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friday 5

this week's questions...

1. Would you ever go "under the knife" (or laser, or dental pick) for cosmetic purposes? What and why, and would it really be worth it?

I kinda did when I got my front teeth fixed. The only issue with that bonding was a stain nobody but me noticed and this tiny chip, and the threat that bonding isn't meant to be permanent anyway. I got porcelain veneers. Kinda vain maybe.

I've said I will never get a facelift or any anti-aging cosmetic surgery. A lot of people aren't lucky enough to grow old. Others aren't lucky enough to see their loved ones grow old. I want people to see me grow old and I want to be proud.

2. Describe your dream home, including location, design, and who/what’s in there with you.

I'm getting closer and closer to wanting to pitch all this junk and live in a tiny house. It'd need two bathrooms, is all.

I could easily go back to apartment life, if I had cool neighbors. You need someplace with character to have cool neighbors. Living in old town was pretty darn close to perfect, just not for the kids.

3. You have one month to travel the world, all expenses paid. Where do you go and what do you do once you arrive?

That's two questions. And wait, the last question was five questions! This set is shenanigans. I'm not answering this.

4. What scares the bloody heck out of you? Would you face it down if someone paid you? What’s your price?

Angry person with a loaded gun. Fuck no at any price.

5. You’re stranded on an island. What five simple items do you have with you? How do you survive? Anyone in particular you’d like to be stranded with? What would they bring to the table?

THAT'S EIGHT QUESTIONS in one question! Friday 5 do not test my patience! I would obviously bring my husband, the skill he'd provide would be optimism. For my items I would bring:

1) A warm blanket
2) Magnifying glass to start fires
3) Laptop and satellite internet terminal
4) Hatchet
5) Tent, air mattress, air pump, generator, library, wine distillery, airplane for escaping

SEE friday five, two can play this game!
I read that IKEA is recalling dressers because people don't anchor them to walls and the dressers fall over and crush little kids, and wanted to write this post about my feelings, and I hope it gets shared a bit.

The IKEA recall is a step, but recalls aren't 100% complied with and IKEA is only one company. The page Meghan's Hope reported this year that 70 kids a DAY are injured or even killed by falling furniture. The founders of Safe and Sound with Amaya said in an interview that a fatal accident occurs every 9-11 days. Similar statistics get posted in places like Kate's Foundation for Child Safety, Brace It For Brayden, Curren Collas Our Blue Eyed Hero... on and on and on.

It's not just IKEA furniture - it's everybody's furniture, dressers, shelves, TVs. How many of you know a family that experienced one of these accidents? And from what I've read, the injuries could have been prevented by just securing furniture to a wall so it wouldn't tip over.

A few years ago I read another sad toddler death story on Facebook, looked around, and realized that I had furniture anchor kits just laying around in the dresser drawers they came with, doing no good. I also looked at my nutball acrobat of a 2yo and realized she was definitely a candidate to be the next Facebook memorial page. So I stood up. I got my drill and a stud finder, went around and secured everything I could find in the house.

Are my kiddos 100% safe in the world now? Oh gosh no! The world is scary and dang it these kids have no sense of self-preservation, I am still worried sick! But at least I did one little easy thing to make them less likely to be killed by falling furniture.

What was stopping me?

I thought I might want to rearrange the furniture someday.

Didn't feel like looking for the drill.

I was on Facebook.

I wondered if my husband could get around to it.

Those excuses might sound funny and relatable but if an accident happened, and I was in the ER with my baby, THEN which of those excuses would make sense?


So here's my campaign: I don't want anything to stop any of my friends from having furniture secured to the wall. Need a drill? Borrow mine! Not handy? I can help you! Can't make the time? Let's set an appointment together to hold each other accountable! I'll bring the hardware, you bring the chardonnay, it's a date! I am not a professional childproofer. But DIY wall anchors have been shown to prevent accidents so let's take this step together as a start, shall we?

As moms we talk about all kinds of things. We know which of our friends breastfed for two years, who feeds their kid all organic foods, who will lend us a Baby Bjorn to compare to our Ergo. But when do we sit around the table and ask who's got their cordless screwdriver charged up to anchor some furniture while we're thinking about it? If we're going to give each other advice, how about we start with the important stuff?

TELL YOUR FRIENDS if you are also willing to help them anchor furniture. You don't have to be an expert. You don't even have to do it for them, if you're not liability-proof-confident in your skills, maybe just put the offer out there that they can borrow your tools or you'll professionally BUG them to do it, that's something! I just want to talk about it and knock down everybody's excuses. No more hurt babies, okay? Help each other! Concerned citizens with drills and screwdrivers, visit your neighbors, share the tools, open the dialog and help each other out.

garage doors - call a person!

Edit: Entry was titled "Call a guy" - I want to emphasize that a male or female could be qualified to fix a garage door and I would not worry about the gender of the professional sent to repair my house in any case.

Marc and I have been trying to fix stuff ourselves lately, inspired by the makerspace culture of DIY, attempt the unknown! this includes stuff around the house.

Cue the soundtrack for this entry: Weird Al's I'm so handy

Our garage door has always sounded a little weird and then Marc bumped it with the car, sending it off track and part of it just hanging down precariously, definitely not moving up and down when we hit the button. So we spent two mornings working in the heat trying to get the damn thing snapped back in. The pins that hold it to the track were impossible. We almost died, separately, but frequently. The door was heavy and one person would hold it while the other tried to re-coil these tense wires around broken drums.

Finally on day 3 Marc said fuck it and called a guy.

So the guy came out, replaced the broken spindle thing that we were trying to make work, re-set everything in its tracks, lubricated appropriately, and now the garage door is FANTASTIC! For, like, $160 or something stupid like that? Now when we hit the button the door not only moves up and down, but it doesn't sound like someone throwing a garage door down the stairs, it was weird to us since it's always sounded questionable but suddenly... professional!

I was so happy I started telling people that we should have called a professional out sooner and a few coworkers were like yeah, actually, these things are freaking dangerous to work on. I googled and yes, there are many many injuries every year from garage doors. Who knew!

