soapbox

Freedom

It’s that time of year again, where kids are out of school and we all forget about the responsibilities and management associated with education. School’s out for the summer!

Here in Washington State our legislators have come up with a budget (after two special sessions, for which, may I remind you dear voter, our congresspersons get paid). It got signed in, but doesn’t include the funding for the recent education bill that got passed, which totals slightly over $2 billion. Out of $38 billion, that means we’re missing about 5% or so of our budget. As much as I want to look at that and still give us an “A”, I’m a pretty harsh grader.

This little rounding error is for reduced class sizes, voted in by the constituency. The reason why there’s no funding for it is the measure didn’t include a funding resource, which is like saying “Do you want to have free groceries?” as a voting item. Of course you want free groceries, or reduced class sizes. When we don’t address how it’s going to get paid for, however, we end up with extended sessions and bickering and our very own elected officials trying to delay a measure we elected to have.  A funding measure wasn’t included, though, because as soon as you mention the possibility of raising taxes — of any sort: real estate, business, sales, or (eek!) instantiating an income tax — people lose their collective shit.

Here’s the thing: we can get mobilized around *some* social progress. We have gay marriage and subsidized healthcare and it only took Donald Trump one speech to ignite and unify the Latino vote (hi, I’m one of ’em, Donald) and get NBC, Macy’s, etc. to drop him like a hot potato. We are a country moving towards better social freedoms, recognition of our needs as a society, and intolerance of intolerance.

“We” (and by “we” I mean our dear, elected officials) do this because of one very simple reason: those movements represent votes. They get the Latino vote. Or the gay vote. Or the elderly vote. Or the African-American vote. Or the women’s vote. They love those voters! Those voters will help them *win*. It will be great.

As long as those voters aren’t educated.

We live in a country that is 14th in the world for education — and a state that is 20th in the US. Those figures are dropping with each year.  You don’t have to be smart to vote, and when you have your Legislative Branch playing games with numbers to “pass a budget” that doesn’t include all of the things that it is required to pay for, it’s better if the voters aren’t smart.

I live in a good school district. Our kids get issued laptops.  One of the more common rejoinders to this is: if the school district can furnish laptops, why can’t it pay its teachers (or reduce class sizes)? Great question.

Local school districts augment federal and state money (because it’s not enough) by levies and bonds. Here in our county it’s not uncommon to see an education bond measure every two years — for this district or the one down the road — to cover a given thing. Technology levies are separate from operating levies are separate from capital bonds (the latter used for building new schools). So if the tech levy passes but the operating levy doesn’t, you get computers but no one to administrate them.

Let’s take a look, then, at the operational cost of a teacher — that’s really what it comes down to, right? The teacher is who your child interacts with on a daily basis, they’re the ones that “take all summer off” and “Only work like 6 hours a day and get multiple in-service days and spring break and such”. Let’s look at a “Schedule C” teacher, who has either a BA and 90 credits or a Master’s Degree. We will take one who is 5 years in. That teacher makes $43,607/year. (Note to those who go look up those hourly rates — those are based on in-class hours. They are not based on hours worked).

Let’s further say the teacher doesn’t work at all during the 10 weeks of summer (they actually go in a week early, but it makes the math easy), or spring break (1 week), winter break (2 weeks), and holidays (Veteran’s day, Day after Thanksgiving, Presidents Day, Mid-winter break adds up to a week). I exclude Thanksgiving and Memorial day because they are typically off for everyone.

OK so 52 weeks/year, minus 10 for summer, 3 for regular breaks, and another for miscellaneous days == 52-14=38 weeks. That translates to $1147/week, before taxes, or an hourly rate of $28.67. Woo hoo! Riches behold!

Well, wait. Do they really work 40 hours?

My son’s school starts at 7:4oam and gets out at 2:10pm. Teachers are expected on-campus by 7:10am. So let’s assume they hightail it out of there with the kids and do not stay late to cover detentions (they do), test retakes (ditto), clubs (which they do and it’s usually on their own time, but it’s a choice so we will ignore that). That’s 7 hours. Oh, they get lunch, for 40 minutes. That means 1 hour, 40 minutes short of an 8 hour workday.

Except there is no room in there for lesson planning, grading, etc. Six classes at 30 kids/class is 180 kids worth of papers to grade, tests to grade, and lesson plans. Fine. Let’s be super-generous and say that is used up with that 1 hour and 40 minutes. (Note: my kid averaged 3 hours of homework per night in 6th grade. Each class had one graded item per night, roughly, not including major projects and papers. Translation: go through roughly 180 pieces of math homework and check the answers and they showed their work correctly. At one minute per paper you have used up all of your 100 minutes and then some).

Great! We’re done.

No, we’re not. These days, your dear teachers are expected to answer email from students and parents. This averages 30-50 per day (I am not exaggerating, I asked a bunch of different teachers — and I know I contributed to that count more than a few times). Call it 30 per day at 1 minute to read and 1 minute to respond– that’s another hour. Then add in IEP meetings (teachers with a student in their class in an IEP attend one or two of these a year — and there’s about 2 per class, so 12 per teacher) and those add up to another 15 minutes a week. Then add in staff meetings, call it another 15 minutes per week.

With me? Your 40-hour per week teacher is now at roughly 48 hours/week. Let’s go back and do that math again: $24/hour. Looks great! Except remember we removed all those weeks off the teacher gets — we assumed s/he didn’t get paid for that period.

Now lets look at how much “life” costs.

  • Take off 20% for taxes.
  • The cheapest 2 bedroom apartment I could find within a 20 minute drive (because there is a gas/transportation trade off here) is $1200 ($14,400/year).
  • $300/mo for food
  • $100/mo for transportation — bus and/or gas money/insurance
  •  $150/mo electric/gas
  • 10% for retirement

That’s $2294-(20%*2294)-1200-300-100-150-(10%*2294)=2294-458-1200-300-100-150-229=and guess what we’re in negative numbers. Because after I take out electricity/gas we have only $86, and that’s what the teacher can put to retirement.

