgrade for a while except that the screen was falling off. When I bought the iPhone SE, I was pretty much expecting to get an iPhone 5 with more storage and a somewhat better camera, and I was happy with that.

However, on Monday, I went to a concert at the Oakland Metro, and I discovered something that completely blows my mind. I took some video of the headlining band, because I wanted to show Daniel a little bit of what the show was like. Now, most cell phone videos taken at concerts sound like crap, because the music is just so loud that it overloads the sound inputs and you get tons of clipping. So, I was very pleasantly surprised when I played the video back and it sounded like this:

Somebody in Apple marketing is missing a trick somewhere. Because if someone had told me, "Get an iPhone SE and you can record listenable concert video even in the second row at the Oakland Metro," I'd have upgraded ages ago.
I was woefully underprepared for my Toastmasters Club's "humorous speech" competition today. I'd sketched out the outlines of my speech, but hadn't really had time to practice it or flesh it out. And I'd actually intended to bow out of giving a speech, but my fellow club members persuaded me to give it a go. Then I won the contest by virtue of being the only entrant. So, I'm going to represent my club at a local competition in a few weeks.

Then I gave an impromptu table topics speech that was substantially funnier than my half-prepared speech, so I'm going to use that material in my reworked speech. So when I do go to the local competition, I will actually have something funny to say.

Actually, the experience was very much like workshopping the first draft of a short story, except with the added adrenaline of being entirely unsure whether I could bring my speech to a successful conclusion.
I'm heading to the VMworld conference tomorrow evening, and the current list of electronic devices I'm contemplating taking consists of: 2 laptops, a digital camera, an iPad, an iPod, a phone, and a Kindle. Oh, and a Fitbit. That means I'm going to need to remember 6 distinct power/charging cables.

I probably ought to throw a power strip in there as well.

I think I can fit it all in the super-cool electronics bag my mother got me after I managed to mislay both a laptop power cord and a Kindle during a single 3 day trip. We'll see.
Director: We could hire a professional services consultant to explain how X works to us.
Me: Nah, let me and [colleague] do a little research first. I bet we could figure it out ourselves.
Director: I love your DIY spirit.

My DIY spirit was forged largely in grad school, where literally almost everything was more expensive than my own labor. Why spend what could end up being thousands of dollars on a consultant when maybe we could just do it ourselves? The only thing I need to remember is that I'm not paid like a grad student anymore and neither is [colleague]*, so it is possible to reach a point where the consultant becomes the cost effective option.

Until then, I'm gonna DIY it. Punk rock doc, y'all.

*Come to think of it, [colleague] is also a former grad student, which might explain part of why we work so well together.
My on-again off-again meditation habit is currently on again. It seems to be doing me good, but one thing it does bring home is just how very noisy the inside of my head can be. (Sample impression:"Okay. Breathe in. Breathe out. Dammit, Moonspell. Okay, focus on the breath. Wow, my L5R character is so much better at this than I am. Well, my L5R character is a monk. Which reminds me, next session - no, focus on the breath. Breathe in. Breathe out. Hello, Moonspell. Focus on the breath. Actually, this would make a hilarious post. Focus. on. the. breath." And so on.)

Then I happened to stumble across a playlist of guided meditations on Spotify, and it made me wonder if having something else to focus on would make it easier to let go of my thoughts. So, I've been throwing in a different guided meditation from Spotify's playlist every few sessions.

Mostly it's been working wonderfully, but I have a piece of advice to offer - if you start your guided meditation, and you think, "Wow, this guy's voice is a bit irritating, but I'll just go with it." Do not go with it. Bail and pick another meditation. Because by the end of 15 minutes, "slightly irritating" will become, "I want to crawl out of my own skin." Especially if you are a little bit suggestible, and Mr. Slightly Irritating breaks out "You may feel slight sensations of discomfort, such as an itch. Just hold that sensation mindfully in your awareness," which causes your entire body to itch.

