Tuesday, December 28, 2010

December 9, 1906 and December 6, 1989

This year, December 5-11 was declared Computer Science Education Week by the US House of Representatives, with leadership from Congressman Vernon Ehlers and Congressman Jared Polis. The goal of CSEdWeek was to raise awareness of the importance of computer science for every student at all levels. Some understanding of how computers work is absolutely essential for everyone as more and more of our lives move onto the screen and the web.

The week was chosen to coincide with the late Admiral Grace Hopper's birthday. She was born on December 9, 1906-- the first date in the title of this post. She received a PhD in mathematics from Yale University at the age of 28 and six years later she had reached the level of Associate Professor at Vassar College. She took a leave of absence from this position to enlist in the Navy to help with the war effort. Hopper served on the Mark I computer programming staff and was a pioneer in programming and the design of high level languages. She passed away on January 1, 1992. Hopper was a tiny woman-- she needed an exemption when she enlisted because she was only 105 lbs, 15 less than the minimum. But she was an inspiration to us all, through her colorful anecdotes, and lively and irreverent speaking style. The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is conference to bring together women in computing from undergraduates and onwards, from industry, academia, and government.

I have attended two of this and they were amazing experiences. The first time that I went, I brought my 4-year-old daughter with me. My intention was to be a role model and to mentor other women. Boy, was I wrong. I received far more mentoring and inspiration that I expected, and provided very little myself. I was reminded that despite the strength of my own beliefs, it is still important to go to the temple and be with other believers. It feels so different to be in a conference room with 1800 women and the occasional man. It feels like I belong, and I say this with no lack of confidence in my abilities or comfort level at other conferences. It makes me dream about what it would be like create other places in the world where I, and other women, felt this way.

CSEdWeek also coincides with the 11th anniversary of the passing of Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz. On December 6, 1989-- the second date in the title, a man armed with a hunting knife and a rifle went to École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec with the self-stated intention to fight feminism. CBC Radio 1 had a tradition for many years of not naming the perpetrator to emphasize the innocent victims, and I follow that here. The killer went into classrooms and offices, and specifically targeted women. In one classroom, he sent the men out, before lining up the women and turning his gun on them. All told, he killed fourteen women and injured ten other women and four men, before committing suicide.

This occurred during my last year of high school, so I came of age as woman in the shadow of the Montreal Massacre. I, like the rest of the country, struggled to make sense of it. Was it a symptom of general misogynist tendencies perpetuated by society? Or was the killer just a crazy person?

By the time I entered university, there were annual candlelight vigils commemorating the event and December 6 was designated National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. While there was no denying the tragedy of the event, I benefited from discourse surrounding it. There was much greater awareness, sympathy, and understanding of rape, date rape, and domestic violence afterward. Still, this took many years. In the early months and years, it was hard to find a narrative for the event that allowed us to live with ourselves and to look to the future with optimism.

One claim that I heard, liked, and repeated myself was that the gunman was a nut and that his act was the equivalent of someone going into a classroom, lining up, and shooting all the red heads. I wasn't very enlightened at the time, but this explanation felt right to me. The guy was a nut. Even if there were misogynist messages everywhere, you don't see everyone running around shooting women. (Well, they do, but I did say that I didn't yet have my consciousness raised.)

But over the years, I have come to realize that my choice of analogy was more apt than I realized. I chose "red hair" as the category, because it seemed silly to categorize people based solely on hair color. Yet, little did I know that there is a strong bias against redheads, or gingers as the British call them. Jokes are told about them, red-headed children are teased and bullied, and even surgeons fear doing operations on them.

Red hair is just a physical trait, but it's also one that significantly influences life course and has some associated genetic characteristics. It seems to me that sex is similar. As a woman, my physical equipment is different from a man's, and this affects my life course and makes me more susceptible to some disorders. But at the same time, these are just physical characteristics and not determinants of my humanity, ability to feel emotional hurt, or entitlement to equal rights as others who have different hair color or personal plumbing.

Grace Hopper's birthday and the Montréal Massacre anniversary are not just chronological coincidences; I think they are both part of a larger narrative about women in technology. Women still have to seize their own space and demand that there be a place for them in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. But at the same time, the status quo needs to make room for them. This goes deeper than numbers and percentages, but also looking at curriculum (why programming first and not design or user studies?), decorum in meetings (unruly), a de facto dress code (jeans and t-shirts), obligatory passage points, and the kinds of skills and contributions that get counted.

The ground was broken for me by other women, including Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace, Jean Bartik, Marlyn Meltzer, Kay Mauchly Antonelli, Betty Holberton, and Fran Allen. I feel very lucky to have them as my fore-mothers. But I am looking forward to the day when unexceptional women feel that it's OK for them to go into computers too and when I can feel a strong sense of belonging not just at a Grace Hopper conference. Until then, I too will continue to break ground (not without cost!) as a woman in technology, a researcher, an author, a professor, and a mom.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Finding Yourself

I just finished watching "The Brave One", a film starring Jodie Foster. It was about a radio host in New York, living an idyllic life and loving fiance. The two of them are attacked by a group of three thugs; she is brutally beaten and he is killed. The movie is about her emotional recovery/metamorphosis. I shed a tear at the end.