So that's the PSA of the week - even if you're an ambitious DIY-er, maybe a garage door is too much for you. Don't lose an arm or a head or whatever you can lose. It's okay, you're still tough.


gun people

I unfriended a guy on facebook last week after he posted about wanting to make sure he could get an AR-15 before they were banned. His friends were commenting in support. Hell of a priority to have the day after 50 people are killed in an Orlando nightclub, right?

I am no longer a good freedom-loving libertarian on the issue of gun rights. I don't trust gun people anymore. Sorry. I am convinced that their priorities are totally out of whack, that they care passionately about their guns and their "rights" but do not give two shits about safety. If gun people cared about safety, why would there be 12,000 non-suicide gun deaths in the US every year?

Where I work in the factory, we have this philosophy about safety: that for every actual injury, there were near-miss incidents that should have clued us in and made us change something. So we obsess about every near-miss or close injury or minor injury. Even if you get a bad paper cut and go to health services for a band-aid it's a "recordable injury" and taken very seriously. If an actual death were to occur? We would not shrug it off as an accident, we'd start going back through the records of all those minor things that could have POSSIBLY told us we were going down the wrong path. It's the famous OSHA safety pyramid.

So pretend for a moment that a toddler finds a gun and shoots herself. The gun was kept loaded, and not locked up. This fatality is the top of the pyramid. Then we'd ask ourselves if there were other gun injuries in the news lately... yup. Then we'd look at property damage and accidental shootings that don't injure a person.

According to the pyramid, you multiply your near-misses by some factor, 20 or 50 or 100 depending on the data, and you get the number for "at risk unsafe behavior". In other words for every one toddler who accidentally shoots herself there are hundreds of loaded guns in this country now that were, luckily, left alone today. But maybe not tomorrow.

Where is the evidence that gun owners are being safe?

Why should I trust them?

Why do you need a semi-automatic weapon that can kill 50 people at one event?

Sometime if you want to feel terrible, click around the Everytown map of gun deaths in the US. They happen almost every day. I almost reposted one but didn't want to ruin anyone's morning because they are horrible.

Instead I just unfriended the guy. I don't want my kids playing at his house ever again, even though all our daughters are friends. I told my husband we needed to "distance ourselves" and he agreed. It is obvious to me, from the statistics, we have too many guns in the population of America. So even if these accidental deaths are not all mass shootings, I think we should TRY reducing the number of guns as an ATTEMPT to limit the mass shootings, right?

Guns are doing more harm than good and I don't trust anyone who fools themselves into thinking otherwise.
I was invited to come visit a summer camp sort of program for 5th-7th grade girls. There were eight of us women who were in engineering or science, and eight tables of girls, and every 10 minutes we switched and talked to a different group. They were pre-assigned to ask us questions about engineering.

Here's a composite of some of my table conversations.

Spacefem: Hey girls how are you doing? Having fun?

Girls: Yeah!

Spacefem: So I'm an avionics and electrical engineer. All the displays you see in the front of an airplane? I figure out how to make that work!

Girl 1: Oooh do you know my uncle? Dave Smith! He works at the same place you work.

Spacefem: Is he an engineer?

Girl 1: He makes the PARTS for the airplane.

Spacefem: That's, uh, not very specific... I don't know him, sorry, but there are 8,000 people who work at my company so it's hard to know everybody.

Girl 2: What about Bob... uh... I forget his last name! But he's my neighbor!

Spacefem: Sorry, no... do any of you have questions for me?

Girl 3: I do! How can I be a veterinarian?

Spacefem: That's not really... well, you'll have to learn a lot about science and biology and how bodies work. Do you like science?

Girl 3: I like science experiments. But I don't really care why they work.

Spacefem: Well veterinarians have to know why things happen so you'll know how to treat animals. And really, it's not that great a job if you LOVE animals, you know that right? It's not just playing with puppies all day? People only bring you their animals if they're sick. You don't see cute animals, you see animals throwing up on you or pooping everywhere.

Girl 4: I want to be a veterinarian too! But I heard you have to neuter dogs! And I've never even seen a naked boy before!

Girl 5: I've seen a naked boy!

(all girls ask me if I've seen a naked boy)

Spacefem: Um... did anyone have any more questions about electrical engineering?

Girl 6: Is there anything else you wanted to be when you were a kid?

Spacefem: Oh sure, lots of things, actually I had no idea what I wanted to be. I thought maybe an architect because I liked to draw pictures of buildings and things. But it turns out that's a really competitive field.

Girl 7: If you could change jobs what would you change to?

Spacefem: I don't know, I really like my job. Maybe I wouldn't make airplanes. Electrical engineers make lots of stuff, like medical devices, that's really popular, we make pacemakers for people to keep their hearts working. Or robot arms for people whose arms get cut off.

Girl 8: Do you cut people's arms off?

Spacefem: Um, no. I mean in accidents, people get hurt, we help them!

Girl 1: What part of the airplane do you make?

Spacefem: Well I don't make any part really, I draw pictures that tell technicians what to hook up. All those antennas you see, they have to go to the right radio.

Girl 2: I went on an airplane once! There was a storm and we got stuck in Orlando.

Facilitator lady: And... time to switch tables! Great job, hope everyone learned a lot from talking to the engineers!

Girl 8: Wait I didn't get to ask my question! Can I be a fashion designer engineer?

Spacefem: Sure.


I forgot what summer was like. It only took a day to remind me though. I wish our brains were better at recalling memories, I'm all the time wishing I could close my eyes in the winter and bring up a feeling like it's summer, just for a break. I could even swap days around, in August when it gets exhausting I could just say let's store this one for later and not experience it too much right now, swap it with a cozy february on the sofa.

The kids alternate between wearing swimsuits and wearing nothing. Olive especially. Age 3 - she just wants to constantly put on a swimsuit in case swimming could spontaneously break out. We have the plastic kiddie pool out back, and Marc takes them to the YMCA pool a couple times a week.

Olive even got up one night after she was changed for bed, took off her jammies, put on a swimsuit, and that's how we found her the next morning.