As long as they don’t have kids. Or pets. Or hobbies. Or unforeseen medical expenses. Or mandatory union dues. Or chipping in for the kid who can’t afford school supplies. Or student loans, because our higher education system is horrifically messed up, too.

Today we celebrate our independence from a government that wanted to give us taxation without representation. We need to look at our government today and understand our responsibilities, and theirs. We pay the taxes. We may need to pay more. In turn, we need our legislators to represent: not just because they “let” us have the freedoms we were already granted (my 12 year old was shocked to find out gay people couldn’t get married already) in our constitution, but because we put the legislators where they are today.

If they don’t represent what we need, then we need to put others in there who do. That is the ultimate freedom we have as Americans, and we need to remember it, and use it.

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Pockets

Right now my life is all about finding pockets of time in which to get things done, or, more rarely, in which to opt to do nothing. They’re everywhere, like the air spaces between those metal ball bearings in the glass beaker that your 7th  grade science teacher made you put in there. Then she or he made you add sand to fill up the spaces, and then you added water to fill up the microscopic spaces between the granules of sand.

Teeny, tiny pockets of productivity or reflection.

I write this sitting as I do, lately, in a Starbucks on M street in Auburn, WA. It’s a nice Starbucks — it’s kept quite clean, and there’s a nice set of leather-esque chairs that, at 7pm on a Tuesday, are blissfully free in their little corner by the window. The wifi is Google and the tea is hot.

I should be at my son’s Scouts meeting. But as my son’s Scout meetings usually entail him meeting with other scouts and not with me, and as I now have a Very Important Partner in India, well, I filled that particular pocket.  There’s no wifi at the church my son’s Scouts meeting is held at, so to Starbucks I go.

Thanks to the recent time change though, my Very Important Partner needed to bump our call a bit later, and I find myself with a pocket. I’m using it to blog.

I haven’t done much of that lately. The last time my blog petered out — not this one, the other one I did when I was a Freewheelin’ Divorcee — it was because I had no more dating drama to write about; I had Found Myself and (mercifully) found I wasn’t an asshole. More specifically, I had discovered that I didn’t, actually, need to waste time on people not worth it, which in turn means you have a lot less to bitch about. Bitching is entertaining, if done well, and so it was cheap and easy content to create; in the absence of something to bitch about there was a period for about a year where I had nothing to say.

This blog is not about bitching (you may have noticed). Or not much. It’s mostly about reflection, and it’s a soapbox; if you’ve read it you have a very good idea where I stand on some things (education! food!) and have no idea where I stand on others (vaccinations! gmos!). (Incidentally, it’s not that I don’t care about those things — I do, although my opinions may surprise you — it’s just that I think they’re so damned evident or so not worth arguing about that they get no space between my ball bearings here).

I digress…

The issue I seem to be having of late — and it would appear it’s not just me — is that I am very “busy”. “How are you doing?” people ask (most of the time it’s a set of symbols delivered as a greeting: most people really don’t want to know exactly how you are doing when they ask that), and the inevitable response is “Good, good, been busy…”.

This business is not a lie, for any of the people who regularly state it (including myself). Although it is often, I think, exaggerated. There’s work and school and home and errands and social stuff and community stuff and the unexpected things like auto repair and failed septic systems. You can take a step back and attempt to cull some of these in order to be less busy — but my question is, to fill it with what?

Case in point: I could, for example, bump my Very Important Partner call to Thursdays (and… I may). This would free me up to be at the Scouts meeting, right? Where I will…

Sit. Maybe stare at my iPhone. Once a month there is a Scouts committee meeting, for a board I am not on, for things that it is nice to know but are typically on Facebook and delivered via email and on the Scouts website. I could attend that, but I’m not sure that I add any value, and in any event, sitting in a room separate from my kid is only slightly more removed than sitting on the edge of a large room where my kid sits 50 yards away discussing the relative merits of waterproof matches.

I could use that time to knit — and indeed, I did for a while — but knitting is “busy”, too. (The husband person says that “knitting is fidgeting that produces clothing” and he’s actually right, at least in my case).

So we come back to how I use that pocket. And we come back to the Starbucks, where I can work or do board stuff or blog or research grey woolen flats that are alas unavailable in my size.

Yet I know I will wake up tomorrow, not feeling productive or content, but feeling like I’ve dropped a ball somewhere, forgotten to check a box, or left a productivity pocket unfilled.  The thing is I know I have enough time for All Of The Things, and I know it can all get done. I just need to figure out a way to pour water into the beaker.

This is Going to Hurt You More than Me

Greetings from the ending of a self-imposed blogging silence: I got the aforementioned email and am happy to state that I will shortly be joining Microsoft.  Sur La Table was very diverting and offered many challenges with respect to data, but it’s hard to pass up an opportunity to work in, and with, big data.

As a result of that interview loop, plus some interviews I did for an open position we have at Sur La Table, I’m here to write something Very Important: Don’t Lie on Your Resume.

Typically when I am called in to conduct a technical interview, I read the candidate’s resume, and then ask the hiring manager how technical they want me to get. If it’s me, and I’m hiring for a developer, I’m going to get very technical, and you’re going to spend 100% of your time with me at the whiteboard. If it’s for someone else, and I’m hiring for say, a PM, or a QC, or technically-minded-but-not-otherwise-a-developer role, I’m still going to test you on skills you state in your resume.

So when you tell me that you have a lot of experience with SQL, or that you’ve been using SQL for five or six years, I’m going to run you through the basics. Either of those statements will tell me that you know the four major joins, you know the simplest way to avoid a Cartesian product, you know how to create data filtration in a join or in a where statement, and you know how to subquery. I’m not even getting to more advanced parts like transactions with rollbacks, while loops, or indexing — the aforementioned list are what I would characterize as basic, everyday SQL use.

Imagine my dismay, then, as an interviewer, when after declaring (either verbally or on your resume) that you are a SQL expert, you can’t name the joins. Or describe them. Or (worse) describe them incorrectly. When you say you know SQL, and then prove that you don’t, it makes me wonder what else is on your resume that you “know”, that is less hard to prove (in the interview) that you don’t. The default assumption, for the protection of the company, is that your entire resume is a raft of lies. It’s the surest way to earn a “no hire”.