There were things that I just loved. For example, the use of "The Answer" by Sarah McLaughlin to bookend the emotional transformation in the movie. I adore this song; I had it on a repeating playlist while I was writing my thesis. Consequently, the use of it had a lot of emotional resonance for me. Terrence Howard was also terrific. I recently started seeing him on "Law and Order: Los Angeles", so it was nice to see him in other work. There are so few roles for black men, where they are believably intelligent and sensitive. Finally, Jodie Foster likes to do films on topics that are liminal, that explore the gray area between two categories, such as guilt and innocence.

The central theme of "The Brave One" is the question of how one recovers from a violent traumatic event. The answer that the film gives is: You don't. But you do go. You become a different person. A stranger. You find a way to live as that stranger.

This was especially poignant to me right now, because I'm trying to figure out what to do next in my career. I'm reading books like "What Color is Your Parachute?" and "Soul Mapping". The process is simultaneously awkward and exciting. It's awkward to be doing this at this age and stage of my life. But it's also exciting to discover myself and think about the possibilities.

The movie reminded me that finding yourself is not something that you do just once and then you're done with it. You do it multiple times over the life span. People change. Traumatic events or dramatic turning points can result in big changes. The passing of time can bring about small changes. The changes accumulate until it's a new person.

When my grandmother was in her 90s, she broke her hip. We subsequently moved her to a seniors' home. Visiting her was always startling, because the way that the residents spent their days was so different from how my peers spent their days. Rather than hustling and bustling, the seniors were mostly sitting. I had a hard time reconciling the grandmother that I knew as a dynamic entrepreneur with the woman in the wheelchair who ate too many wafer cookies. After some hard looking and soul searching, I concluded that these people were in a different phase of their lives, a phase that was a valid part of the lifecycle. To assume that they were unhappy would be projecting myself in their place, rather than understanding the place that they were in. My grandmother didn't do much, but she was probably go with that, after a lifetime of doing. Whereas I was at the other end of the life span and all full of burning desire to do. Although we didn't talk about it, I think she liked the nursing home. She liked the regularity and routine. My parents would bring her to their house on the weekends and she was always eager to return to the seniors' residence. She was in a different place in her life and she had a new self.

We are always changing. After a certain amount of change, one is a new person. The new person can be more or less strange. With more strangeness comes a greater disconnect and a need to find yourself. Of course, one can always not find oneself and be in blissful ignorance, but I prefer the life considered.

Monday, October 25, 2010

If you make a jest that you have to follow with "just kidding," you probably shouldn't make it

A couple of weeks ago I attended WCRE at Endicott College in Beverly, MA. It was a great location for a conference. There was a hotel adjacent to the meeting rooms, which was connected to the dining hall. There was a beach a short walk behind the dining hall.

Although women were still a minority of attendees, they had a strong showing. The first six presenters at the conference were women. The first man to present was a keynote speaker. Then, he was followed by another woman speaker. The best paper award was presented to a woman first author. The award for most influential paper from ten years ago also went to a woman first author.

Consequently, the issue of gender came up more often than usual in social conversations. One male colleague thought there were an equal number of women and men in the field. (A simple count of the people in the room proved this to be false.) Another joked that we should change the "W" in WCRE to Women. (I'd love to, but if we did, would men still submit papers?)

I have great affection for my male colleagues. They are great researchers and they have never made me feel incompetent or question my ability to participate in the community. But sometimes they have the social sensitivity of a coconut. More than once, one of them would say something in jest, that they knew to be "politically incorrect." I could tell that they knew this because the comment was stage whispered, or they said "just kidding" or equivalent, or put on a mock innocent expression on their face, or some combination of these three.

Here are three examples of conversations that I had.

1. I was in a conversation with two other women and a man. We were comparing the organizational skills of male and female students. In my experience, women students were more organized than men. One of the other women mentioned that her supervisor was impressed because she knew when were all the conference deadlines. I said that the only students who have shown up to a weekly meeting with me without a pen or paper to take notes were men. Our male colleague tried to joke that this was because men have better memories, and put on a mock innocent face. None of the women in the conversation found this funny.

2. At dinner one night, I used a purse hanger to keep my handbag out of the way and off the floor. The women in the group got into a conversation about the purse hanger and handbags. One woman said that she never got in the habit of carrying a handbag because it felt awkward. One of the men in our group asked, what kind of woman doesn't carry a purse? I told him that I didn't think this was an appropriate comment, to make generalizations about real women carrying purses. He responded strongly with a typical computer science reaction. He accused me of making a generalization when one didn't exist. He re-stated the question: what kind of woman doesn't carry a purse? a woman who doesn't carry a purse. Although logically correct, this way of speaking violates many social norms. It is much like a child saying outrageous, like asking for candy for dinner, and then saying that he is kidding when he gets in trouble.

3. I have a number of dietary restrictions- no gluten, dairy, caffeine. I also try to stay away from beef and I have not had alcohol in years. This topic always comes up at meal times with acquaintances, which happens frequently at conferences. I got into a conversation with a male colleague, who was a real food connoisseur and he was flabbergasted by the list. He lived for food and couldn't imagine living without cheese or wine. He asked if these sensitivities were psychosomatic. Despite my irritation at the suggestion that my problems were in my head, I assured him that they were not. He then leaned in and whispered, if still enjoyed sex. I answered that I didn't and the conversation ended.