The kids are protected by a layer of dirt, sunscreen and bug spray, and more dirt, at all times. We have a bath every other day or so to re-start the layers. If we didn't do that they'd get rings like a tree.

There's no school so we stopped caring about bedtime. If they want to have a sister sleepover in the basement in their playhouse with blankets, whatever. We can't hear them down there.

I get home from work and change into a skirt and tank top, sit out back with a glass of chardonnay and watch the kids or work in the garage. We get invited to friends houses for dinners and I'm still outside in a skirt and tank top with someone else's chardonay and the only thing that's changed is the yard, and only barely. The TV isn't on as much unless we really need to come in from the heat and relax.

More outside time, less caring about plans, more late meals, more going to visit friends, there's so much it can feel exhausting and we have to remind ourselves we've got three whole months.

friday 5: close friends

friday 5 time!
1. How many close friends do you have?
One. Sometimes in my life I've had two. Other times zero. I am definitely not someone who needs/has lots of close friends. Oh and husband doesn't count.

2. Do you make friends easily or more slowly?
I think really easily, but I can't just casually run into someone at parties several times and call them my friend. Someone's gotta take a step and say "we should do a thing!" and then we do a thing. Dinner, lunch, drinks, something not accidental, and a lot of people don't seem to understand leaving the house or something so it doesn't work out. That's okay.

3. Who is your friend of longest standing? How often do you talk to him/her?
Well now we're in the wider definition, my "close friends" definition is "one who I could call up right now and make a date with". In the long standing friends world, heck I'm facebook friends with a girl I was BFFs with in elementary school, she became a scientist too so we love each other's statuses and even though we live in different cities, I'm certain that if we got together we'd have a blast!

4. Do you think that your closest friends today will be your closest friends ten years from now?

Marc and I recently discovered a nasty catch-22 we're in that has to do with friends. A few years ago we discovered that we can only really be friends with other people who do not have family in town. Actually this might have been my mom's theory, but we confirmed it. People with family in town have no need for friends, too busy for friends, their parties are auto-filled with cousins and their kids never need playdates because that's what grandma is for.

So our best friends have always been the isolated family-less adults like ourselves.

On the other hand, people with no family in town have nothing to anchor them here, and they move away. That sucks.

We are destined to just always be losing our friends. Crap.

5. What's the best basis for friendship: shared values, shared opinions, or shared activities?
I'm not sure I like any of these options. It's a personality thing. My best friends have always been the right amount of chattiness. They've always been really practical, down-to-earth, more likely to be blunt or overly honest. They're women who others might see as stand-offish but for some unknown reason we just hit it off.

Coincidence... they're usually capricorns.

I've had little activities here and there that I shared in common with friends, but I've never met a friend because of, say, sewing or whatever. The only thing they have to value is getting the hell out of the house every once in a while. They have to be at least a little interested in politics and making the world a better place, so I guess that's the shared opinion thing.

building libraries

I keep making little free libraries and they keep getting better. I can't wait until one is up for real and I can put up photos. I've learned more about how more types of hinges work, how to puzzle together a door frame, sizes of clear acrylic, the best place in town for 1/4" plywood (menards) and the best place in town for primer (habitat restore).

I had some people on our facebook page offer help and I posted about some steps volunteers could do, but coordinating is a project in and of itself.

Several cities have had big coordinated projects to deploy little free libraries en masse around the city - that's not what we've got going on. Six libraries have passed through my garage this year now. Three were built by a volunteer day at the makerspace, all three are the same except the paint jobs, they're too big so a lot of houses don't want them to be honest - but I'm slowly at least getting them claimed, someone's supposed to come out and get one for a school this week. Then there's the three I've made. One is just sitting and waiting, it just got put together. The other two are at people's houses getting paint and waiting for concrete to set in the holes, so, REALLY close to being out, we just dug the holes this week.

Back to big projects - they all have one thing in common: the libraries are stamped out of a very well-defined pattern and they're all the same. When it comes to getting 40 volunteers to do something, there's not much time to art, right? People can paint creatively sometimes, but the shape and wood just has to get nailed together, and that's where I get lost because my favorite part of libraries is thinking up new shapes.

I've made house-shaped ones with scalloped roofs. I made a round one that looks like a hobbit hole. There's one with a pointy curved top like a fairy tale house.

I use the laser cutter at the makerspace to make the door first, I cut out the acrylic window and three frame-shaped pieces to sandwich a door frame together. Then I laser cut the back. Then I use the back as a pattern to cut 2x4s like a frame so I have something to screw into. It all starts with a vector design in inkscape though. That's what I like sitting and doing - just making lines.

If we had some big project, where would my designs go? I'd lose my favorite part.

Habitat for Humanity gives 20 high schoolers 6 hours of community service just by telling them here, brush paint this house, here's the paint brushes and the paint. They don't have to think much. It's great! I've done it, I really do think it's great. But you can't make art like that right?

Today we went out to someone's house, she'd painted the library I gave her and that's nice for me, I'm finding that most people are willing to paint their own. My inspiration ends when the wood is screwed together. We set the post and got the door hinges in and window caulked, we got to work in the shade, marc said it was really nice. It was. No masses of volunteers. No matching t-shirts or photo ops. Are we doing the absolute BEST thing for a community in need? Probably not. What a random project. Maybe I am selfish, concerned more about feeding my creative spirit. But that's worth something too, right? There are worse things I could be spending time on.


TED thoughts

koremelanaigis asked me: What do you think about TED and TEDx?
Well, I haven't been to either. Can't afford to go to TED obviously but I like that they put the videos on youtube so everybody can see the speeches, critics of their insane ticket prices lose a little cred when you take youtube into consideration. Tickets become a supply vs demand issue.

My favorite TED talk was Malala Yousafzai's father giving credit to his daughter's amazing achievements in furthering education for girls. Makes me cry every time. Like, just typing this.