It would have been far better to state the truth: someone else wrote SQL scripts for you, told you what they did, and you were adept enough to figure out when there was a disparity in the output. That does not mean you “know” SQL, it means you know how to run a SQL script. This gives the interviewer an honest window and the ability to tailor your time together (remember, they’re getting paid by the company to spend time with you, if it’s productive it is not a waste of money) to figure out your strengths and weaknesses. Having just been hired into a position that works with big data, where I was honest that the largest db I have worked in and with was about 3TB, I can attest that it’s really hard to have to look a hiring manager smack in the eye and say: “I have 90% of what you have asked for but I’m missing that last 10%”. It gives them the opportunity, however, to decide if they’re going to take the chance that you can learn.

If they’ve already learned you’re honest, then that chance-taking looks better in comparison.

Beyoncé and Lean In

I was listening to NPR the other day (this seems to be the thirty/forty-something ubiquitous intro to a story) about Beyoncé’s new album, and how Twitter trended when it dropped, and there as an awful lot about how She Is A Feminist and This Album Is A Tribute To Feminism. Naturally, it being NPR, the second person they interviewed pooh-pooh’d this, pointing out that in her videos apparently Beyoncé is gyrating in such a way that she is gyrating for men, and therefore it isn’t any different than any other oppressed-female gyrations. This is all very normal and to be expected anytime someone declares something “feminist” or “the new feminist”, women will gather on either side and debate earnestly. None of this really irked me until this lady (Tanya Steele, which is a fantastically appropriate name) pointed out that when women were telling her about how they feel Beyoncé’s gyrations/music/etc. made them feel empowered, and/or they felt it was a good example of feministic power, she had to “walk them back” and “explain it to them”.

It took a while for me to sort through why this irritated me. I don’t normally engage in discussions on feminism or women’s issues, it wasn’t part of my educational background and it just really doesn’t come up. I’m more likely to get into an economics debate. (NB: I have not taken a single women’s studies class. I do however own a vagina, and have friends who own vaginas, so I think I’m somewhat qualified to discuss the condition of having a vagina and the thinking that may or may not go along with vagina ownership.)

Merriam-Webster defines Feminism as: “The belief that men and women should have equal opportunities”. (It also defines it as an “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests”).

Beyoncé and Steele

As best as I can tell, Ms. Steele’s contention is that when women view Beyoncé’s new album, and more specifically her videos in which she “gyrates” (I have not seen them nor is it really necessary to do so to illustrate this particular point), as “feminist”, they are incorrect. Her reasoning is Beyoncé is gyrating sexually, as to appeal to and/or entice men, and therefore is acting like someone who has to sublimate their own needs/desires in order to attract someone else, and therefore that isn’t beneficial in any particular way to her gender representation.

This reasoning is highly subjective. First, it assumes a knowledge of what is in Beyoncé’s head as she’s gyrating on the screen. I am willing to wager as she was gyrating, under a myriad of hot lights, multiple takes, makeup touches, reminders on choreography, adjustments to the mic, etc. that what was in her head was,  “I am working, I am working, I am working, I can’t wait for a hot bath and a glass of wine, but I am working.” Beyoncé’s reputation in the industry, even for one who doesn’t follow it altogether much, is one of extreme professionalism and hard work. Her personal wealth is such that she never, ever has to work again, independent of that of her husband. Beyoncé works if she wants to work, she busts her butt because she wants to, and she gyrates because she wants to.  Second, it assumes that Beyoncé’s gyrations were intended for the sole or at least primary benefit of a male and/or lesbian observer (and/or customer. Remember kids, she’s selling a brand.) The assumption is she is gyrating sexually, she is therefore objectifying herself sexually for a sexually interested party. Demographics aren’t readily available for her album but I’d be willing to put the $20 down to say it trends female more than male. And they are not all lesbians. Third, Beyoncé has gone on record, on multiple occasions, for “loving being a woman” and “enjoying her curves” and “dressing sexily”.  It would be a little disingenuous then to expect her to stand in a full-length evening gown when singing songs about seducing her lover.

The fact of the matter is, some women like to exhibit and some do not. Because Ms. Steele does not see value in exhibition she would like others to not see value in it as well. This is human nature, but it is unreasonable to then have to explain to someone why something they like, that you don’t, that doesn’t cause you any personal harm, is “wrong”. If a male person sees Beyoncé gyrating and from that infers all women should gyrate, then it is NOT Beyonce’s gyrations that are to blame. It is his rationale that “female person gyrating on TV = all women gyrate for me” that is wrong. To assume that Beyoncé’s gyrations set feminism back in any way is tantamount to saying that “because a woman dresses XYZ way she is asking for it”. You can’t have it both ways: either the observer is responsible for their own behaviors or they are not.  I prefer to think that men, and women, are rational human beings capable of using their brains and if they are NOT, it is not the fault of society or other folks. Your brain, and your actions, are your own to manage.

Lean In

The larger discussion, though, is how women are perceived in society and, in terms of Lean In, how we perceive ourselves (vs. how we “should” perceive ourselves, as best as I can decipher it).  While the “Beyoncé is/isn’t a Feminist” debate is exciting mostly because it can be and mostly because of the method in which she chose to drop her album, the “Lean In” concept is trickier and, I think, longer lasting. The basic takeaway I had from reading Lean In is that women don’t get opportunities as much as men do because either a. we would if we spoke up but we don’t speak up, or b. we need to speak up more so men get used to it and therefore will “see” us in the roles we want.