Guys, if you have to tell me that a joke is funny, then it isn't. In general, don't tell these jokes. These actions are condescending and manipulative. You're saying something that is on the edge of acceptable and then telling me that I shouldn't be offended. I can either go along with it being funny (when it's not) or I can have a confrontation with you. If I choose the latter, I isolate myself socially and I develop a reputation for being too sensitive, a bitch, or -heavens for fend- a feminist.

Don't make jokes of this kind, it's not good for you. I have been part of the program comprehension community for over ten years. Like all women in a male-majority field, I have a thick skin. When I tell you that you have stepped over a line, I don't do it because I am mad at you or my feelings are hurt. I do it for the women who follow me in the field. If I didn't care about you and the field of research, I wouldn't bother telling you and let you continue to look like an idiot and drive away women.

Finally, here is an example of a story that was on the edge of good taste and mentioned sex, but I did find it funny. I include this to illustrate my complaint is not so much about the topic of a jest, but rather at whom the jest is directed and how.

A male colleague was talking about getting on in years and the aches and pains in his body. He was reluctant to bring up this story at first, so he warned that it was politically incorrect-- he liked to go skeet shooting. On one occasion an older man joined him for a few rounds. Afterward, they were having refreshments. The older man asked my colleague to guess how old he was. My colleague guessed 70-something. The man was actually over 90 and astonishingly well preserved. The man had two complaints about old age. One, he needed to take more breaks between rounds of skeet shooting, and two, he was less interested in women than he used to be. (My colleague apologized again for the political incorrectness of the story.) My colleague said that if that was all he had to complain about at 90, he would take it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gluten-free pizza in Boston area

I was in the Boston area last week and as always when I travel, I look for gluten-free pizza. The Chowhound board suggested a number of places. I ended up going to Nebo and Zing Pizza.

The two are similar in that they both offer creative pizza combinations and gluten-free pies. Beyond this, there are few other similarities. Nebo is fine dining. Zing's is a neighborhood pizza joint. IMHO, both have a place in the world.

Nebo is a "white tablecloth" restaurant in the North End, within a short walk of Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market. The had an entire GF menu and were attentive to dietary restrictions. They had a small, but quality wine list. They had a bar and maybe 30 tables. It was hard to tell, because we were seated at the front. My companions and I had a variety of pizzas. (They were probably persuaded by me repeatedly talking about pizza on the way over.) I had the "venenzia," which had chopped clams, bacon, corn, parsley, garlic, evoo, mozzarella. (Evoo, by the way, is first-press extra virgin olive oil.) Since I can't have dairy, I asked them to leave off the cheese. It cost $17 + $4 for the GF crust. It was a personal size pizza (about 8" diameter, I think), thin crust style.

Without the cheese, my pizza was pretty dry. I pilfered some tomato sauce from a friend who was having the cioppino and that improved things significantly. The combination of toppings was tasty, but without cheese to hold them on, they kept falling off. Another companion found her (gluten-full) crust to be dry as well. One person couldn't finish her pizza, because it was too sweet. She had the one with parma ham and figs. She felt that the flavors needed to be better balanced. Finally, we had some trouble flagging down the wait staff. But when they did show up, they were very nice.

Zing Pizza in Porter Square is more of a take out restaurant with a few tables and counter seating for eat-in customers. (If you need a restroom, you have to go across the street to another plaza.) They are a block away from the Porter Square metro stop and easy to find. I had the "Dracula's Dilemma," which had garlic, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, pomegranate molasses, and cilantro. They only sell gluten-free by the pie in one size. I asked them to hold the cheese and was told that this pizza wouldn't taste good without cheese because it only had a garlic sauce. The man behind the counter who did everything recommended a "Blue October" or to add tomato sauce. I opted for the latter. I got this large pizza in their signature oblong shape and it cost $17.50 + $3 for the GF crust. They make the GF pizza in the back on a different counter than their regular pizza.

I had to wait 30 minutes, but I brought reading material. There were lots of people coming to pick up their pizzas in that time, many of them GF. It was definitely worth the wait. The crust was moist and tasty, and the flavors were great. This was among the best GF pizza that I have had anywhere. I gorged myself on four slices and brought the remaining four back to my hotel room for breakfast the next day.

The man behind the counter frequently asked if everything was OK. He made a point of telling me that they were trying to source some vegan cheese and that Wednesday nights were GF slice nights.

Zing by far and away was the better experience. For a high end restaurant, I would have expected someone at Nebo to say that maybe the "venezia" might not be good without cheese, as they did at Zing. Also, I got twice as much pizza for about the same price at Zing. Also, there was no mandatory gratuity for a group of 6 or more and they didn't sell us bottles of still water as a default.

If Nebo were the only GF pizza in town, I would go again. The place is nice enough that I could work with them to get things right. It's also a nice place to go "out" with friends, who are not gluten sensitive.