I've thought a lot about Toastmasters vs. TED. Toastmasters has quietly EVERYWHERE for 90+ years, giving thousands (millions?) of people training and a platform to speak. There are a dozen or so clubs even in little Wichita Kansas. Toastmasters is open to everybody, if you attend one meeting they will likely let you give a 4-6 minute speech next week's meeting if you want, especially if you agree to pay the $20 new member fee so you get the books and stuff. My club doesn't even require joining for your first speech. So it's incredibly accessible.

I have heard so many fantastic stories about people's interests in my Toastmasters club. Bee keeping, shed building, kickboxing, disc golf, and in my club, AIRPLANE STORIES from the huge (why the Douglas DC-3 is the best airplane ever) to the tiny (how to get a 4mm white ball to float in a clear cylinder of fuel).

The downside to that model is, well, dozens of clubs in every city, quietly everywhere. These awesome speeches I heard were given to a room of less than 20 people.

So I like both. I like the river of speeches in Toastmasters, and the fireworks of TED. I think that TED is increasing the popularity of speaking in general. Heck there's even in-between - Moth StorySLAM! They're all different but all helping the same thing: talking to each other. Reading is nice, but there's so much you can't read in a book, and hearing people talk is therapeutic and interactive. There's a connection there you can't get through pages of an article.

All of these organizations give voice to people who's voices I like to hear. Ordinary but passionate people with something to say. I'm not saying Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton have *nothing* good to say, but I do think maybe their voices have been amplified enough and not always for the right reasons. Let's drop the glamour and give a voice to scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers, scholars, parents, historians, travelers.

TED is part of a picture for me, not the end-all-be-all for public speaking, and that's okay.
For my question meme jume asked "What would your #1 piece of advice for expecting first-time mothers be?"

I sure can be opinionated about a lot of this stuff. In 2014 I actually published a list of 75 pieces of advice for pregnant moms and the list GROWS.

Looking over the mega-list, if I had to pick out one thing, it probably would be to warn more people about post-partum recovery. I think it's a very overlooked topic, the biology of healing after childbirth. This is both a motherhood and a feminist issue for me, so it's kind of my public service announcement, even though my second childbirth recovery was really easy. My first was NOT and I felt totally caught off gaurd and after talking about it, more issues surface. The bottom line is that my healing could have been made easier with real pain meds, witch hazel pads, colace, ice packs, and I had none of these things, I was under some stupid idea that I could just tough it out for a few days. My own naivety after never having any kind of surgery or major injury, maybe. But if I missed the memo, it means someone else might, too.

When I read Half The Sky I was struck by something. We all hear creation stories: nearly every culture in every corner of the world has some unique and interesting story about how the world was made. What we don't all talk about is that nearly every culture of the world has some unique and interesting story about how women are supposed to suffer to bring babies into this world.

Consequently there's a whole list of "lady problems" that I think STILL get swept under the radar. From menstrual cramps to morning sickness to postpartum depression, doctors told us it was all in our flighty lady heads for decades. We're slowly crawling out of that, but not quickly enough. The severe form of pregnancy sickness, hyperemesis gravidarum, can be deadly, and forums are filled with women who can't function but who are still trying to convince their doctors to actually treat their symptoms instead of flippantly telling them to eat more crackers.

So my real advice for first time mothers, now that I'm narrowing this rambling entry down: you are not supposed to suffer.

You are not supposed to be crying for weeks, haunted by images of doing something terrible to your baby. You are not supposed to tough out having your vagina sewn back together with ibuprofin and water, ESPECIALLY while attempting to care for a five-day old. You are not supposed to feel totally alone.

Motherhood can be beautiful, but it's also hard, and you should talk about what you're going through to see if something can be done. Be honest with yourself and your network. Don't be afraid to ask for help. I'm not trying to scare you. Maybe nothing that awful will happen. But it's not like you're just bracing for impact that you know will be terrible. Listen to your body and be pro-active in taking care of yourself. Like they say on airplanes, put your own oxygen mask on first, then you can put it on your child. Don't let anyone blow you off.

bike riding

For the first time in a bit of time, I put air in the tires of my own bike! It happened Saturday. My family was gone off to a picnic elsewhere in Kansas and I was alone. I went to the makerspace to build in the woodshop and it was wonderful. Then my phone popped up with an event, a friend of mine from flight test was having a housewarming party barely a half mile from my house.

So I pumped the tires up, took the bike around the block to make sure I remembered how to ride, then headed out.

His old house was neat to explore and there were lots of people. We sat out back eating fruit and drinking lots of wine. I'll admit, I drank more wine than I would have if I'd be driving home. Driving, I basically don't drink, maybe sip half a glass if my stomach can be full and there's hours of drinking water too. I'm not saying it's totally safe to drink and bike... curious what the personal rules are on that one I guess.

Then I got to bike home while the sun went down on a perfect evening after friends and conversation and I wanted to duplicate my whole life, just for the moment.

In the morning I woke up again and took Josie on a bike ride. I'd been walking alongside her when she had training wheels, but now without the training wheels she was fast, so what if we went together? She is getting slightly better at using her brakes, that was an important thing we practiced more and more, stopping when cars went by and at intersections and sometimes just randomly to practice. We found a paved bike path and took it until we were a good 2 miles from the house, then we turned around and came back. She was tired and grumpy by the end but it was good for her.

We bought her a new helmet. I noticed today - helmets come for "ages 3-5" and "ages 5 and up" so it was time! The 4-year-old helmet was supposed to be retired! Her new helmet is a bright florescent unicorn face that's easy to spot from 5000 feet away and she loves it.

All kinds of adventures ahead for us!

how engineers think about people

sandokai asked me: Do you think like an engineer, and if so how do you think this affects who you are as a social being (including romantically)?

Long rambly post ahead, sorry about this one. I re-read it to see if I needed to be more focused and finally decided to give up and post.

