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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.


Marc's been out of town this weekend so I had the kids. I used to really fear these kinds of events but since the babies are not babies anymore, it's not so exhausting. Actually with everything going on it's blown by.

We did have a bit of an issue though, Friday was a very important day for me to be at work in the morning so I couldn't deal with kid dropoffs so we just sent the girls to spend the night 30 minutes away at their grandparents. This option isn't always available but the grandparents have been healthy lately and the kids are getting old enough, so thank goodness. We had other alternatives... someone else taking them in the morning, asking a sitter to come out at 7am, the Josie school dropoff was going to be tough though. So our plan resulted in Josie missing a day of school. But just one day.

So Friday I woke up totally alone in my house (weird!) showered, went to work, fought the good fight at important meeting, got out by 10:30 and had the rest of the day scheduled for vacation. I had to renew my drivers license. I thought this would take two hours, it took 15 minutes. So I celebrated by going to the makerspace and working on a little free library that was just a door, after this weekend it's done except for the roof!

Drove up north, picked up the babies, drove home, then they were set up to go to the 3x monthly YMCA parents night out so I dropped them off and went back to the makerspace. Spending Friday night in the woodshop with various happy makers was pure bliss. They taught me to use a metal bending thing for some hinges I needed to modify. I met the ceramics teacher and a guy was using the laser cutter to mark dowel rods with this new turner thing we've got.

Saturday morning I worked in the garage while the girls just played together with their toys for a really long time, it was great. I had a lady coming over to claim a little free library, we discussed options, we're doing the installation but we know which one is hers now. We had "make your own pizza" day for lunch. We ran errands in the afternoon - went to the humane society just to look at puppies, then the fabric store and the hardware store. Josie was spending the night at a friend's house so I dropped her off, Olive and I came back and picked up the house and she had a really long bath.

Today's plan: nothing! Roam around, we might hit up the big library for fun in the afternoon. I'm making a stuffed animal bin for my niece. It's kinda cold outside but that's okay. Need to pick up Josie in a few hours. Marc's coming back. That'll be it.

my favorite wines

Thank you all so much for asking me questions to inspire me to write about things! I threw them all in a hat (metaphorically) and shuffled them up and what came up first, oh look wine!

astrogeek01 asked: What are your favorite wine(s)?
I love trying new wines. I like bold peppery dark reds and dry tasty whites. Not a fan of anything sweet.

Our official house wine is definitely the Bota Box! Yes, I buy boxes of wine. Judge all you want, this stuff is good! I like box wine because it's eco-friendly, cheaper to ship, much cheaper to buy - $17 for four bottles of wine! And it stays very fresh. I can open a brand new box and have one glass of wine and not worry about what's going on with the rest of it, it'll be there for me if I want to drink one glass for the next month or take a week off from drinking (haven't tested this, but I heard). We buy the merlot, the cabernet, the chardonay, the pinot grigio, the Redvolution is my favorite, the new nighttime looking one is my husband's favorite.

When we are feeling classy or going to a party though we can bring over a *bottle* of wine, okay. Our go-to bottles are Clos Du Bois chardonay, or 99 Crimes red.

Last summer we went to wine country in western New York and really liked the Hermann Wiemer winery, out of all the ones we visited, so we've ordered a case from them a couple times since. Mostly riesling. I said I don't like sweet wines I know but riesling is an exception because there's a lot to it. The time has to be right. We also found that Dr Konstantin Frank riesling, from the same region of new york, is available at stores here locally, so we get it sometimes.

And finally we have an odd habit of just keeping bottles of wine above our cabinet for a bit when we find a kind we like, so it lives in our memory and we re-buy it for evaluation when we can. Here's what's currently above the cabinet... you can tell my husband's mainly the ones who adds bottles since it's a lot of blends and no merlot...

Force of Nature Red
Chamisal Pinot Noir
Vina Robles Red 4
Ramon Bilbao Red
Big Cirrus Chardonay
Roskam Red
Two Angels Petit Syrah
Chocolate Box Syrah
Maison L'Envoye
St. Paul's Pinot Grigio

So those are the honorable mentions right now. But really I'll try anything, we browse the store and find bottles under $15 with good reviews, avoid wines with animals on the labels (it's a gimick! conspiracy theory), try it with friends and see who likes what. Lot of wine at our house, yup.