Here I think I need to step aside and explain something in my own, personal world that means my subjective take on this is going to be just that — very subjective. I am 5’10” tall. I have never been of slight build. Physically, I do not appear meek or weak or shy. Further, I am the daughter of two strong-minded, outspoken women, and two male engineers. I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem asking for something if I wanted it, and/or providing a rationale on why I should have it. (True story: when I first moved to San Diego 15 years ago, I worked for a company that believed you should get personality tested before you got a position within the company, so everyone knew how to work with you. The sociologist who reviewed my results said that I was a bit like an elephant: when I entered a room everyone would know it, and if my foot fell it would be a resounding stomp, whether or not I intended it to.) A casual reading of my employment reviews would validate this: the best term I think that has ever been applied to my attitude is that I was “highly apolitical”. Time has allowed me to learn how to say “No”, for example, in sixteen different and appropriate ways, but the long and the short of it is if I want something I will ask for it, and if I am told No and I don’t understand why I will press.

Which I guess makes me rather “mannish” in the workforce.

So when Sheryl Sandberg talks about not even thinking about asking for something until it became a really big issue (e.g., preferential parking for expectant mothers) I must confess I don’t understand. When one of the most intelligent, driven women I know in my social circle tells me that until she read this book she would have thought twice, or not at all, pursued a particular project because she wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing so, I am aghast. This book wasn’t particularly instructive to me. It was however, revelatory.

Leaning In Objectively

There is an old joke that PMS is “when women act like men do all the time”. I don’t really think this is accurate and in any event because of better things and better living through chemistry it doesn’t apply to me. However I do think that women can be raised, or conditioned, to not ask for things they want.  It is kind of bittersweet that a Pantene commercial illustrates the deltas in how some women perceive themselves (as well as how they perceive society perceives them, etc.)  It’s entirely possible I am perceived as a bitch, that I’m bossy, or that I’m self-promoting. The question becomes though: what is the end result of my efforts? If I get the promotion, or the project, or the job, or the budget, have I failed still because I ruffled a feather or two? If the tenet is that “men do it all the time” do feathers get equally ruffled? We are told that men “ball-bust” each other and the sting doesn’t last; why must I assume it does if I engage in it as well (abiding thoroughly by the rule that if you dish it, you need to take it).

Bottom line: if I earn what I was after, does it matter if I’m “liked” as much as if I had stayed put? And does it matter, to me, to be liked by someone who would  rather I had stayed put? Like blaming Beyoncé for the perceptions that men may have of other women because of her gyrations, I don’t know that you can blame the woman who gets the project, or the raise, or the bonus, and possibly irks someone, because she asked for and earned it. If there’s anyone who needs to own that, it’s the one who is irked.

Smart is Not Socially Apt, per Modern Media

NB: The Editor pointed out I had an unclosed bracket and offered up a Tropic Thunder comparison that was too good to pass up. Fourth paragraph. Enjoy.

For a few reasons, but mostly because we cannot stomach the idea of paying $80 for what would be about 3 channel’s worth of consumption, the male person and I do not have cable. This is not out of some holier-than-thou quest for a more wholesome home environment as much as an exercise in opportunity cost; we have Netflix and RedBox and so forth. As such, we are “discovering” TV shows that others have long and since discovered, and re-discovering ones we had mucked about with in earlier years.

Let’s face it, most TV is drivel.  Everyone has this opinion, for the most part, it’s just their definition of drivel varies. For example: I think any show featuring the Kardashians is not worth the effort it takes you to push the buttons on the remote control, never mind the time it would suck from your life to actually watch it. I’m sure there are others who would much rather watch the Kardashians than, say, 60 Minutes. You’d have to pay my father to watch a football game, but he happily watches The Daily Show. The presence of 500 channels worth of 24/7 programming means that our tastes are such that we like about 10% of it at best, but that 10% is different for each person. (For a truly excellent podcast on why you have to pay for ESPN, even though you don’t watch it, go here.)

Out of this drivel, though, comes definitive trends in programming. This year it appears to be a slough of “I’m dealing with my older parents” sitcoms, in previous years it has been the waves of Laws and Orders, NCIS, CSI; then there’s the ER/Chicago Hope/House/Scrubs medical vein (pun intended).  And within these aerie are typified characters and situations: the older, hardened cop who’s actually quite sensitive despite his drinking problem, the tougher, young female cop/lawyer who wants everybody to take her seriously, the angsty interpersonal relationships that form between coworkers (because no one on TV has the sense to NOT dip their pen in the company ink), the inevitable will-they-won’t-they that means they eventually do, after 4-5 seasons, but then it nearly immediately blows up because Someone Messed With The Formula And The Ratings Are Down So Please Fix It Now.

Into this context I bring you the recent epiphany I had, which is we apparently can’t have socially intelligent characters with high IQ’s. Let’s take two shows: The Big Bang Theory, first aired in 2007, and Bones, first aired in 2005; one is a nominal comedy with some small dramatic parts, the other is a drama with some small comedic parts. Both feature many intelligent characters, but the most intelligent (based on IQ’s indicated in exposition or comparison) are Dr. Sheldon Cooper (BBT) (IQ: 187) and Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Bones) (“my IQ is quantifiably higher than yours”, and the like) .

Social (and other) media have picked up on this (I am not suggesting anything new here) when each character has been individually investigated (e.g., tv reporter/blogger asking the writers/producers) for Asperger’s Syndrome. (Interestingly enough, NEITHER show confirms this for these characters even though the actors themselves admit to playing them that way; in BBT’s case Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon Cooper, has stated he believes Sheldon is an “Aspie” but Bill Prady and Chuck Lorre vehemently deny it). The message is muddled, but constructively: super-smart people are really socially awkward, possibly because of a “syndrome”, but we won’t confirm it because then we are Labeling People. Or, as my Editor points out, “You can’t go full genius“.

As though making a series of jokes around IQ (“I’d have to lose at least 60 IQ points to be considered smart,” Sheldon derisively mentions in one episode) is not a label of sorts.

These are not the only two shows to do this; the new Sherlock Holmes BBC series features an Aspergian Sherlock (again, as characterized by the actor playing him) (190 IQ). Numb3rs featured a brilliant mathematician (“genius-level IQ”) who was hindered, if not completely inept, at interpersonal relations. Criminal Minds also had a brilliant young person, IQ 187 (Dr. Spencer Reid) who is, you guessed it, socially awkward. Message received: we can have kinda-smart, socially normative people, but we cannot have super-smart, socially normative people.