And a disclaimer: there are many types of engineers and we don't think one way. At times in this entry I didn't do a great job drawing the line between how I think and how all engineers think - obviously I'm not qualified to speak for all engineers. So if you're an engineer and disagree with a point on this, say so, it's interesting, we can still be cool :)

First, there's a common intersection between being an introvert and an engineer that's hard to untangle, so I'm not sure which chicken/egg is to blame for all my differences. There are things I'm okay with that not everybody is. For instance recently I listened to a podcast on ghosting and how mean it is... I love ghosting! Ghosting at parties is the only way I know how to leave, I hate spending 30 minutes telling people goodbye and I REALLY hate when people stand in my doorway yammering on with their coats on because they just keep thinking up shit to talk about. And relationships? Yes I tried to ghost on a relationship once. It was the best. It worked because the guy slowly realized we weren't going to be together. Men say they want blunt honesty but when you actually do that, they flip their shit on you about how "this was all so sudden!" and "you've known for a long time you just wanted to say this and you HID it pretending everything was great meeting me every night didn't you!" When you kinda just gradually get too busy for them they feel like they have figured something out or they are making the decision that you're not giving enough and they let you go and they might say they're insulted by the ghosting but in the time it took them to figure that out, they came to terms with it and aren't flipping out.

There's a lot of people I just don't like and I don't feel bad about it. There's a lot of people who don't like me and I've learned to accept it. I frequently feel really really awkward. There are some people though who make me feel at ease the moment I see them, no matter how long it's been or even if we just met, and those are the people who I try to be better friends with.

I hate social niceties. I like IM at work, because you can just shoot someone a question... "what light was that again?" On the phone you have to say "hi how are you? do you have time for a question? that's all I needed..."

I did once date a guy who said emotion wasn't for engineers at all. If we weren't passionately in love, that was okay, because passionate love was some hollywood movie conspiracy, we are smart enough to just identify compatibility and should go with that because there's not some magic extra spark. He really thought like an engineer.

He ended up being wrong. We can be passionate and magical, there is something we can't explain, I'm happy to say. Maybe it's better because I didn't assume it would happen.

I have insensitive thoughts that I keep to myself. When I hear that someone's great grandmother died my head always goes "well yeah she was 97" when on the outside I know I'm supposed to say "I'm so sorry for your loss, you must be devastated." I once took out a life insurance policy by telling agent I needed "just enough to get me in the ground if I kick it" and she corrected me, saying that's called "final expenses". Oh yup that's it. I sometimes think I was so obsessed with statistics when I was pregnant because I just wanted to know my odds, and when I know my odds I know my risk, and I could say "okay that's the risk I have to accept". So the 30% miscarriage risk, the 1 in 5000 SIDS risk, I just had to know the numbers and obsess for a bit. There are very few funerals I've been to that affected me deeply, the only ones that did were for tragic losses of kids, and even then I was trying to logically figure out why I was so much more sad about these, and the bad insensitive part of me wondered if it was a return-on-investment issue... you invest so much in a kid in order to see them turn into bright adults, when the worst happens it's like a project you spent 10 years of your life on just sink away.

And speaking of kids, I trust doctors more than most women I talked to about pregnancy. The other women were pretty sure the doctors were just trying to schedule c-sections to make their golf games in time, and vaccine companies were just trying to make money off us by selling unnecessary and potentially harmful snake oil. But as a scientist I knew that those vaccine doctors were vaccinating their own kids, just like I fly my own kids around in airplanes we make, would you accuse me of wanting the airplanes to fall out of the sky just so I could sell more spare parts? I am part of that system of the scientific method so I assume good faith. I know what the Toyota engineers were thinking when they heard of uncommanded acceleration - they wanted occurrence rates and wanted to know if anyone had duplicated the problem, when the media just wanted to tell personal stories. (actually, I think I wrote a whole other entry on this topic of engineering and safety issues)

So we get accused of being insensitive and not caring about people because when one accident happens and the non-engineers say EVERYONE DROP EVERYTHING we rationalize and say "Well how about we have four people drop everything? With an intern, to learn on this!" Not nice. We ask the wrong questions. We aren't interested in the youth and beauty of the people hurt, we ask about coefficients of friction, flammability requirements, whether the specifications were followed, and all that is not sensitive. We do care about people and do love people but we also have this other place, and it doesn't look right to everybody, and that's why we're different. I read books on people and use methods to figure them out when it's not natural, that's my strategy, everyone and everything is a system. When I'm at peace I know I'm doing the right thing.

teach someone something

I was talking with other parents about school choices, good schools, getting kids into gifted, summer reading programs, curriculum to get their kid "ahead" before school started again. It all rubbed me a little wrong.

I think it's because where I work, we don't really have much need for turbo-geniuses.

I mean yes, of course, we have some VERY smart people at the airplane company! But they're also good communicators, because in our industry you're not allowed to make something that only you understand. You have to get the FAA, safety regulators, sales people, and customers to understand it too. If no one wants to buy it there's no point to making it. If we don't think it's safe it's not allowed to fly. So there's this tribal understanding that's incredibly important. Intelligence in a bubble is fine in school where you're graded by yourself, but come to work and the bubble makes you worthless.

Every summer I am sent interns and new college grads and we have to train them on our internal processes, which are complicated and not part of any college curriculum. The guy who just learned the system has to train you, and there's uniqueness for every assignment, and there's a million tools, and it would be pointless to try to teach it in classes. How long would it take to train someone about products that thousands of people spent their whole lives designing? Maybe impossible - and it'd be forever before they could contribute and earn their paychecks. So we just throw them in the deep end and they do productive things and learn along the way, mostly from the people around them, not teachers.

It's said that career success is based 70% on experience. You can't learn it in a class. And the way to do stuff is to have a team who can give you little pointers along the way. So we need engineers who can train other engineers, find them perfect assignments, communicate communicate communicate.

So put yourself in my place: how would you feel hearing that one of the new grads took differential equations in the eighth grade?

That's nice, you'd say. But we're not doing differential equations today. Is he good to work with?

If you knew that classes could only account for maybe 10% of career success, how would you feel if you heard your new grad was good at classes?

When we talk about who's important in our department, we talk about the good mentors. One genius cannot do the work of one "fairly smart person" who can get 10 other people to also be fairly smart people... that team will always out-produce the one genius.