Ask me questions, friends!

Hey I want to try something again!

May is my birthday month. Last year in May, I had all you livejournal reader friends ask me questions about things I'd blog about. It was fun. Kind of like you all's birthday gift to me, since blogging and yammering on about myself is one of my favorite relaxing things to do. The gift of inspiration!

So I'd like to try it again, except rather than have dates, just ask me questions and I'll assign some dates later. I usually answer a question every 2-3 days with space in between for my normal "whatever's on my mind" entries.

Last year's questions are here in case you don't want to repeat anything. Any topic is okay, if you accidently ask something I just blogged about I will not be sad because I do not expect my lj friends to have read every single one of my entries.
Random poll time, friends!

If you're shopping and a cashier asks you to add some amount to your bill to support some cause, do you do it?

No because I do not give to any charities
No because I do not give to store charities
Mostly no, but I've done it if the cause is really right
About half the time yes
Most of the time yes
Almost all the time yes

I've written before about how I've been trying to give more and more to charities but I have kind of a hangup about stores asking me for charity money, and I'm wondering if I'm in the norm.

Part of me feels like my donations are carefully researched, planned, automated, and documented for taxes, so this spur of the moment "well how about something else just today!" doesn't fit with my plan.

Another part of me just hates cashiers asking me more and more questions when I'm trying to get the hell out of a store. Time is precious. Giving to their charities would be like supporting the idea of them asking me more questions. You know how it is... you're buying, like, a hammer, and they want to know if you want a warranty on the hammer (no) do you want a preferred customer card so you can earn points with the purchase of this hammer so if you by 800 hammers you get a free on (no), what's your zip code, what's your phone number (no), can you take this survey about us, do you want to help retired hammers find their homes? 20 minutes later, you're running for the door.

BUT since I support giving and generosity in general, and these store fundraisers are helping good causes, should I cave a bit if I know about the cause? Like, somewhere, some kid just got a college scholarship because taco bell asked drive through people to round up their bills. S/he is thrilled that their fundraising drive exists. Am I being a jerk to that kid because I have this philosophical soapbox against cashiers asking me for money? It's a way to get more money to help people, who am I to quibble about the means? It's a way to get money from people who, unlike me, don't think about charity until they're confronted by a special case and asked specifically to give, should I support the outreach methods that work best for them?

I just read this rant by somebody, I think a whole foods employee, who was amazed at people who spend $120 every three days on groceries who won't add 10 freaking cents to their bills, he was like what cheap assholes. Responses were very mixed. I could see it either way. I still kinda want to say no, though.


spacebaby2 is 3

Olive turned three last week. We had a nice little party with a few families over for lunch and cake. It was simple. Each kid got a toy but not a whole goody bag, I'm trying to scale back. We didn't buy decorations. The cake was homemade.

I kept trying to interview Olive throughout the week about what goes on at birthdays, her 3-year-old thoughts were pretty random. Conversations like...

Me: Olive what should we have for your birthday?
Olive: What?
Me: No, I mean... should we have cake? And what else?
Olive: Um... forks!

Day of the party she did pick out a nice dress to wear "because my friends are coming to my house!" she said, it was cute. After lunch we had her sit in her chair and she blew out her three candles by herself. Then Marc took the cake to cut her a piece and everyone was smiling at her saying she did such a good job and she burst into tears. Maybe because she didn't like everyone looking at her, maybe because she didn't understand that she was definitely about to get cake, but I picked her up and held her on the couch and asked her why she was crying and she said "because I'm sad!" and I asked if she wanted to go back to her party and she said "no, I just want to sleep."

my kid.

Marc and I were running around to events every evening that weekend, including day of her birthday, and I felt bad about that so I took a vacation day so we could have some special time. We went to the mall so she could jump around on the indoor playground, and we went to the library. It doesn't take much to have a very special day with a three year old. Olive was thrilled. We got home and I asked what we should play next and she said "let's just snuggle up!" so we did, I put on a slow movie and we napped together.

I'd say she's growing up so fast but the truth is she's not really growing, I'm a little nervous about this, the doctor says she's fine and official shortness doesn't start until you're in the bottom 3% but she's in the bottom 10%, at 35 inches tall. We feed her, give her water, let her in the sunshine, she just doesn't grow. Her marks on the wall were all six months behind Josie, but this birthday she wasn't even to Josie's 2.5 year old mark.