There’s a couple of hypotheses for this: H1 is that we cannot have hyper-smart, socially normative people on TV because that would make them appear cocky, even if they weren’t actually, and that would make them a less liked character (both by their peers and by the viewers). Indeed, it is Sheldon’s awkwardness that allows his friends (even his fellow PhD’s) to feel like they can compete with, or even succeed against, him on some plane. Penny (the non-PhD, “normal” person across the hall) calls him sweetie a lot and tries to explain awkward situations to him (when he’s being earnestly lost) and snipes at him with double entendres when he’s being earnest and coming off as an ass. The other 3 characters (2 PhD’s, one ME) spend entertaining minutes trying to explain on Sheldon’s level (with whiteboards and references), discover  they can’t, and give up/go to the movies without him/let him go to the comic book store/play Xbox with him.

I think it’s really interesting to note that Dr. Brennan’s friends and coworkers take on a more protective role and do not deride or smugly note her awkwardness, they just “try to work around it”. Angela (her best friend) calls her “sweetie” rather a lot and spends time trying to explain how a social situation may be interpreted, most of the lab staff shrug their shoulders and get on with work; her love interest gets to be the Protective Male Person With A Gun and, again interestingly, a lot of time is spent on him not letting her have one (despite her declarations she’s an excellent shot. She’s so learned in other things, including a 3x black belt, that this is not implausible). Maybe if he gives her the gun she won’t need him, so let’s not let her have the gun.

I sit here, looking at as many recent TV characters as I can find, for one who is both very intelligent and also socially competent, and come up dry. Dr. House has a drug addiction and the bedside manner of a troll, of the only other two – people on Bones, one turned out to be a sociopathic cannibal and the other was English and they killed him off (Mr. Nigel-Murray. I liked him a lot.) in order to provide a reason for Bones to feel vulnerable, jump into bed with The Male Person With A Gun, and get pregnant, thus creating another twist in the “will they or won’t they” plot.

H2, and others have suggested this, is the reason our most intelligent characters must be socially awkward is we (the viewer) cannot handle the idea of someone so smart and seemingly without flaws — we will lose interest, we will want to compare ourselves to that character and we will come up lacking. We will close the book, if you will. I think it’s a good point but I don’t know that it is true for all: I would like to see what a good writer could do with an intelligent character that DIDN’T have some sort of crippling social deficit.

To be fair, we have the exact opposite on TV currently too: the Jersey Shores, the Kardashians, etc. — all full of presumably socially “current” or apt people with combined IQ’s equivalent to a bag of Doritos. Clearly someone is watching that. So I wonder what would happen if we could somehow have a brilliant Kardashian?

Hey — I like science fiction, too.

Yes, It Was The Right Choice

Five months ago I accepted a new job with Sur La Table. I had spent nine years at Expedia doing a variety of things, and learning a tremendous lot, but it was definitely time to move on and be the “fresh blood” somewhere else. As I gleefully told my family, friends, and professional associates of my move, I got mainly 3 reactions:

1. That’s great… what do they do again?

2. That’s great… wait, you’re moving from Director to Manager?

3. That’s great… are you making more money?

I can sort of see the first reaction, if you’re talking to someone who’s not in one of the 27 states that SLT operates in, and/or you don’t cook. (I am not judging.  Yours truly has a few friends who know an awful lot about food but you shan’t let them in the kitchen). The other two have been reiterated so often that I figured I’d just answer them here, and then point people to it.

1. Sur La Table (www.surlatable.com) is a store, and site, for cook’s tools and entertaining. That’s it. You are not going to find beekeeping outfits, a large selection of scented candles, ironing boards, etc. You are going to find a wide selection of knives and people who can tell you how to use and care for them, because they know. You are going to find a variety of stove top cookware, in a variety of materials and colors, and any one of the people wearing a Sur La Table apron can tell you, depending on YOUR cooking style and YOUR stove what will work for YOU. In more than half of the locations you will find a roster of classes you can take that will teach you everything from how to use your knife properly to how to make homemade pasta to how to do five recipes on one grill for six people.

2. Yes, I moved from a Director to a Manager. Specifically the course was Director of Business Development to Director of Content to Applications Development Manager. And here’s your first clue why “different” does not mean “downward”: I went from what was essentially inflated project management (with a bit of ability to direct the change that instantiated the project) to Operations management to development management. With each step the skill set gets broader, and deeper. Project management is about managing people you don’t technically manage, Operations management is about managing people you manage and managing by proxy.  Development management is all of the above and now you get to speak two languages: business and technology.

I could go on: development offers a chance to actually BUILD THINGS, the reality that a Director at Expedia is not equivalent to a Director at Microsoft is not equivalent to a Director at Sur La Table, in either breadth of responsibility or in terms of compensation. And frankly, I’m mercenary enough to be happily titled the Hobgoblin of Object Oriented Programming if they pay me enough, which leads us to…

3. Yes. I mean, I can offer the logic that benefit packages from Company A to Company B require careful weighing and measuring, and that there are quality of life trade-offs with commuting time, etc.  But any way you slice it, frankly, the answer is yes. Anyone who tells you that “Retail” is this or “Technology” is that is at best over-generalizing and at worst missing opportunities.

None of this answers the question, four (working) months later, of “Are you enjoying it” and the answer is an unqualified YES. Do not get me wrong, there have been seriously frustrating times. Sur La Table has been around since the 70’s but its growth pattern is such that it *feels* like a start-up, with all that that entails. Development has to run quickly and there is enormous demand for my department, which leads to both the wonderful sensation that “we can DO this” combined with “OMG how are we gonna do this??” There’s a bit of “hey let’s go down this path… no wait that path… no let’s go down the first path” that you see in nascent organizations, and for someone who was at a company that went from start-up (well, close to, it was about 4 years in) to Mature Large Company in my tenure, there’s the urge to be much farther along the development path than we are.

Then again, it affords me (us, really) the opportunity to be there to make the changes that need to be made, and build the cool, fun stuff that needs to be built. That, by far, is the best reason.