But given a choice of Zing or Nebo, I would take the red line up to Porter Square. If you are in downtown Boston, I suggest that you check their web site for the latest choices and place an order over the phone. Then, take the red line into Cambridge and the pie will be ready when you get there.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why I love and hate my iPad

I have owned an iPad for a little over two weeks now. I both love and hate (but mostly love) my iPad.

Before I tell you why, let's start with a little bit of background. I was a faithful IBM ThinkPad user for years, before switching to a MacBook about three years ago. I mostly stuck with familiar software at first (Firefox, Mozilla, MS Office), but I have been slowly migrating to some Mac apps (Mail, iWork, iCal). I don't own a mobile phone. Yes, you read that right. I don't own a mobile phone. I've been looking for a smart phone without the phone capabilities for a while. I wanted the apps, but I don't actually talk to people on the phone. My biggest stumbling block was the connectivity fees. I just couldn't justify paying $60-100 per month for something that I considered a non-essential toy.

For me, the iPad hits the sweet spot between mobility and functionality. I love not being tied to my computer all the time. I can quickly scan my twitter feeds or email easily. The best way to think about it is as a media consumption device. I can use the iPad for everything except writing papers. (If I got an external keyboard, I could even do that.) I'm looking forward to getting Keynote and giving presentations using the iPad.

I love the portability. At 1.5 lbs, it weighs a lot less than my laptop. I can check my news feeds, while I eat my oatmeal at the kitchen table.

I love having access to data out in the world. I've been out shopping and was able to check prices and look up an author while in a bookstore.

I love Enjoy Sudoku. It's the best sudoku game on any platform, bar none. In text of the tutorials are not as good as Sudoku Wiki, but there are example and practice games to help make up for it.

Now, for the things I hate.

I hate the eye strain. I used the iPad extensively for the first three days and had terrible headaches until I put two and two together. The iPad is completely unsuitable for extended reading. I tried reading PDFs, but my eyes got very tired. It was a combination of brightness and font size. In order to get the contrast high, I had to turn up the brightness a lot. I have since dialed back the brightness and this seems to help. On my desktop computer, I use large fonts. Many of the apps that I use don't let me increase the font size, e.g. Mobile Safari and G-Whiz. Although it is possible to zoom in, this feature is not available in every app. In Mobile Safari, I can enlarge the page, but then I have to scroll a lot to see everything. It would be nice if it could flow the text.

I hate the ergonomics. Look down and typing on the screen just doesn't work. My neck hurts and I make a lot of typing mistakes. The touch screen keyboard shows slightly different things depending on the context. For example, in Safari the keyboard has a ".com" button. In the Twitter apps, there should be a "#" and "@" buttons on the same screen as the qwerty keyboard. Normally, these symbols are buried in the the numbers and symbols screens, but # and @ are used some much in tweets that they really should be promoted.

I hate the social intrusion. When I had only the laptop, I enforced a social discipline of being "present." When I'm with the kids, I'm with the kids. When I'm in my home office, I'm working. With the iPad, I'm with the kids, but I'm not all there. It's much harder for them to get my attention, because I'm entranced by something that I'm reading. I have become one of those Crackberry users.

In summary, I love my iPad. I wish there was a camera. A 7" iPad sounds neat. I am now interested in getting a Kindle or other eReader for more extensive reading.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

@TwitChange : who would you bid on?

Welcome To TwitChange is a celebrity auction where the prizes are all Twitter-related. All the proceeds are going to support a home and school for special needs children in Haiti. You can choose to have your favorite celebrity re-tweet one of your message, mention your @-handle in a tweet, or follow you for 90 days.

Being so clueless about popular culture, I don't recognized most of the names of the list. But a few that caught my eye are Stephen Fry, Demi Moore, Nichelle Nichols, Alex Wong from So You Think You Can Dance. More celebrities are being added every constantly. (Or more. Six new ones appeared as I was writing this post, including Neil Gaiman.)

So, if I could bid on anyone in the world, who would I choose? And which prize?

I have a couple of ideas.

Option 1. Choose a Republican pundit and have him/her re-tweet a message that is suitably liberal. Maybe Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin?

Option 2. Choose somebody intellectually interesting, somebody who has given a TED talk, and have him/her follow you for a 90 days. Maybe Liz Coleman or Hans Rosling.

Who would you choose?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why risk management is an oxymoron

Yesterday, I tweeted the following.

#aosocal Change control and risk management are oxymorons. @ainzo @agilistapm

And this sparked a series of exchanges (my first Twitter debate!).

iesavage @ainzo @agilistapm @benevolentprof @dianaofportland Curious… How is "risk management" oxymoronic?

benevolentprof @iesavage: @ainzo @agilistapm @benevolentprof @dianaofportland Real risk, unknown unknowns, can't be managed.

iesavage @benevolentprof @ainzo @agilistapm @dianaofportland Ah - those risks. One must manage other risks (eg illness, attrition), tho.

iesavage @benevolentprof @ainzo @agilistapm @dianaofportland ...and one can make allowances for the unk/unks. Or just plan for % failures.

benevolentprof @iesavage @ainzo @agilistapm @dianaofportland Illness and attrition aren't risks. They are a predictable part of life- and can be managed.

iesavage @ainzo @agilistapm @dianaofportland @benevolentprof JFYI: My company treats attrition as a risk & mitigates.