All the rest of her milestones are totally on point. She colors almost in the lines, she's got an adorably perfect pencil grasp, she can draw circles and faces. Three year olds are supposed to be able to carry on a conversation... she's there. She doesn't even need anyone around to carry on a conversation, it just goes. She can count and keep track of objects up to 8 or so, she can count pure numbers up to 13 or 14, then it gets a little random but the numbers generally go up. She knows all kinds of songs. We can understand almost everything she says, even though she has trouble with s sounds. Ask her what a snake says she correctly answers "sssss!" but ask her to say snake and she says "nake". she calls unicorns "waycorns" and tomatoes "buh-matoes". she loves clifford books, cutting with scissors, very long baths, playing outside, dressing herself several times a day, soft blankets and looking out the window. that's olive at 3.


how thermostats work

I mentioned to someone that our house was awfully cold this week but we were powering through it on principle. The last week of April, we had a string of really hot humid days, so we caved and turned on the air conditioner for the first time. We tried just opening lots of windows but were generally miserable and we knew we had a party and houseguests coming so might as well make the switch, no point in making them all sweaty.

Then the next week the temperature dropped into the 40-60°f range and things cooled off FAST, you'd wake up in the morning and the house was 63. But with the forecast calling for 80s a few days later, I was not going to flip the heat on. We got the sweaters out. Our meal ideas all involved some long baking times.

Talking to friends I got a lot of "oh you're not part of the modern world?" type comments about my week. Most people have thermostats now that do the heat/AC flipping for them. If you want your house constantly between 68-73, it'll do it... heat in the morning! AC in the afternoon! Just always using whatever energy it takes, never taking advantage of what nature is doing, never being aware of the fact that tomorrow's forecast will call for AC so why not cut back on the heat, let the house get colder to prepare for it? Everyone just rolled their eyes at me for not figuring this out and for my house not being "smart".

I was proud of us for suffering through a few days with blankets and sweaters, in the name of energy efficiency and thriftiness... apparently that is not a source of pride if you've got technology.

So I guess I won't talk about my old house temperature woes since it gets me laughed at. And I won't talk about my gas or electric bill being close to nothing this month, most people just auto-pay that so who cares anyway.

I am curious to know if there are smart thermostats that are really MY kind of smart, that can anticipate the craziness of a Kansas springtime and open up the temperature variation in response to the forecast? If it's going to be 110 out, cool extra in the morning to prepare. If it's 50 today but 80 tomorrow, don't heat to 68? Smart thermostats for very cheap people, that do more than just hold to a single range for all seasons. I'd invent it but something tells me it wouldn't sell at all... people would complain. They would have to be uncomfortable sometimes.

Let's get Mother's Day back to its roots

Mother's Day is upon us again. It's a day when we honor mothers for everything they sacrifice for us by taking them out to brunch. Does that do it?

The original intention was very very different. What started was a Mothers Day of Peace, when activists took to the streets to say "We gave up everything for our babies, please stop sending them to war!"

What started was a Mother's Day Work Club, because children were dying from poor sanitation conditions. Women went out to improve public health and educate each other in preventing infant mortality so they wouldn't lose any more babies.

Any mother will tell you that motherhood is not passive and not easy. It requires some fight in you - strength for yourself, strength for your babies, and that's what Mother's Day was supposed to be about. I'm asking you today: when did we give up the fight? When did it become about flowers and tea?

If we lived in an age when infant mortality was as low as possible and nobody's son or daughter was being sent off to war I'd say great, bring on the brunch. We can move on, sit back, and be glad mothers have it so great now. But when you look around do you really think we can move on and reduce Mother's Day to a greeting card and flowers? Or do we still have work to do?

I say shame on you marketers who tell women to play nice and go shopping when the enormous sacrifices of mothers are still being wasted. When there are mothers losing children to needless gun violence, when there are mothers whose babies drown in the ocean trying to escape a war-torn country, when there are mothers whose children die because we still can't get food or medicine to the right places, how can you sleep at night thinking that what mothers need is the "perfect gift for her?!"

We don't need brunch. What we need is to know that our mothering efforts will not be in vain. Treat EVERY life as if someone made sacrifices for it. Long pregnancies, long labor, long fights with adoption bureaucracy, long nights without sleep, long hours at work, long conversations with teachers... if you throw any woman's sacrifice away by taking her baby's chance for a meaningful life, you have failed Mother's Day.