All-Inclusive

Greetings from my mother’s house, where there is plenty of food, coffee, wine, heat, and relaxation. Except there is no internet.

Because of an eccentricity of where they live, my parents are in a pocket where there’s no easily-accessible internet. There are no cable services here, so nothing to bundle. The phone service does not offer traditional internet but does offer an Air Card, however said Air Card doesn’t like to work with my two laptops and so when I am here I can either tether to my iPhone or elect to go without. Therefore this Sunday morning finds me internetless, with coffee, and a large selection of magazines. I tethered to bring you this rant. You are so very, very happy about this, I can tell.

By virtue of some excess mileage points my parents have subscribed to a variety of magazines, some of which I have historically subscribed to and some that never held much fascination for me (Redbook, anyone?). Buried in the four-inch deep stack I found an old friend, a copy of the latest edition of Money Magazine. Back in my formative twenties (oh, so very long ago) I subscribed, gave up, and re-subscribed in my early thirties. (I followed this pattern with Martha Stewart Magazine, too). The reason for the spotty subscription is simple: after about two years, the content is not new. The same old concepts get recycled and rehashed (here’s how you figure the trade-off in percentages when evaluating interest on debt borrowed vs. money saved!); after a couple of years it’s like watching a predictable movie.

As it has been about six years since my last venture through Money Magazine I opened it with honest curiosity. I can tell you right now, just to ruin this particular feature, that yes, there was very little new content. OK, fine. But here’s what struck me: I am not this magazine’s audience. Not at all. This was driven home in the first five minutes of perusal, and it’s something that either was not made clear in my previous reviews of it, or has changed recently in the editing.

Like this:

The cover is telling me how to reach $1M, 5 best moves to climb to real wealth, etc., all standard personal-finance magazine stuff. So far, so good. The first ad on the inside is for a Mazda, all edgy and black. That’s fairly neutral. The next one is for Capital One, ok, appropriate for a finance mag. Then we have the table of contents, another bank ad, and then the first non-bank, non-car ad? For Axiron, a low-testosterone treatment. A really hot older guy is showing staring off into middle distance as he applies it (it goes on your underarm area, like a roll-on deodorant) and the fact that his arm posture during this is like a man flexing his bicep is not lost on me. The only other picture of him is playing baseball (very, very manfully).  Everything else is tiny letters telling you how to get this to boost your testosterone.

Aside from the dubious joy of seeing a hot guy battling the failings of time this tells me that I am, if I am reading this magazine, somehow interested in this.  Ergo, if I’m male, I may have a testosterone deficiency. If I’m female, my husband obviously may have one: look at how manfully the hot guy is flexing.  In truth I am neither of these things, and this ad alienates me.

But hey, it’s just one ad, so let’s keep reading.

Letter from the Managing Editor (Craig!) telling us to not worry much and be a little happy.  Standard stuff.  Then the write-ins from readers. Nathan, Anu, Jared, Christopher, Jared. All dudes. The Facebook quotes are even more interesting: these are online responses to “Best Money Advice Now”. Cavonta (assuming female here) tells you to fold it up and put it in your pocket (saving). David talks about equity in your company to make real money (strategy). Rachel tells you to learn to cook (spend your money on experiences). Michael tells you to leave emotions out of investment decisions (strategy).  Marina tells you (I kid you not) how to shop (spending again). The message? Strategy is for men, and then how to employ that strategy is for women.

Next ad, T. Rowe Price. Very tastefully done, nice coloring, no humans. As a bank should be.

Next, the advice column: what to do when your boss takes the credit you deserve. Margot, Tom, Randy, Craig, Paul, and Ron all responded (although Margot got to advise first). Margot’s advice was about placating (work it out with your boss and ask them to share a little of the love), and the remainder included strategy on how to get the credit.

Next ad: Angie’s List. Something everyone can use (I don’t use it but they have a nice black and white pic of Angie, talking about authentic reviews and uses).

Then we have an Ad for Mutual of America, about retirement. Who’s in it? Grandpa and grandson at baseball. No one else (aside from some other little male children, in soft-focus in the background) is visible. An article about car insurance, some Q&A, an ad for CFP’s, and now we come to:

CIALIS! Free trial for 30 days. There must be a modeling agency for seriously hot older guys because here’s a different one, arm around his female person (wife? Girlfriend? Friend’s wife? We don’t know, no rings are visible and he is not looking her in the eye, incidentally). And then many little words about how you too can have sex-on-demand again. If you’re a guy. Or a wife with a guy who needs it.

(There’s three pages of small print about the boner medication, flanked by a small ad on Weber Grill’s new REAL GRILLING cookbook.)

A couple more small articles, and then an ad for the Alzheimer’s Association.  Now we have hot older guy number 3, looking at himself in the mirror, wondering about if he has Alzheimer’s or not.

A fluff piece on underwater/waterproof cameras, an ad for GoToMeeting (which I have used) AND HAS WOMEN IN IT, OMG! WOMEN! All with long, straight hair, and an equivalent number of bearded, hipster-looking guys. In the meeting, on the screen, someone named Ted is offering Community Management Certification to lady with straight hair number one. Oh, okay. So it’s okay that she’s in some form of technology; she’s doing something “nice” like Community Management. It’s not like she’s a DEVELOPER, or anything. That said, there’s a nice quote from a CEO named “Wendy” about how useful it is.

I am looking at hot older guy number 4, the first non-white hot older guy, in an ad for a shingles vaccine.  Some small articles on the cost of medicine, an ad for CDW done in all red and white, and then an article on how to split the check.

With your “buddies”.

An ad for the magazine itself, and then “How to tell your kid you’re cutting him off”. Presumably female kids don’t need to be cut off.

Then an ad for Edward Jones, with hot older guy number 5 (we’re back to white), who actually believes the retirement goals his financial advisor is helping him with.

At that point, we were at page 35, about 1/3 of the way through the magazine. There were more hot older guys, there were more ways to feel comfortable about your manhood, how you were going to look after your wife and the grandkids, how to marshal financial decisions while grilling meat and talking sports.