At the heart of the debate is what is properly constituted as risk. iesavage is using the standard definition of anything that is a source of danger or a hazard. According to conventional "risk management," one must try to identify what these are and identify ways to mitigate their negative effects. It's standard practice to consider illness and attrition, so it's good and appropriate for iesavage to be dealing with them in risk management. However, my comment has more to do with what risk really is, rather than what is good risk management.

In my mind, events that can be expected to happen should not be properly be constituted as risk. Illness and accidents happen. You'd be a Pollyanna if you thought they didn't. Real risk are the ones you cannot possibly plan for.

Philip Armour wrote a book "The Laws of Software Process." (Thanks to @cdknutson for introducing it to me.) In the book, Armour introduces his Levels of Ignorance. I have found this to be an invaluable tool to explain solving information problems (such as software development and doing research).

Zeroth Order Ignorance (0OI): Lack of ignorance.
I have Zeroth Order Ignorance (0OI) when I know something and can demonstrate my lack of ignorance in some tangible form. Examples of 0OI is the answer to a trivia question and the ability to sail, which can be demonstrated when provided with a sailboat and a body of water.

First Order Ignorance (1OI): Lack of knowledge.
I have First Order Ignorance (1OI) when I do not know something and I can readily identify that fact. 1OI is basic ignorance or lack of knowledge. For example, I don't know how to speak Russian, but I know how I could learn. Expressed in another way, if you can Google for the answer, you have 1OI.

Second Order Ignorance (2OI): Lack of awareness
I have Second Order Ignorance (2OI) when I do not know that I do not know something. That is to say, not only am I ignorant of something (I have 1OI), I am unaware of what it is I am ignorant about. I do not know enough to know what it is that I do not know. I can't provide a good example of 2OI for me, because if I could name it, I would have awareness. I could provide an example of 2OI for me in the past or possibly for you right now.

Third Order Ignorance (3OI): Lack of Process.
I have Third Order Ignorance (3OI) when I do not know of a suitably efficient way to find out that I do not know that I do not know something, which is lack of a suitable knowledge-gathering process. This presents me with a major problem: If I have 3OI, I do not know of a way to find out that there are things that I do not know that I do not know. Therefore, I cannot change those things that I do not know that I do not know into either things that I know, or at least things that I know that I do not know, as a step toward converting the things that I know that I do not know into things that I know. Examples of 3OI are many design or research problems. Methods for doing software design or research are really just activities to fill the time while you overcome 2OI.

Fourth Order Ignorance (4OI): Meta ignorance.
I have Fourth Order Ignorance (4OI) when I do not know about the Five Orders of Ignorance. I do not have this kind of ignorance, and now neither do you. Knowledge is highly and intrinsically recursive-- to know about anything, you must first know about other things which define what you know.

Applying the levels of ignorance to risk, I would assert that risk can only be properly applied to 2OI and 3OI. 0OI and 1OI are not risks, they are known and can even be predictable. Consequently, risk management is an oxymoron, because it's not possible to manage what you don't know.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Blessing of the Qur'an at my church on Sunday

All over the news is the story of the church (Dove World Outreach Center) in Gainsville, Florida that is planning on burning copies of the Qur'an as some kind of senseless demonstration. Lots of people have spoken out against it and they still plan to go ahead.

I don't know what point they're trying to make, but the act is wrong, un-Christian, and intolerant.

My church just issued the following press release. We're going to be blessing the Qur'an on Sunday.


Irvine Christian Congregation Plans Blessing of the Qur’an (Koran) on September 12

Irvine United Congregational Church will invite members and friends to pray over or otherwise honor the Qur’an during regular worship services on September 12. The activity is set for the Sunday immediately following the anniversary of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and on the day after a small fundamentalist church in Florida planned to burn the Muslim holy book,

Said Senior Minister, the Rev. Dr. Paul Tellström,
“In our progressive Christian view, Muslims are simply walking a different path than us up the same mountain in order to build a right relationship with God. The practices and the holy scripture of Islam are therefore worthy of honor. Furthermore, our congregation desires to stand with Muslim brothers and sisters who find themselves and their faith assaulted and disparaged. In this we fulfill our Just Peace stance within our denomination, the United Church of Christ.
See http://www.ucc.org/justice/peacemaking/a-just-peace-church-1.html

For many years, the Irvine congregation hosted both a synagogue and a mosque in its facilities.
Worship services are at 8:45 and 10:45 a.m. on Sundays, in the church facilities at 4915 Alton Parkway, Irvine.

I'm so proud to be part of IUCC.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Who do the Google ads on my blog think I am?

I have Google ads turned on for my blog in the vain hopes that some day people will read this and I'll become rich and famous. The other day, I noticed an interesting set of ads featured: electronic medical records (EMR), help on writing, a pro-life "abortion" clinic, and visual materials for Bible studies. What a mixed up bunch of ads!

Google tries to put ads that are related to the content the page. I'm going to try and guess what triggered each of the ads.

The EMR ad probably appeared because I mentioned doctors or medical topics.