It has nothing to do with flowers or jewelry. it's about bringing back respect for Mothering. It is still time to take to the streets. Not to not move on.

also posted to facebook

zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance

I always wanted to read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values"
by Robert M. Pirsig. I first learned about it in college from a technical writing professor I had, she said it was about a writer who saw beauty and truths of life in the mechanical and technical challenges of the world. Then I tried reading it in my 20s, got about halfway through, got distracted. Picked it up again this year because I'm reading so much that a long book isn't so intimidating.

Truth be told, the book is exhausting. This guy is riding a motorcycle across the country thinking about philosophy and his former life. He's obsessed with philosophy, logic, quality... but gets so far out there on these issues that it loses its connection to the practical world. All I could think was "man, you've got a lot of time on your hands."

amazon reviewers love this book in droves, and say that if you don't "get it" then you're a "tweeter" who should just go back to reading john grisham. so if you want to think that about me, fine. I don't think I have an attention span issue though, I think it's more that I'd like to think about other things and little steps to move forward. This book is about a man living a simple life, sure, life on the road camping out with his son, eating cheese and sausage, appreciating little things, and fixating on a tiny question like "what is quality?" for 50 pages. People who love this book think this is a perfect way to live as a human. But for me, if I was going to shun the complexities of this world and live on the road, I'd do more listening and less personal pondering. I'd simplify so I could help other people and be part of the world, the character of this book is so not-part of the world he goes totally insane and has to be hospitalized and treated with electric shocks.

I mean you ever talk to a guy who's just so out there and ungrounded all you can do is shake your head and say "you should get a girlfriend"? that's how I felt. he's harping on how he challenges university professors of philosophy and just nabbing them because he doesn't like Aristotle or whatever and I just can't find it in myself to care all that much.

To further insult the fans of this book, I'm going to recommend to all my friends here to read quotes from it, not the whole thing. There are lots of great quotes! Yes, I'm reducing it.

“The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.”

“You look at where you're going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you've been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

“The real cycle you're working on is a cycle called yourself.”

“You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It's easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.”

“Did Einstein really mean to state that truth was a function of time? To state that would annihilate the most basic presumption of all science!”

I'm not saying you shouldn't read the book. Just saying, if you see a quote and love, if you think to yourself "wow I wish I could read 20 more pages just on this idea!" well then pick up the book. And if you love it, then come back and thank me for introducing it to you while you hate me for not being smart, patient, or tiresome enough to appreciate it as a whole.

I would have liked more motorcycle maintenance.
For spacekid's third birthday in 2013, I bought her the squinkies aquarium gumball machine playset. It was adorable, she loved it, I thought the little animals were cute. This was 2013, long enough into the squinkies fad that I was no longer seeing totally sold out store displays, they were just part of the collections in the aisles of toys r us and target. The gumball machine was inexpensive - $10-15 if memory serves, and came with these cute squishy figures in round eggs.

Flash forward to 2016. I found one of the little round eggs and one little mermaid squinkie and knew where the machine was so I got it out for Olive to play with it. I got to wondering what happened to these things... so I looked online. Not at Target, not at Toys R Us, scattered amazon sellers, the sets in their entirety were shipping from Ebay from hong kong retailers. The company's twitter account says they're "taking a break" and their "new" website is coming soon.

I feel like there's a great story here, I know there's got to be an expert who was there for the rise and fall. From the 2011 stories about how this was the hottest toy on the shelf to this year's backstock in the storehouses of hong kong.

I tried explaining this to Josie and... ready for this? She just told me, "I like Shopkins better." Why? "Because they're funner to play with." Josie does love shopkins, she asks for them at every holiday, arranges them on her playset, takes pictures of them, makes youtube inspired videos of surprise eggs with shopkins inside.

But looking at squinkies, I feel like I now know the future of shopkins.

I tried to explain to Josie what a fad is. I brought up the Thneed from the Lorax - sudden rise, everyone has to have them, soon to be replaced by the next cool thing. I brought up the "try BLUE!" billboard in the cruise ship from wall-e. She didn't get it. She just said shopkins are obviously cool and therefore different.