I am not a raving feminist (yet), but it bothers me that a genre I’d consider to be (or need to be) gender-neutral (finance) is in fact, male-oriented, still. This is not expecting to pick up an issue of Deer Hunter magazine or what have you and see equal representation of girls and guys, (or Martha Stewart Mag, for that matter). Fiscal responsibility and interest is not something that should (or does) fall along gender line patterns; the knowledge that one of those Jamie Lee Curtis yogurt ads that help your “digestive tract” would kill off subscriptions of the magazine saddens me.

I do not want a magazine that is female-financially-geared in response. It would be needlessly redundant: a LOT of the articles and content in the magazine, particularly if you haven’t read it before, are useful regardless of your gender (and sometimes, your age). But the ad choices in this latest edition are so ruthlessly targeted it’s something I noticed before my first cup of coffee was through, and overshadowed my interest in what the thing actually had to say.  I didn’t expect a nail-polish ad, or an ad by Revlon or for tampons; but having Grandma at the baseball game would’ve been nice. Maybe having a female in the shingles or Alzheimer’s ad? (Not that I’m wishing shingles or Alzheimer’s on anyone, it’s just one of the few ads that targeted an ailment that isn’t gender-specific).

A lot of magazines, particularly in-print magazines, are worried about subscribers and leverage ad sales in order to keep their magazine afloat. I get that, it’s part of the mixed-revenue model a magazine uses. I’m just wondering at what cost are they placing these ads, for their “desired” audience, and missing a wider audience (that is growing).

Or maybe that’s why all the older guys in the ads are hot.

News at 140 Characters per Second

A couple of days ago, I was eyeballing my Twitter feed and it “exploded” — tweets came at a furious pace, retweeting, modified tweeting, quoted tweeting, fresh tweeting. Tweets with links, tweets with emoticons, serious tweets and facetious tweets. All of them (barring Sponsored Tweets, which are something I’d pay to NOT have to see) were about the Fed’s Q&A session.

I didn’t have to watch it (I caught clips later). I had, quite literally, a play-by-play review from journalists, editors, friends, co-workers, and friends-of-friends of every question, position, response, and impact. “Knowing”, as I do, most of these sources, I could tell who was being predictably circumspect, who was flying off the handle, and who was simply “reporting”. I had a dozen neatly arranged bits of data at my fingertips.

This is the same Twitter feed that gave me an equally determined and detailed vision of “Sharknado”, the deliberately cheesy SciFy flick. (It was what it sounded like: Sharks. In a Tornado.) Quite possibly the best thing I read about that was that the special effects were akin to dropping 3 bowling balls in a bucket filled with a 50/50 mix of “Motor Oil and Kool-Aid” (that, from NPR).

I’ve heard Twitter criticized as the medium of the vapid, a haven for narcissists, a cocktail party happening at 140-character snippets. These are, actually, all accurate impressions. Twitter is chock-a-block FULL of vapid narcissists (um, hi!) and is very much like a cocktail party. The trick with a cocktail party, though, aside from eating a bit beforehand and judiciously measuring your alcohol intake, is to not stick yourself with a group of people who 1. don’t tend to agree with you, unless you’re that rare creature who can handle an honest debate, and 2. find the group of people with the discussion base that interests you. If that happens to be the Kardashians, well, enjoy. I won’t be with you, though.

To some extent Twitter is a very personalized “news” feed, and I say that with “air quotes”/aka. “Bunny Rabbit Ears” because “news” is something as a concept that is bastardized near and far. Al-Jazeera Egypt is now even subject to scrutiny in its authenticity, I’ve heard Fox News called “Faux News” and even CNN has had criticism. I personally float to the Economist and the Guardian, because if you’re going to get brutally fair journalism you’re going to get it from a race that self-flaggelates as a cultural point of pride. It’s further personalized by the fact that  you’re unlikely to “follow” anyone who irritates you or annoys you, much as you’re not likely to grab your wine/vodka tonic/beer/margarita/iced tea and stand next to that asshole you wished the hostess wouldn’t invite to her party. You can safely intake your news with whatever bias you prefer, and get it that way.

An interesting thing that happens, though, in the Twitterverse, is the concept of the “retweet”. You may not stand next to the asshole at the party, but his voice can carry. You can attempt to tune it out, but someone may (conspirationally, mischievously, inaptly) repeat exactly what he said in a “You wouldn’t believe what [the asshole] just said” sort of way. Ladies and Gentlemen, enter the retweet. Retweeting is not limited to “hey look this person thinks like I do” but can also be an entrée to “Holy shit can you believe this douchebag just said that?”. In a world where you are not tolerant enough of the douchebag to follow him/her, chances are someone in your Twittersphere is, and will let you know what s/he said. Twitter is therefore no more, or less, useful than any other medium of news delivery we have had to date. It’s just delivered in an abbreviated fashion.

That may be a blessing.

 

Dabble, Dabble, Toil and Babble

“Your biggest problem”, he stated flatly, “is you’re a dabbler. You don’t specialize in anything. You are not going to succeed because you do not focus on a given talent; you just dabble in this and that.”

This was actually stated, to me, in a 1:1 with my boss at the time. He was a financial services guru and I was his personal and executive assistant, so assigned because I was technically inclined and could type fast. In short, I was good enough to be his e&pa because I dabbled.

Despite initial reaction, this was meant to be a positive speech: it was going to Incite Me To Action and I was going to Make Something Of Myself. Instead, I quit the job, moved back home, and dabbled some more.

I dabbled my way into SQL.

Then I dabbled my way into ASP.Net. Then I dabbled into VB.Net.

Then I dabbled into SQL some more, and into project management. And the dabbling continued, through business development, communications, operations, and back into development (but C# this time).

“Which one of your degrees does this job come from?” wondered my stepmom one night in Spring when I told them I had acquired this one. “None of them!” my dad said wryly.

My old boss is correct: I am a dabbler. None of the things I have done, have I truly specialized in. There are better people at SQL out there than I am, there are certainly better people at .Net and BusDev. But there are damned few who can speak those languages and are willing to translate them, painfully, carefully into shiny PowerPoints and ROI-laden SWAT analyses.