When I think of my kid in school, I don't want her to be ahead of the whole class. I want her to be "of the people" and if she's got time, helping someone else at her table learn the concept she grasped quickly. Her knowledge isn't worth anything unless the people around her are on the same page.

But I don't think that's a thing schoolkids get to do, is it? There's no line on the report card for "can train others". There's only one person who's supposed to do the training... the teacher at the front of the room. And there are group assignments later on, but even then the end result is prioritized over the learning. The group is sometimes asked who did the most work, but I don't think there's ever a question about how effective the smart person was at bringing the other group members along with them.

Maybe it's an irreconcilable gap between school and industry that I'll just have to deal with. It's great that we get graduates who've taken lots of calculus to prove they're smart. Being smart is a first step, I suppose. But the ability to expand your toolbox, keep learning, teach others what you've learned... is that a thing in school?

My most hated books of all time

Follow up from before... jume asked, "What are 5 books you think everyone should read?" and in looking at past entries I found a special subset of books that I think people definitely DO NOT have to read, and I thought well that'd make for a fun entry too!

So here they are... Spacefem's most hated books!

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
Hated for: Guy with no responsibilities pretends he can understand the world by pontificating about nothing for 500 pages.

How the World Sees You: Discover Your Highest Value Through The Science of Fascination
Hated for: Offering a quiz that you take yourself and claiming that it reports how other people see you. Rainbow enimas.

The Wonder Weeks: How to Stimulate Your Baby's Mental Development and Help Him Turn His 10 Predictable, Great, Fussy Phases Into Magical Leaps Forward.
Hated for: Lack of research, claiming that half of my baby's weeks could be spent in "leaps", plus or minus a couple weeks. So basically the authors could take credit for "predicting" any infant fussiness at any time.

Not Your Mother's Life: Changing the Rules of Work, Love, and Family
Hated for: Fear-mongering. Telling all college students to be afraid, be very afraid, of what happens when you MUST have a baby and your precious career comes crashing down on you because your five-year plan was a little off.

Hated for: Totally unnecesary rape scene and huge plot disappointment. Everybody's life sucks.

Financial Peace: Restoring Financial Hope to You and Your Family (Dave Ramsey)
Hated for: Blaming most of the world's economic issues on everyone just going to the mall too much.

The Fountainhead
Hated for: Portraying an self-absorbed asshole as just brilliant and misunderstood. And if you're not the brilliant savior, you're in the way. Go crawl in a hole and die.

The Catcher in the Rye
Hated for: Whiny brat thinks his life is rough and treats women like they all owe him something.

Sorry, books! You just weren't good for me. BYE.


The 5 Books I Think Everyone Should Read

jume asked: What are 5 books you think everyone should read?

Well I'm going to cheat and mention more than 5 because it's my journal. Also really it depends on what you want out of life. For best results, just read all these books.

My all-time favorite fiction books:

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle Love breaks down the complicated machinery of oppression because machines just can't deal with the complexity of it all.

Contact by Carl Sagan my favorite book ever, about how the things we search for are physically near to us but conceptually far, so we're not looking in the right places. Much deeper than the movie.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis A person doesn't have to run out and murder people for their soul to be destroyed. They can just give up on life. This is a Christian book but I think it applies to lots of religions.

Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
The purpose of books is to let us see the world through somebody else's eyes. This young adult fiction story about a struggling smart kid trying to break free from the cycles of poverty on an indian reservation goes really far down the important road of helping us understand how to help at-risk kids.

My all-time favorite non-fiction books:

Innumeracy Because it's funny, charming, gives you great ways where we need to apply more math, and is basically a celebration of thinking.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide I didn't read this book for a long time because I thought it'd be too depressing to read about women's lives around the world in countries where women are treated terribly. But the book has so many stories about badass women who overcame the odds, I felt uplifted and hopeful. If we can keep going the right direction the world can be a wonderful place.

Myths of Innovation There are too many stories about science being done by a single lone genius who randomly gets an idea and *bam*, there's the iphone. Kids grow up thinking if I'm not that genius by age 7, why even go into science. This book was an inspiration, it reminded me that there's a place for everyone in science and innovation, it's just that history glosses over the real stories in the interest of oversimplification. Also the author is a cool dude.

Must read if you work at a job: Switch - How To Change When Change Is Hard Contrary to what you see at work, changing people's minds does not start with an inspirational photo on the company intranet. This book breaks down real leadership into usable nuggets that involve reading people, responding, making tiny strides, and bringing others with you along a path to a clear destination.

Must read if you want to save money: All Your Worth by Elizabeth Warren - after disliking Dave Ramsey, not relating perfectly well to Rich Dad Poor Dad, and finding interesting but not terribly usable advice in The Millionaire Next Door, Elizabeth Warren's book on personal finance hit me with all the right advice and became my personal financial planning handbook forever.

Must read for parents: Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn The parenting version of "Switch" about how kids will learn to think for themselves if you treat them like people and take them along with you in logical reasoning, instead of resorting to the carrots and sticks of sticker charts and punishments. You wouldn't turn an adult relationship into an economic system where involved parties try to nickle and dime each other, don't turn your parenting into one either.

And finally, must reads for feminists, which go to a whole different category:
1) Lean In
2) Backlash by Susan Faludi
3) Ain't I a Woman by Bell Hooks
4) She Wins, You Win by Gail Evans
5) Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety by Judith Warner

That should do it for now. Sorry for totally cheating. I really did cut down this list, then just gave up.


birthday weekend

I didn't make a birthday post this year, I must be officially old, I don't really care that I've turned 36. Exciting an age as that is, right?

A coworker of mine shared a good philosophy about "days". Birthday, mothers day, whatever... in his family the rule is that your day is your day, do what you want. But nobody else is under any obligation to make your day magical. They don't do material gifts or breakfast in bed, just call it a net gain that everyone gets out of doing work on the various holidays.

I like this idea. I'm going with it. Marc and I don't take gift-giving that seriously, if we get a great idea for what to get the other person for christmas or a birthday we do it, if there's no obvious idea we don't. Last Christmas I got him earrings but the year before that I don't think I did anything.