Although - I have to give some kudos to Littlest Pet Shop, a franchise that has somehow stayed around and relevant since the mid-90s.

When I was little cabbage patch kids were the toy of the season one Christmas. Then decades later, Tickle Me Elmo... right when ebay and the internet were getting big. Oh and beanie babies! I had a gorilla beanie baby in college, I cut the tags off just to spite people because good god who would really think these are an "investment"? Even today articles will come out about someone finding a limited edition princess diana beanie baby worth $100,000 and sure enough you go to ebay and find people listing their purple bears for $250,000 but nobody is buying. People don't understand how "worth" is defined. When you look for ones that are actually selling, they are $15.

I don't think anyone ever bought squinkies as an investment, I just wonder what's the defining line that gives some toy fads the ability to live in the public eye for more than five years. Is there a lesson to be learned here about making your toy too much of a "because it's cool" and not thinking about how to make it really fun to play with? Or was there some political/supply chain issue that messed up the squinkies?

I ordered a 16-pack from the hong kong ebay seller, partially because I want some to go with our gumball machine, Olive really likes it now. I also figured I'd reward the seller for not dumpstering the whole lot. I paid $11.99. They ship for free.


raffle ticket door prize hell

I haven't ranted about raffle tickets in 2-3 years, time to rerun this topic. Poorly run raffle ticket events are a pet peeve of mine. I just got to thinking about it AGAIN this week because... I obsess.

Prize raffles work well at events where everyone comes in, sits down, has a table to set their ticket so it doesn't get lost, and has nothing else to pay attention to except someone calling out a number.

Prize raffles work miserably at come and go events where people are milling about losing their tickets in the bag they're using to carry 800 other handouts.

It's very annoying to be at an otherwise fun event when someone is yelling over a speaker at you, "This is the third time we're calling for 1000892137! If you have ticket 1000892137 please come get your prize! That's 1000892137! Does anyone have 1000892137? Check your pockets people! 1000892137! Someone has to have 1000892137! Who has 1000892137? Okay, well... 1000892137 I guess you're out of luck. We're going to draw a new number! Ready everyone? Ready? 1... zero zero zero... 892... 093! Okay now who's got 1000892093! 1000892093? 1000892093? Surely someone has 1000892093... Dammit people this is for a MINI SAILBOAT, and we have 35 to give out!"

I've always thought it'd be fun to just call out one or two digits and play the odds on multiples. I've never had a chance to test this out, but if you give out 1000 tickets, do the math... 10 people will have 37 as their last two digits. 100 people will have 7 as their last digit. Just say "the first person to make it up here with 7 as their last digit gets this prize!" and see what happens. This might make the come-and-go event work somewhat okay because you'd hope that the last 100 or so people haven't totally lost their ticket, maybe? I've suggested this at several events but the speaker always doesn't get what I'm saying, they're blankly staring out in the crowd for 1000892093 to come through for them after all.



you guys I'm so mad I'm leaving livejournal forever.

just kidding.

real topic for this entry: what do people expect when they join an online community? and why do they post dramatic "you all suck I'm leaving!" posts when they don't get it?

This year I've gotten sucked into a few facebook groups, and the people there are, like, new to the internet or something. Maybe it's because facebook has such a huge swath of the normal population? You have to admit that livejournal, even in its heyday, was a tiny minority of the world. We had some real life friends here but that's only because most of our friends were nerds. Your average grandmother at the supermarket never had a livejournal. But she does have facebook, now! So she gets added to, like, a decorating your house group, and ohmigod we're talking to people three states away! what's going to happen!

I'm reminded frequently in these groups that the internet is apparently new to some people even in 2016. So I'm really amused when these newbies get mad when groups have...

1) Any drama. There's always these group rules about "no name calling! must be nice!" and apparently the newbies see these rules and expect nothing but HUGS. it's worst in the mommy groups. Someone will post up a photo of their kid in a kitchen eating an organic apple sauce and the topic is "we found a healthy brand!", in the background there's some gummy snacks, someone comments that they've found a brand of gummy snacks that are made without high-fructose corn syrup and WHOH GET OUT THE BIG GUNS it's drama time! Pile on the mommy judger! I figure we're all here to improve, right? And if you make a post asking for advice, should you really be trying to control 100.000% of the comments?

these guys wouldn't make it on lj for ten minutes.