The writing help likely appeared because I have written about the writing process.

I have a couple of posts on abortion. I guess these anti-clinics are trying to divert people with so-called "abortion information."

Bible study materials likely appeared in response to my post on a sermon.

It is creepy how strange and apt the set of ads is. So, I must be pro-choice Christian who writes and likes medical stuff. Sounds about right. Nothing about computers or technology... hmm. :)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What separates an "A" student from the rest

I have been teaching the same course at UCI for six, almost seven years now. The first time that I taught Inf111 was Winter Quarter, 2004. (Technically, it was ICS121 at the time. It wasn't re-numbered until a couple years later.) I have learned a lot about teaching in those years, but that is a topic for another time. I have learned a lot about learning, but not enough. I have a couple of observations about students who do well, who get "A's" in school.

An "A" student organizes their life in a way that allows them to succeed. This is the single most significant characteristic that separates an "A" student from a "D" student. An "A" student ensures that they has enough time to study and keeps distractions at bay. A "D" student has a fight with their significant other the night before the final exam, which keeps them up all night AND prevents them from studying.

An "A" student submits assignments on time. A "D" student submits assignments late or not at all. It's a small thing, but it makes a difference.

An "A" student shows up. Lecture is not necessarily the best way to absorb new material, but it does provide two key benefits. One, it provides time with the material, which leads to familiarity and comfort with the material. It almost doesn't matter what is covered during the lecture. Two, lectures are an opportunity for a student to assimilate into a culture. In other words, the student can learn the logic behind a discipline and how to structure an argument within the genre. This affinity is important for answering open-ended questions on tests and for solving open-ended problems in an acceptable manner.

An "A" student does well on the first evaluation. There is almost a perfect positive correlation between a student's score on the first evaluation (no matter how large or small) with the student's final overall grade in the course. This relationship sometimes makes me despair my role as a teacher, but it's a central truth. Graduates from Ivy League schools do well, because they were doing well before they enrolled in the school.

An "A" student doesn't necessarily start ahead of time. Some "A" students have a finely honed sense of the "last minute," i.e. the last possible moment to start an assignment or studying for a test and still succeed.

An "A" student isn't necessarily the smartest or most engaged person in the class. Intelligence helps, but the ability to organize one's life trumps raw processing power.

So what does this say about education more broadly?

Students who don't have support and orderly lives do less well. This describes a lot of working class and inner city kids. It's almost like they are doomed before they start. And this is why we celebrate when a kid with a complicated home life succeeds-- they have beaten the odds.

Good teaching matters more to students in the middle of the pack. Students at the head of the class tend to be capable book learners and can drive their own learning experience. Not everyone learns in this way. Classroom exercises, presenting material in other modalities, and accommodation of learning styles are ways that good teachers can make sure average students learn the material. "B" and "C" students need more help engaging with written material, and consequently innovative teaching has more impact on them. This tendency also has implications for working class and inner city kids, which is why programs like "Teach for America" are important.

Teaching "A" students is rewarding, because it provides a form of cheap and easy validation for me: I taught it, they got it. Teaching "B" and "C" students is rewarding, because it allows me to make a difference in outcomes. We're comrades in the same war: while I struggle to teach well, they struggle to learn well.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Feedback on my CSCW Paper

I submitted my "first" CSCW paper last Friday. (Technically, it's not my first. It just feels like it. I co-authored a paper with Don Patterson a couple of years back, but it was his idea and I was just around to help him with the writing. This time, I was involved starting from the data collection onwards and I was primary author.)

I had set aside the month of July to work on the paper, but I spent the first couple of weeks faffing around. I had been working pretty hard before that, so I needed the break. Two weeks before the deadline, I started work in earnest. Then I was sidelined by a migraine for three days. Not good.

By the Monday before the deadline, I had six pages and I was thoroughly confused. I needed feedback and lots of it. Judy Olson read my paper on Monday and gave me some high level comments. I wrote three more pages on Tuesday and brought it to the LUCI lab "pass around." It's standard practice at LUCI that in the days leading up to a deadline people get together and critique each other's papers. I gratefully took advantage of their generosity.

Here is a summary and paraphrase of the feedback that I got.
Judy Olson: Is your point that you think people should be using narrative to coordinate their work?
Paul Dourish: I have no idea what you are talking about.
Silvia Lindtner: Why is this a CSCW paper? You need to be more specific about articulation.
Gillian Hayes: Great data, but it needs to be more "together."

They were all absolutely right. But how to incorporate all their great comments?

I spent Wednesday reading some papers and by evening I started the re-write in earnest. It was crazy, but I made it. On Thursday at 9pm, I was re-analyzing the data on my kitchen table. I had little pieces of paper, index cards, highlighters, paper clips, and post-it notes. I had a complete draft by 9am. I took a small nap and went back to editing. It was submitted by 4:30pm.

Whew. It was exhausting, but man, was it fun. I find that the more confused I am in the middle of writing a paper, the better it turns out in the end. This time, I knew there were problems, but I couldn't put my finger on what they were. I probably would have figured it out in the end, but it was much quicker to get feedback. I also find that if I really hate a paper by the time I submit, it's probably a pretty good paper. It means that I have worked on the paper for so long that I see only the flaws. It's a bit like looking at your own face in the mirror and seeing every pimple, freckle, and blemish. In both cases, you overlook the beauty of everything all put together.