Anyway for my birthday - Marc and Josie were out of town, took a trip to Arizona, so I was vacationing from work to watch Olive. We went to Topeka for a couple days so I could see my sister and have a sister weekend. We had craft projects! Made a stuffed animal bin for my niece's playroom that was cute, I helped her pack up for a trip, the girls played really nicely together, we went to the public library and just relaxed a lot. They took me out to lunch at the Wheel Barrel, a grilled cheese restaurant in north topeka where the little kids could play at this playhouse next to our table where we enjoyed adult conversation. Win. I left a good yelp review.

books to read someday

sandokai asks: What are some books you haven't read but want to read someday and why do you want to read them someday?

I will admit I want to read more classics, but not now. They can wait for if I happen to get old or something. Right now my reading list is a balance between two genres:

1) Work books about management, business and innovation for those great AH HA! ideas that explain everything about the organization I live in. I really do enjoy most of them, but they are work.

2) Lighter but fast-paced stories to balance out those work books.

Most everything in my life right now has to be a quick read. It's true I finally read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, it was definitely a "I will read this someday" book, it had to hold that status for like 15 years until I finally read it though. It's a tough list to be on.

I really try to avoid making promises to books. I tell this story a lot - when I got out of college I had time to read and money for books so I bought books. My nightstand started piling up. Suddenly reading felt like an obligation, and I was constantly reminded that I had this wish list of books that exceeded my life expectancy. It wasn't fun. So I stopped buying books and started just borrowing them and going to the library. I knew I had to give the books back so they weren't allowed to pile on my nightstand, it was either read this and get it done, or send it back. No book was allowed to hang over me like a cloud.

I like reading what ever book comes to me at the moment, whatever's in my little free library, whatever title a friend casually recommends. I don't like to plan my reading.

Should I read Hemingway? Faulkner? Tolstoy? Kurt Vonnegut? James Joyce? Maybe. Not now.

me + math

sandokai asked: "What was it like for you doing math as you were growing up-- like what was your relationship with math?"

Growing up I really liked patterns. Mosaics, triangles, building tiny houses out of toothpicks. Dad taught me how to count in different bases of numbers - base two, base eight, I thought that was so cool.

I did not consider myself to be good at math. We had those timed multiplication table tests in elementary school - I stunk. Full honesty, even today if you randomly come up to me and ask what's 8 times 5 there's a chance I will hesitate. Then say 35. Then say 40. Then apologize.

In seventh grade they split us up and some kids would get to take pre-algebra. I was not one of those kids. I was in the average math class. I took pre-algebra as an eighth grader if memory serves, then algebra as a freshman.

My parents thought I was smart and wondered if they should push me to get into a higher math class, but then had an interesting conversation with a neighbor/teacher person. She basically told them that if I took algebra as a freshman, then I'd take geometry, algebra 2, pre-calculus, and then take calc I my first semester of college. That was more than good enough, a lot of college kids have to take college algebra or even remedial math. Those advanced kids were lining up to take calc 2 their first semester of college - not a great idea, since calc 2 is a class that many people agree is the toughest math out there. Some of them see this coming and decide not to take calculus in high school, just take a year off math. Big mistake. Never take a year off math, she said, even if you're ahead.

Besides, math is one of those things that can drive you crazy if you stretch yourself beyond what you're ready for. If you think you're smart enough for advanced class, why not just set back and get As in the non-advanced class? Build some confidence.

That's what I did and that's what worked out. Even though I never liked math before, my sophomore year I realized I LOVED geometry. It was like a whole different world of math! Like learning that spinach quiche and french silk chocolate are both kids of pie. Geometry and proofs were poetic. And I saw myself suddenly getting something that not all the kids around me were getting, I suddenly felt like I was special and had a lobe for something.

In algebra 2 I had a very good teacher who not everybody liked, she came off harsh sometimes, but she explained things in ways I could understand. I suddenly understood notation for logarithms and then logarithms snapped for me, which was a light bulb because I didn't know that my struggles had been about the notation, I thought I just couldn't wrap my brain around how the numbers worked. Once I saw it reframed, I realized again that I could do this. For a little bit I almost thought about being a math major, but the jobs didn't seem all that interesting, I wasn't sure what math majors do.

I liked pre-calc, went to college and took calculus, math started getting harder and more "out there" but by now I kinda understood how I learned and the process of just pausing to ask "What's step 1?" to see how to solve problems. I had to take up to calc II for my tech degree but also took calc III just for fun because I had the textbook and it would get me a math minor. For my masters I had to take differential equations. I needed a study group, but got through in the end.

There's this discussion we have in engineering outreach about math perceptions. Kids think that you have to be a math genius to be an engineer, so at the ripe age of like, 11, they decide they're not qualified. It's sad because at that age you really haven't seen all the kinds of math in the world. You might take to different kinds differently! And honestly, I really do not use much math as an engineer. It's kind of a running joke. It's a little sad. One day a guy in our group got to use trigonometry to figure out a radar reflection angle thing and he bragged about it and we all gathered around like "What! You got to use trig!" We were all excited for him and wanted to hear all about it, even though trig is 10th grade high school math... and here we'd all taken dif eq?

My dad said that an engineering degree just proves that you're "educable" - doesn't actually serve as the basis of the knowledge to do your job. I believe now, after hiring college students, that the degree serves to demonstrate your commitment. People spend their whole lives designing airplanes, you're not going to understand this whole product, and even more important the huge people organization and processes to get it done, in three months. We're going to train you for years. If we're going to invest in training you, we want to know that you intend to work in this field for at least 5 years, if not 40. It's not just a fun thing you're trying. If you had the patience to earn a four year degree in engineering, that's a good sign.

So you don't have to love math to be an engineer, you have to get through it, hopefully you find some patterns and methods you enjoy, but it's like latin, teaches you how things go together and some interesting things to think about.

I read a teacher explain that we needed to learn math for the beautiful sake of it, and I agree. Kids ask when they'll use it, we say "to balance your checkbook!" what a terrible answer. That's like telling kids that they should study art in case they have to paint a house someday. It's a luxury to get to think about everything we have in math, and that's what I appreciated in the end.