2) Anyone going overboard. Posts are most likely to be made by the most excited people, right? This concept is lost on what I call "the lurker flouncer" - their leaving post says they're not like all us other girls they just came here for a few tips but want to keep it simple and can't believe how we take this SO SERIOUSLY. Even if the group has 1000 people and only 30 really active posters... they assume they are one in the 1000 that's the cool "low maintenance" chick.

yes, we know, we know, you're not like other girls.

3) Any change. It was all so cool at first! I was so excited to get to know you all! I joined and posted an intro about myself! Everyone was "so happy to have found this group!" Then we got to know each other and realized we had slight differences and that is SHOCKING, let's start a splitoff group that's going to be COOL like this group USED to be. The idea of every group going through a honeymoon - norming phase is lost on these people. Their new cool group will be totally different.

I bet everyone will be so happy to find it.

When will the whole world, from the high schoolers to the nursing home patients, understand how internet groups work?

This is why I like livejournal. We are over that learning curve.

I think.

Somebody will angrily unfriend me for being too judgy now and prove me wrong.
I work on airplanes and a term we use a lot is "hazardously misleading" - and like all work terms I end up applying it to life.

For example, let's say a warning pops up that says you've got an airplane at your 3:00 on a collision course with you. And you really don't. So, crisis averted, right? Wrong! The pilot could try and pull some quick hero move and get into an even more dangerous situation. It distracts him from good airplane flying. He trusts the traffic system less once he realizes it's not always right - so the next warning he might not take as seriously but it might be real.

In other words it's very bad.

In life it's usually less bad. I saw a stapler sitting on a table and I had papers to staple but when I went to use it, I stapled it and nothing came out, it was out of staples. Hazardously misleading stapler! Wasted my time, sitting there and not being able to deliver, so if we don't have staples at least hide it away (or, as in airplanes, disable and placard!)

And I totally thought about it this week with the stories going around about facebook's "other other" message box -

There Is An Even More Hidden Facebook Messages Folder

Most people are angry that facebook shoves messages back into this "hidden" folder, behind the "message requests" even.

I got burned by this - a really interesting request by a special company wanting me to taste test some cookies, for real, I never got the message. Don't get me started.

What really makes me mad is the fact that you can look up any Tom, Dick or Harry on facebook, and on their profile page there will be a "message" button, just like all your friends! You click it, you type the message, you think the person will get your message, you're never told that since you're not friends your messages get pushed down into an unreachable basement. They never respond to you and you think what a jerk, after I reached out so kindly.

It's misleading! Either don't put the button there, or warn people how it works, so they keep searching for real ways to contact you!

Usability, people. Think about it.

my 4pm list

I read an interesting productivity tip someplace: save your mindless, menial tasks for late in the day when your energy is low and mindpower is spent. Similar to the "don't check email in the morning" philosophy - morning should be reserved for your most challenging projects that require really thinking through things.

I've always used my calendar for some boring scheduled tasks - I moved those reminders to 3pm on Fridays. I also made a list of things to do when I hit that 3 or 4pm "ugh I feel like doing nothing" mental state, which definitely happens. My list is:

1) Read all memos that we've gotten from suppliers lately. Since they get saved in special folders by people I have a habit of being like well they're saved forever, I can read them any time in forever... but that didn't always happen.

2) Check inbox for things waiting on my signature

3) Clean desk

4) Clean computer desktop, "my documents", and download folders where files just seem to seep

5) Revisit top priorities list

6) Spot-check personnel files to make sure folks are documenting recent accomplishments

7) Erase whiteboards. I hate when the marks get left there for months and don't erase. Plus people should be using them to think, and clean whiteboards encourage thinking - especially in those fighting meetings where everyone is stating and re-stating their opinions, I learned this from an IT guy, the second a fight starts go to the whiteboard and start writing down what people are saying. When they see their opinion up there, they drop the need to re-state it.

8) Catch up on industry and competitor news

9) Set up 1x1 meetings with random people - this was a goal from 2014 or something, if you're constantly calling people into your office to talk about improvement, they don't get scared on days when you HAVE to say "Come see me in my office".

DONE. That's enough things to keep me plenty busy and moving even if my brain is tired.