Thanks to everyone who read my paper. It really helped.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Reviewing Doctoral Symposium submissions

I just reviewed a whole pile of submissions to a doctoral symposium. These are 4-page summaries of the research the students propose to undertake for their dissertations. Students could be at any stage of their Ph.D.

I have some general advice for students who are writing similar papers.

* The literature review should be at most 25% of the paper, including the reference list at the end. The purpose of the literature review is to stake out the positions that you are in conversation with. It should not be the bulk of your paper. I'd much rather find out what you are thinking. If you can't come up with at least two pages (or 50% of the document) about your own research, it might be a bit premature to get feedback from outside your lab.

* Don't use bullet points to fill space or otherwise make up for your lack of content. Please write in proper paragraphs and well-formed prose. Your research statement should have a flow and an argument. It should be more than just a pile of points, which is what a series of bullets is.

Hopefully these observations will be helpful for other students who are writing for Doctoral Symposiums or PhD Forums elsewhere.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Response to "A Conservative on Food Stamps: I Felt Like I Was Two Inches Tall" | BlogHer

I read a post on BlogHer written by Gianna Rae. In it, Gianna writes about a run-in she had at the grocery store with a cashier who implied that food stamps were wasteful and that she was a beggar for using them.

I am completely sympathetic to Gianna. She should have been made to feel like a lesser person for using a social service that is available to all who qualify. Services like welfare, WIC, and food stamps are part of a social safety net intended to prevent the worst things from happening to individuals and families. I'm in favor of these programs. In fact, we could be doing a lot more and I'm willing to pay higher taxes to have them, even if I never use them. I despise living in a society where it's possible for people to be homeless and where too many children go to bed hungry.

That said, the aspect of the the post that raised my eyebrow were the opening paragraphs where Gianna explained that she was politically conservative.

I believe it's OKAY to make a profit (for some people to be rich and others to be poorer), and I believe the government should NOT say it's okay to kill babies or trivialize people's right to life be it young OR old.


This is my opinion: I've paid my taxes and I AM paying my taxes. If there is a program out there that can help me and I've paid for it already, I am going to use it. Whether I use it or not, the government is going to take my money, and this way at least, for once, I get to reuse the money I've already paid in.

I would be the first to admit that I just don't understand conservatives, or to be correct, Republicans. Individual rights are good, except when it comes to abortion. Deficit spending is bad, except when it comes to the military. Big government is bad, except when it comes to legislating morality. But I digress...

It seems to me that a key difference between conservatives and liberals is how they decide who deserves what. Liberals believe that food, shelter, and health are things that everyone should have. Conservatives believe that only people who have earned them should have food, shelter, and health. The conflict in Gianna's experience occurred because she drew the line on deserving and worthy in one place and the cashier drew the line in another place. My solution is to not draw the line at all and say that we are all equally worthy.

In "The Wealthy Banker's Wife," Linda McQuaig wrote about how every family in the Netherlands received a family allowance. Every family, including the Royal Family. This approach signals that every child, from the poorest to the richest family, is deserving of support from society. Furthermore, it increases commitment to the program from all tax brackets. The wealthy are less likely to suggest cutting a program, because they don't benefit from it or don't know about it.

Family allowance is similar in Canada. There were (are?) no food stamps. They just gave people money and let them spend it on what they needed. When someone uses a family allowance cheque (not check) to pay for groceries, it's just not worthy of comment. In this system, Gianna's run-in would never have occurred.

I'm not saying that 100% of the money in either system goes to where it needs to go. But it is interesting to look at the rhetoric around "waste," because when we demonize, we are really expressing something that we hope never to be. In the Canadian/Dutch system, it is the wealthy banker's wife in the title of McQuaig's book who uses the family allowance to buy a new pair of silk gloves. The demonized figure in the American system are the leeches, as illustrated by one of the comments on the post.

My fiancé's brother and his family were on food stamps for a while, as he was getting paid triple what he used to. They never checked on how much he was making, or if it changed. Not to mention they also lied about how many people were in the house, so they were getting $500 a month in food stamps when they only had two people using them. They were out buying Red Bull's by the case, those big bags of candy, and all sorts of junk.

Not surprisingly, the socialist system demonizes the rich, while capitalist/individualist system demonizes "loafers." Also, not surprisingly, I'm more comfortable demonizing people who can defend themselves.

One final point... Don't you think it's odd that food stamps are organized by the Department of Agriculture and not the Department of Health and Human Services? It makes me wonder who food stamps are supposed to be helping, farmers or low income households.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bible Stories that Bug Me

We had a great sermon last Sunday (July 11, 2010) by Rev. Dr. Paul Tellström on the Mary and Martha story from Luke 10:38-42. In the story, Martha is working hard looking after the guests while Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus while he teaches. Martha comes out of the kitchen and says, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" Jesus' response is "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

The sermon did a wonderful job of picking apart the sibling rivalry, the use of indirect communication by the participants, gender issues, and interpreting Jesus' presence in the home of two women in a historical context. But best of all was the progressive Christian interpretation of the story: Some of us like to study and some of us like to do. But don't be distracted, because only one thing is needed. Choose the better. Don't let it be taken away from you. It was a beautiful re-casting because of the way it made room for everyone and they way that they serve. It struck a chord and I heard many people talking about it on the patio after church.