I will not be trying any more guided meditations from Mr. Itchy.
I've been asked to interview a potential candidate for a tools developer on my team at work. The job posting is here.

I've worked with plenty of developers, so I've got a pretty good notion of what I want in a candidate. I'm not planning on asking a lot of technical questions - there are other people on the team who will do that. Also, I really care much more about a hypothetical candidate's problem-solving abilities and their ability to understand the user mindset well enough that they'll build things that not only meet the technical requirements but actually help us do our jobs better. (In theory, translating writer requirements into language that developers can understand is part of my job. In practice, I've found that that's nearly infinitely easier to do with a developer who is willing to meet you halfway.)

Anyhow, I know that many of you are developers or regularly interview developers. I would love to hear about your favorite interview questions, or things you look for as red flags, or whatever. Please, give me advice.

Also, if you know anyone who would be a good candidate for the position, send them my way. The current candidate looks quite promising, but it never hurts to have a larger pool to choose from.
A scoop of Optimum Nutrition vanilla flavor whey powder plus a teaspoon of matcha powder actually makes a tasty enough protein shake that I might be tempted to drink it even if I didn't think that it would help my lifting performance and recovery.

My push ups progress has kind of plateaued for a while, so I'm changing things up a bit - trying things like more reps with my hands elevated higher, more negatives, etc. It's too early to tell if it will actually increase the number of push ups I can do, but my triceps are growing, which is kind of nice during tank top season.

Deadlift continues to come along nicely. I got really close to lifting 210lbs last week - I got the bar about 2 inches off the ground and then couldn't pull it any higher. Soon!
So, when I tell the story of how I ended up working in tech, I sometimes start it this way, "When I was very young, my father was a professor at M.I.T. for a while. While he was there, he met Seymour Papert, who told him all about his work in teaching computer programming to very young children. And my father said, 'Hmmm, I have very young children...'"

It's quite likely that I would have been interested in computers and that my parents would have encouraged that interest even if my father had never met Seymour Papert. But Seymour Papert helped stack the deck in favor of that, and for that I'll always be grateful.
I threw this together when I had some boneless, skinless chicken thighs that needed to be used up. I've been taking the results to work as part of my lunch for the past few days, and the results are tasty enough that I wanted to make note of this for future reference.

I did not measure anything in this recipe.
What you need: ~1lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, some fresh ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, Sriracha sauce. Some minced fresh garlic probably would not go at all amiss, but I didn't use it.

Grate or mince a thumb-size piece of ginger finely. (I used a microplane grater). Put the ginger in a bowl or dish large enough to hold the chicken. Slosh in about equal parts soy sauce and rice vinger. Dribble in a few drops of sesame oil. Add Sriracha to taste.

Put the chicken in the marinade you've just made, and stash it in the fridge for an hour or so. (Or longer, if you've actually thought to plan in advance.)

Preheat the broiler to high and line a broiler pan with foil. Put the chicken thighs on the pan, drizzle with a little extra marinade, and broil until they're done, flipping them over halfway through.
Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About ItProcrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It by Jane B. Burka

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Probably one of the most comprehensive overviews of the causes of procrastination that I've read. I think this book does a really good job of demonstrating that procrastination is a complex thing, with many possible causes behind it. I particularly liked the discussion of how some procrastinators have a different relationship with time than non-procrastinators - I've personally found that a lot of my procrastination comes not so much from a reluctance to do a task but from things like vastly underestimating the amount of time it will take, assuming there will be time "later" to do it, or just getting completely caught up in something else and losing track of time.

The second half of the book, the "what to do about it" part, goes over slightly more familiar territory, with recommendations to do things like break tasks into smaller pieces, give yourself rewards, and enlist social support.

I won't say that the book is life changing, but having a better understanding of the reasons why I procrastinate has helped me tweak my anti-procrastination strategies to be a bit more effective. Which is enough for me - my procrastination is not bad enough to be crippling, although it does annoy me sometimes.