The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker

Last time I wrote about spacebaby2 learning to talk randomdreams recommended that I read Steven Pinker's, "The Language Instinct". So I went to the library and picked it up and it's a 494 page academic journey through every exhausting DETAIL of how we learn language and I was like "DAMMIT livejournal friends are such a pain in the ass this is huge there is no way I'm reading this!"

But I took it home anyway and have to admit, it was awesome. Okay so I scanned some chapters. But most of the book I was pulled in and had to read every word because it's just so darn cool reading about how the brain works, how languages work, how magical it all is.

It's all about how unique humans are in our ability to learn, invent, reinvent language. And it is a REALLY cool read if you're around a toddler learning to talk. Grammar and language are these shrubs we've grown in complexity for tens of thousands of years, and our tiny brains dedicate a huge chunk to figuring it all out.

It's instinctive to communicate with each other however we can do it. Years ago deaf kids would be sent away to schools where the parents and teachers wanted them to learn to talk and read lips and that was IT. Instead since the kids were together all the time, they invented their own sign language. They needed flexible, complicated ways to communicate and lip reading wasn't going to do it for them. Sign language is an entire language in and of itself- with inflections and particular idiosyncracies. Years ago some researchers claimed they taught it to gorillas. People who were fluent in sign language disagreed. (So did lots of other researchers and whistleblowers on the studies... but for more info, read the book)

He calls three year olds "gramatical geniuses". In one section he writes down example sentences spoken by a toddler at 18 months through the kids third birthday, to demonstrate how the complexity of grammar is too fast for researchers to even keep up with, and it is amazing. He explains why it's so hard for computers to speak like us.

I had an earlier entry written up before I read the book, of a conversation we had about dinner guests, little almost-3yo Olive wondered why we weren't having friends over for dinner one night, she pointed outside and said

"Just knock them on the door!"

Which was hysterical to us but think about it... that sentence is gramatically correct, even if the words are a bit out of order, you get the idea. And that's all language needs to do, share our ideas.

And I started testing her while I was reading this book, about how their brains absorb weird little grammar rules like a sponge, we had this conversation:

Me: Olive what's that animal?
Her: It's a cat! A cat go, "meow meow meow!"
Me: That's right! The cat goes meow! What about a cow, how does the cow go?
Her: The cow goes MOOOOO.

According to the book, the little grammar "mistakes" toddlers make are mostly very logical... after all, why do we say "held" instead of "holded"? And why would the verb "go" in a question change to "goes" in the answer? So give the kids some credit! But they still absorb our subtle corrections... as Olive demonstrated, quickly.

Baby brains are learning machines, adult brains actually are not so good. Babies can tell the difference between languages that us adults would not be able to detect, our brains are wired for one thing, we've lost our ability to pick those up. The early years are crucial.

I loved his comparison to other animals. Our learning machine brains transform into reasoning/deduction machines. Nature also makes eating machines - caterpillars that turn into goo and emerge as breeding machines - butterflies.

He also talks about the dexterity of an elephant's trunk as being so amazing to us, but that's what elephants do, they evolved to have amazing trunks. We evolved to have amazing language-learning brains. Somewhere along the line good talkers were more likely to survive and more likely to create babies and that's how it works. Language is like our quirk. Humans have been around for 200,000 years or so, we split off about 100,000 years ago and spread around and made it to isolated islands all over the world and eventually rediscovered each other through exploration, and never found a mute tribe. We couldn't understand each other - but then again, it takes an expert to understand old english written just 1000 years ago. I was surprised to learn that it's unrecognizable compared to what we write today.

Two more takeaways from the book: first, he's very sad at the idea that we are losing languages. 300 years ago, a few thousand people could have a community and their own language and do just great. Now everybody moves around so much and there's so much technology, the big langauges rule out. The problem with that is that it's harder to study the interesting quirks that separate or thread through languages when you start whittling them down. If we spoke only english, we wouldn't know anything at all about how babies detect subtle language differences.

He's also very non-judgemental about diversity in speaking. So what if there's some style guide that says you can't end a sentence with a preposition? Who gets to be "right" and call other people stupid, or lazy? A society of lazy talkers would be made up of hard-working listeners, anyway... laziness all around doesn't work in communication. Let's sit back and accept changes and quit the snobbery of what's "proper" English, quit worrying about future generations butchering the language. It's an instinct. Ideas will not go away. Birds will not forget how to make nests.

So thanks, livejournal friends. I loved this book.

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