Although Pastor Paul helped me to like this story more than I did before, it's still one of the Bible stories that bug me. In the Mary and Martha story, I always identified with Martha. I had to be the responsible one, when I would have rather sat and listened.

I have a similar feeling about the Prodigal Son. I was the dutiful child who stayed home and got screwed out of a good time, the opportunity to spend my part of the fortune, and my parents never threw a party for me.

These stories only make sense when interpreted from a particular point of view. The prodigal son story on makes sense from the father's point of view. The story is a parable for God's relationship with us. The Mary and Martha story is a parable about how to serve. In makes sense from Mary's point of view or, as Pastor Paul points out, as a metaphor from an external point of view.

My reaction and the persistence of these stories illustrates two points about narratives. One, stories are a highly compelling way to pass on knowledge and routines. They work especially well when used orally. That's why we still hear them in church. Two, fluidity in interpretation is a relatively modern concept. When these stories were originally authored, the point of view or vantage point for interpretation was given or prescribed. There was only one way to tell and understand the stories and the characters existed only to make the telling possible. In other words, the plot was privileged and the characters were marginalized.

So maybe this is just my post-modern sensibility coming through, but I have a hard time with these stories. (Don't get me started on the one with Solomon and the two mothers.) So, what do you think? Are there any Bible stories that bug you?

Friday, July 16, 2010

If a revolution were organized by women...

New York Times Magazine had an amazing article this week,
The New Abortion Providers, by Emily Bazelon. It talks about efforts over the last thirty years to make abortions a part of mainstream medical practice.

This approach reminded me of a discussion that I had with a couple of ladies at church. Despite their age (or because of it), they were die-hard feminists and progressive Christians. They talked about how their grandmothers were also feminists, but in a quiet way, behind the scenes. They opined that behind any social movement that was successful had women doing the cooking and organizing while the men were doing the blustering. But at the same time, they didn't embrace the dominant narrative of feminism. Jo Cranson mentioned Ashley Montague interviewing a grandmother who ask why she should settle for equality when it's less than what I had before. Robinmarie McClement cited Susan B. Anthony being very concerned about women losing their quiet power behind the throne, if they pursued feminism as a public battle.

Protests and gauntlets in front of free-standing clinics are effective because abortions are a marginalized medical practice. If more doctors performed abortions in their offices or in a hospital, it would make it much more difficult for protesters to single out patients. This change would involve making abortion a standard procedure in the practice of family doctors, internists, and OB/GYN.

In 1995, Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education made abortion training a requirement for all OB/GYN residency programs, meaning that medical students would be receiving mandated hours of lecture on how to perform abortion. This motivation behind this move was to make abortion part of the professional qualifications of a doctor. Even if the student never performs an abortion, they needed to be educated about it.

The next step was to make in-roads into academic medicine by establishing fellowships to provide advanced training and to support research.

"A physician at the U.C.S.F. medical school set up the Family Planning Fellowship, a two-year stint following residency that pays doctors to sharpen their skills in abortion and contraception, to venture into research and to do international work. In recent years, the fellowship has expanded to 21 universities, including the usual liberal-turf suspects — Harvard, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, U.C.L.A. — but also schools in more conservative states, like the University of Utah, the University of Colorado and Emory University in Georgia."

International work was an important component because it exposed the fellows to countries where back alley abortions were still common. Another side effect of the residencies is that the physicians need to perform enough abortions to "train to competency." In other words, they need to do enough procedures to be able to handle complications. This process often involves performing many, many abortions in a hospital setting, because the complication rates for first-trimester abortions are so low (about 1%). This training usually occurs in hospitals, which means greater, safe access for women. Coming out of these fellowships, residents are equipped to make decisions about the place of abortion in their own practice. The decision whether or not to offer thee treatment is not necessarily a simple yes or no, but possibly choosing a cut-off, such as 7, 9, or 13 weeks.

These small changes are brilliant, because they don't involve direct confrontation with the protesters on the front lines. They make abortion more available by changing the context. If physicians could bring the simple procedure into the medical fold, it would reduce the need for free-standing clinics and the vulnerability of their patients. (An abortion at 9 weeks gestation produces no recognizes fetal parts and takes less than five minutes by a skilled provider, using device that is "about 10 inches long, costs only $30 and looks like the kind of appliance you might find in a kitchen drawer.")

There are still other obstacles in the way, such as hospitals being squeamish about associated with abortion and the cost of extra medical insurance, but change is afoot. Moreover, this is a change brought about largely by women for women, with the support of male colleagues, away from the glare of publicity and politics.

Many of the protégées Grimes is talking about are women. In the first generation after Roe, abortion providers were mostly men because doctors were mostly men. Since then, women have streamed into the ranks of OB-GYN and family medicine. They are now the main force behind providing abortion.

Let's hear it for social revolutions organized by women.