I also told Josie, who got a math award in Kindergarten, that math was important because it could prove you were smart. And if people think you're smart, you get to work with them on the coolest projects. That's the story of my life right there, starting with geometry and ending with a fleet of airplanes that fly.


Josie's almost six and zomg, she's a kid. I always knew it would happen I just didn't understand when or know all the signs to look for. It's gradual. You know your baby will be a toddler when she toddles, aka walks unsteadily on two legs. That's the milestone. Then you know they're supposed to talk. Then what?

Josie can get out a bowl and spoon, make herself a bowl of cereal with milk, take it to the living room, plop down on the couch, bring up Adventure Time on Hulu and laugh at the jokes.

She can put on her shoes and socks, get in the car and buckle her seatbelt. Non-parents do not understand the miraculous independence you feel when your kid can buckle themselves in!

And then there's the bike, which worries me a little bit but whatever. We got Josie a bike for her 4th birthday. It had training wheels on it. A few months ago it was in the garage in a weird place and I accidentally ran over one of the training wheels. I was pissed off and replacements weren't that easy to find so I was like screw it, let's just take them off. Then we didn't really ride for a while because it was winter. Then we decided to go try it. The first day was tough but if I helped her get started, she could pedal a few times before falling over, I'd count 2 3 4 and sometimes nine or ten pedals on a good run. She was frustrated trying to get the pedals in the exact starting configuration, just couldn't get the hang of it. The second time we went out on the streets there were more of those "nine or ten" occurrences. Third or fourth night, she just kinda took to it, once I told her to focus out in the distance, keep the handle bars straight, a few little pointers, and it reminded me of when she learned to walk... you just stop counting steps, and it's laps around the house.

So today was the 5th or 6th time we've been out and she was really going. There's a little bike path by the park a half mile or so from our house so Olive and I played and Josie tried to ride around the path. I could see her, and she kept getting stuck at this uphill bit, so she kept trying to go really fast towards it and losing control, but at least she'd lose control in the grass. And she had fun going fast. The training wheels were slowing her down, I realized. Now she can lean into curves. Actually it's really dangerous. Her bike has two kinds of brakes, a hand brake and the coaster brake, and she's not interested in learning to use either of them despite my prompting and trying to focus today's lesson on "BRAKES!" she just runs into stuff, yells a little, picks up the bike and goes for it again, refusing to try to go the other way or walk her bike up the hilly part.

We go roller skating about once a month too, that's another activity where the "go slow until you learn" idea is just not something she's into. so okay, fine kid, fall on your face, but your center of gravity is only getting higher.

I think I'm going to take her shopping for a new helmet. She's got one but it's two years old, I'm not sure it fits right. I think she needs one that fits perfectly.


lepid0ptera asked, "Did you plan on Mark being a STAD before you were married? Would you ever have married a man focused on his career? If you had, would you both have continued to work full time?"

Thinking about being married to a driven career guy... that is tough. that is really some parallel universe spacefem idea there.

I kinda dated those guys, and was immediately bored with them. Maybe it's because there's a part of me inside that doesn't like how well I fit in to the corporate world. I want to be different. I imagine what it'd be like living by a river in the woods or as a missionary in some far-off country, then remember I'm really not good with that sort of thing. I like my crafts, but I couldn't sew for 40 hours a week. I can do this business/engineering/ airplane design thing for 40+ hours a week and I'm happy. But even with my happiness the world is too robotic and sterile sometimes, and if I came home to a man who wanted to talk about the latest Harvard Business Review with me, I'd barf.

I'm a bohemian hippie trapped in the body of a middle manager at a fortune 500 company.

So I don't think I would have married a career guy. But for the purposes of this entry let's say I had... I would still really flinch at sending a 6-week old baby to daycare, so my maternity leave would have been way longer, and that would be possible too since we'd have piles and piles of money (that's my fantasy world of what dual income looks like, lol). I had one friend from work who took a whole 12 weeks FMLA leave, then her husband took 12 weeks FMLA leave, so their baby wasn't in daycare for 5 months! Awesome idea. Plus it really set the stage for each of them to be equally competent in the world of parenting, because they'd both experienced plenty of "it's all you" time in the beginning.

Or maybe I would have taken time off from work, and just found great things to do. I would have to have the kid in some kind of childcare part time, like marc does. He send Olive to three different church groups throughout the week so he can attend to his software contracts. Maybe I'd be like that, with my own business.

I just know I always looked at the guys at work around me when I was 23 who had kids, and the ones with spouses at homes, their lives just seemed so nice. Someone to get the groceries, take kids to the doctor, pick them up from school and stay home if a kid is sick. These guys really seemed to take their wives for granted and I thought no that's a HUGE deal and I want a way to have that too. I'm not sure Marc planned it as much, he's not a big planner, and we didn't really talk about it, but it was in my head long before I met Marc. Maybe it subtly added to the attraction too... the fact that he not only didn't have the career prospects I did, but was okay with it, wasn't going to push to be just like me, you'd be surprised how many guys I dated could not be chill about that (or maybe you wouldn't, the world being what it is today).

I just really didn't want that life where two people are arm wrestling over who's going to leave work early today to pick up the kid. It was a running theme at SWE conventions too, when women told their stories... the high achieving women all thanked their husbands for making sacrifices, throttling back, being flexible, moving around. Maybe we wouldn't have even had kids if Marc had a career similar to mine. Just sat around with our piles of money. Making the world a better place, sure, attending swanky high-society fundraisers and bidding on helicopter rides at silent auctions?

Maybe it could have worked out.

I'll close with this quote by Philip Tetlock that I heard on a Freakonomics podcast...

"Our lives are nothing but a quite improbable series of coincidences. Many people find that a somewhat demoralizing philosophy of life. They prefer to think that their lives have deeper meaning. They don’t like to think that the person to whom they’re married, they could have just as easily have wound up happy with 237,000 other people."

Boo Philip Tetlock, see this is why people get mad at scientists, crass statements like that! It was only Marc for me.

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