A few months back I had my midlife crisis, it lasted 36 hours and was of the vein  of “what am I DOING with my life? Where will I go next?” And I realized that every other time in my life I’d been faced with that question things unquestionably got better, more exciting, and more rewarding.

I have friends who went to college for what they ended up being in life, they seem happy and fulfilled. I have friends who picked a field and stuck with it, and will have a decent retirement to speak for it. My own parents offer four different examples of picking a road and trotting down it come hell or high water and they’ve all done fine.

I do not believe, though, that diminishes any success by a diagonal route.

Forming an Opinion

I have a really hard time with form letters and emails that are poorly written and researched. Normally I just shine it on and ignore them, but today I was in a special mood and so I leave you this (edited) email exchange. The only piece redacted is the company I work for because it’s not really about them. I’ve also put it in chronological order, as best as I can figure this guy is in Texas somewhere. Honestly, it needs to be completely rewritten, but that would be doing his job for him. Oh, wait…

—–

From: Jason Walker [mailto:jason.walker@bizzdatabase.com]
Sent: Thursday, March 14, 2013 2:51 PM
To: Bobbie Conti
Subject: Building a strong Brand

Hi Bobbie,

Hope you are doing well!

You being the Director, Content Management of MYCOMPANY, Inc., it will be my pleasure to introduce our self as innovative marketing management service provider that helped marketing oriented leaders and professionals build strong brands.

We have more than 100 million consumer contacts including email id and phone number and 50 million + B2B contacts worldwide. We could provide you with contacts across any verticals and industry.

  • Custom List: We can provide you the contact list of all your target audience based on target industry, target geography and job titles / age, income, interest and other related parameters.
  • Optimizing digital assets: We can help you in creative design of Photos, Documents and Articles that can be leveraged for Social media marketing.
  • Ranking in local search results: Creating a local presence online is now more important than ever, especially for targeting a local customer base.
  • Online Customer/Client engagement: Marketing is no longer a one-way communication.  Brands and Customers/Clients are engaging in a two-way dialogue with word-of-mouth playing a larger role than ever.
  • Web Banner Ads: We will also help you with Web banner ads in a creative manner.
  • Online campaigns: We can help you in doing PR campaign, worldwide campaign for your new launch and offers etc.
  • We also can help you with the contact database of Distributors, Wholesalers and Retailers etc. within your target industry.

We also have other end to end marketing services. Kindly let us know how we can help you and your company to grow more in terms of revenue.

It will be great if we could have a quick discussion over the phone for creative marketing activities.

Thanks,

Jason Walker

Customer Sourcing Consultant – Marketing

Direct: 713-481-7746 ext: 4315

Locations: USA, UK, EMEA, ANZ, APAC, LATAM and all Countries and Cities.

From: Bobbie Conti
Sent: Thursday, March 14, 2013 4:56 PM
To: Jason Walker
Subject: RE: Building a strong Brand

This has absolutely nothing to do with my job. Thanks.

—-

From: Jason Walker [mailto:jason.walker@bizzdatabase.com]
Sent: Thursday, March 14, 2013 2:59 PM
To: Bobbie Conti
Subject: RE: Building a strong Brand
Importance: High

Hi Bobbie,

Thanks for the response.

I will be more thankful to you if you could refer me to someone who can take initiative on this.

Regards,

Jason.

—-

From: Bobbie Conti
Sent: Thursday, March 14, 2013 3:24 PM
To: Jason Walker
Subject: RE: Building a strong Brand

Well, considering that you’re pinging me about client lists ([MYCOMPANY] has its own client base), optimization for social media (we have our own Social Media team, too),  SEO (ditto), etc., I can’t really in good conscience forward this. It doesn’t look terribly well researched, to be honest.

Also, I’ve taken the trouble to edit your form email below. There are some grammar issues, was this perchance written by someone who is not trained in marketing communications, or someone for whom English is a second language? Note that I didn’t have time to correct everything, but you will want to pay attention to capitalization consistency (e.g., “Custom List” vs. “Optimizing digital assets”), possibly providing some statistics to back your claims (e.g., “Creating a local presence online is now more important than ever”…Why?), and formatting consistency (your last bullet should have a blue header to match the others). I’d also suggest changing the vibe from “we can help/we can also help” to “we do”, as active voice works better in marketing.  Finally, your form email keeps referring to my “target industry” – you should be able to figure that out and pop it in, so rather than consistently referring to my “target industry” you need to put something like “within the Travel and Tourism Industry”.

Thanks,

B

“Hope you are doing well!

You being As you are the Director, Content Management of MYCOMPANY, Inc., it will be  is my pleasure to introduce our self my company as an innovative marketing management service provider that helpsed marketing oriented leaders and professionals build strong brands.

We have more than 100 million consumer contacts including email addresses id and phone numbers, and 50 million + B2B contacts worldwide. We could can provide you with contacts across any verticals and industry.

  • Custom List: We can provide you the contact list of all your target audience based on target industry, target geography, and job titles / age, income, interest and other related parameters.
  • Optimizing digital assets: We can help you in creative design of media, including photos, documents and articles that can be leveraged for Social Media marketing.
  • Ranking in local search results: Creating a local presence online is now more important than ever, especially for targeting a local customer base.
  • Online Customer/Client engagement: Marketing is no longer a one-way communication.  Brands and Customers/Clients are engageing in a two-way dialogue with and word-of-mouth playsing a larger role than ever.
  • Web Banner Ads: We will also help you with creatively design Web banner ads in a creative manner.
  • Online campaigns: We can help you in doing create (or by “in doing” did you mean “execute”) a local or global PR campaign, worldwide campaign for your new launch and offers. etc.
  • We also can help you with the a contact database of Distributors, Wholesalers and Retailers etc. within your target industry.

We also have other end to end marketing services, available here (and link to where they are listed, maybe your website?). Kindly Let us know how we can help you and your company to grow more in terms of revenue.

It will be great if we could I’d love to have a quick discussion over the phone for about creative marketing activities opportunities.”