Finally, I just want to say that I've seen several reviews dissing the authors for admitting to their own struggles with procrastination. I don't get it - why would you read a book on overcoming procrastination written by people who had never struggled with procrastination? (Come to think of it, although I've used words like "non-procrastinators" and "people who have never struggled with procrastination", I'm not sure that such people exist. If you can honestly say that you've never procrastinated on anything, I would be fascinated to hear your experiences.)

View all my reviews

Odd Crew

Jul. 25th, 2016 12:41 pm
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I arrived in my office this morning to find a CD entitled "Mark These Words" by Odd Crew sitting on my desk. It had a note with it from the director of my department, who just returned from a trip to Bulgaria, saying that one of my colleagues in Sofia had asked her to bring it to me.

Odd Crew appear to be one of Sofia, Bulgaria's more successful heavy metal bands. They hadn't crossed my radar before, but I've listened to a few songs on the album and found it quite enjoyable.
The VMware Information Experience team has started a new video series called Blogger Talk, where we interview VMware bloggers about their favorite topics. I talked to Mike Foley about vSphere security topics like why a VM escape is unlikely on ESXi, how to deal with internal security threats, and how to use the vSphere Hardening Guide.

Please like, comment, or share if you are so inclined.

I was braising some chicken in the oven this afternoon for dinner, which involved having a pot in the oven at 300 degrees F for a couple of hours. I scrubbed a few sweet potatoes, pricked them a few times with a knife, and put them on a foil-lined baking sheet in the oven for 2 hours while the chicken was cooking. They were probably some of the best sweet potatoes I've ever eaten - sweet, slightly smoky, and so tasty that we ate them without any additional toppings. (Although, they'd probably be even more delicious with a bit of butter.)
Took my nephews climbing yesterday at The Peak of Fremont with some friends of mine and their kids. The Peak is a pretty cool little climbing gym - notably, it has 9 auto-belay routes, which is handy if you're short of belayers. (We had 6 kids and 5 adults, two of whom could belay, so the auto-belay was kind of a necessity.)

I think the nephews had a good time with the other kids, even if they were occasionally impatient at having to share Aunt Wendy's belaying services with other people.

Younger nephew very sweetly tried to console a 4-year old who was disconsolate because she couldn't manage a 5.11 route: "When you're big like me, you'll climb that with no problem!"

After climbing, we took the kids to a nearby pizza place. The boys were initially not keen on pizza, but when I explained to them that they could get a personal pizza and pick any topping they wanted, they got very excited. Older nephew chose tomato sauce, pepperoni, and cheese. Younger nephew chose tomato sauce and cheese.

Older nephew was very impressed that I had a booster seat in the trunk of my car for his brother.
Older nephew: Do you just keep that there just in case?
Me: Yeah. Do you remember that time I drove you a few blocks in my car and I didn't have any booster seats? I felt bad about that.
Younger nephew: Why?
Me: Well, because I want you to be safe and comfortable in my car.*
Older nephew: And besides, you don't want to break the law.
Me: Well, yeah, I guess not.
Older nephew: When I break the law, I feel bad. It makes me sick to my stomach.

I was too busy getting Younger nephew settled into his seat to inquire about what sort of life of crime Older nephew thinks he's been living. I do think this conversation demonstrates that Older nephew is Lawful Good alignment whereas Younger nephew is definitely Neutral Good.

Older nephew also described to me with great interest the political coverage he'd been reading in that morning's New York Times. He's passionately interested in the presidential election campaign. Perhaps we ought to just give nine year olds the vote.

*Actually, it was also that Younger nephew slouched down in his seat and proudly proclaimed, "The police won't be able to see me!" I wasn't sure if I was fostering the correct respect towards law and order.

(no subject)

Jun. 23rd, 2016 05:10 pm
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I went to the gym and did pushups, power cleans, bent-over rows, and weighted carries. I now want to eat everything in sight and I think I can actually feel my upper back muscles growing in real time. (I know this isn't really possible - if I'm feeling anything, it's just post-workout inflammation.)