Friday, December 31, 2010

The True Cost of Technology

It's hard to turn on a computer these days without hearing about the way technology is saturating our lives. We have unlimited knowledge in the palm of our hands every moment of every day.  Nowadays, instead of merely immersing ourselves in television, we're submerged in news stories, storefronts and a non-stop stream of social interactions.  I have no fewer than six actual keyboard-laden computers in my daily life. I use them to work, to play, to inform...and if they were waterproof, I'd probably even use them to entertain myself on my long walks across campus (instead, I use my Droid or my iPod or one of my other pocket-sized micro computers.)  I have no doubt that I'm trading previous intellectual handicaps for new ones, but them's the breaks, baby.  I'm always on and I want my world to be, also.

Critics call this technological engorgement unnecessary, maybe even harmful.  Bill Murray may just be showboating in this 1982 clip, but the perspective that he's spouting is no less relevant today.  People continue to fear what they don't understand and the fear is even more potent when kids are involved. What is this newfangled high-tech world doing to our youth?  What is the cost of introducing our children to technology?

UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT!  Some psychologists claim that technology may be linked to ADD (or a more pleasantly named, Attention Deficit Trait - ADT.)  That is to say, instead of being an issue that can be treated, the need for a rapid stream of information to process becomes an intrinsic part of a child's character.  I won't dispute this, but I don't necessarily think we should prevent it.  Here's the part where I expect some discord: I think we should embrace ADT as a sort of mental evolution.  If our brains have the ability to work in a different manner, who is anyone to say that it's not the *right* manner?  Yes, I know, I know.  Elementary school isn't formatted for classrooms full of excitable, rapidly-thinking children.  Parent's aren't prepared to keep up with quizzical exploration and non-stop mental and physical activity.  The world isn't tailored to brains that function in this evolved way.  But maybe it should be.  This "trait" is currently identified as a "disorder" because it's inconvenient.  It's debilitating in our current system, but it's conceivable that it could become an asset.  THAT world, however, is mega-millions of manhours away, so I'll table this discussion for now.

I'm going to wrap up this blog with a completely different thought.  Instead of asking what the cost is of introducing our young children to technology, I'd like to ask what the cost will be if we don't.  Sure, we could save a few hundred dollars by not having that extra laptop to buy, which will undoubtedly be destroyed within it's first year of life, but what are we giving up in exchange?  The world where our children become grown-ups will be a fast-paced technical one, full of innovation and change.  As computational thinking becomes integral to our lives, so will jobs encompassing technology.  We're looking at an increase in the T-word in every feasible area: Nano-technology, environmental technology, biotechnology.  One day, technology will be associated with the rapid progression of advancements everywhere.  It only makes sense to allow our children the freedom to explore these necessary skills while their brains are still easily absorbing new information.  One bit of caution -- as with any powerful technique, guidance and responsible use are important elements if you want to create a healthy and happy future computer scientist.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Written in the Stars?

So, last week, I found out that my ex-boyfriend from Colorado (who had said that a long-distance relationship was just not right for him) had actually been seeing a girl from even farther away in Washington.  Not only was that enough to make me want to erase him from my life forever, it was also a huge source of liberation which allowed me to be okay with moving on.

I had just made up my mind to get back out there when I read this horoscope:

"If you had to put out a fire, you would search for the closest source of water. Time is critical when something is burning. Well, Aquarius, something is burning in your personal life. It may be an issue you have neglected, and now it is raging out of control. You don't have the luxury of time to be choosy about how you solve the problem. You need to look for the closest and most effective resource. Oddly, your timing is perfect, even though you procrastinated. If you focus now on solving a problem, you will get excellent results."

Sure enough, a date was immediately offered. I accepted and I had a great time.  You may be thinking "WOW! What perfect timing on that horoscope!" or "Just a coincidence." or any number of other reactions to the concept of looking to horoscopes for direction.  Whatever your reaction, you can bet I've heard something similar...but before I continue, let me back up.

I love fortune cookies.  Not for the cookie, but for the prophetic little slip of paper that you find when you crack that sucker open.  That cookie could have been selected by any random person and yet, it still holds power.  How?  Why?

Whether it's a fortune or a horoscope, I look at it the same.  It has less to do with the words being presented and more to do with the mind interpreting those words.  I think of these things as tools to assess our own life situations and highlight our true feelings by way of instantaneous association.  Just like dreams may be able to help us make sense of our jumble of daily details, "predictive" phrases can trigger hopes and emotions that might have been hidden in our conscious mind.  I'm not saying that fortunes and horoscopes are science or magic, but I *am* saying that they serve a legitimate purpose and should not be dismissed as fraudulent verbal snake oil.

Can a reaction to a prediction be taken too far?  Sure.  But if interpreted with a sane mind, a horoscope could also lead to good...well...fortune.  At very least, it could lead to a wonderful night out full of interesting company and great conversation. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

To Ping or not to Ping?

For those of you who have not yet been introduced Ping, it's a social network experience for iTunes.  That means, you can share your musical interactions with followers in much the same way that you would share tweets, statuses and even Netflix activity. 

So, yes, I'm signed up with Ping and even participating a little, but I have to admit that I'm not so sure about it. This may surprise some of you, but I think that my music preferences are just too personal to share with the world.  "What?!?!" you might shout. "Aren't you on Facebook with, like, 4 different group pages, 4 separate twitter accounts and more blogs than you can even connect to your Google Buzz???" 

Okay, the answer to all of that is "Yes, but..."

Yes, but to me music is the most intimate external medium for sharing emotions.  It's poetry with rhythm.  It's a mood wrapped in an audible shell, sex through sound waves.  I believe that the mix-tape (or nowadays CD) is the most inspiring love note that you can present someone.  It says, "When I hear this, I think of you."  Creates memories.  Builds you up.  Breaks you down.  I deleted half the songs from my iPod when my love and I broke up.  I still can't listen to most of them.  I've replaced them with songs about determination, good-will and how awesome I am.  How can I possibly share that in bursts of "like" and rating with stars and comments about what I just purchased and why?  The more information I give you about why I'm listening to what I'm listening to, the more I let you straight into my heart - and that, my friends, is a reserved space.

In short, it may seem odd that I blog and tweet and paint and would share any one of those things with anybody who cared enough to follow, but I'm uncomfortable with Ping.  For now, I *am* using Ping, but I use it very deliberately and with caution.  How about you?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Is Perfection Overrated?

Whatever happened to "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again?" That is, after all why God invented ctrl-z, right?

I'm taken aback by the amount of pressure there is to get everything correct the first time. My midterms and finals are heavily weighted and based on the premise that we can quickly answer a complex problem without flaw. In the end, the pressure to do so usually makes me panic. Inevitably, I end up belaboring the little things until there's not even time enough left to finish what I had thought I was confident in.

For Pete's sake, I'm not a doctor or bomb-defuser, I'm a computer scientist. Our profession is built on a foundation of trial and error. We hypothesize, test, analyze, repeat. We make sure something is done right before we make it public, but the idea of correctly completing a program in one session and releasing it before it's been picked apart and fine tuned by many other sets of eyes is ridiculous.

I think that the desired traits for this profession are being over-looked in favor of outdated scholastic traditions. I'm proposing that we overturn this antiquated testing format and put a little more weight on creativity. What if students answer questions then trade with classmates who then point out flaws? It would give them a chance to see the problem differently and try again. I think the learning opportunity would be much greater than spending all night "cramming" for an unknown wealth of possibilities that could show up the next day. The former results in a lesson that's far more likely to stick in one's mind than the information accumulated by the latter.

Up to this point, I have been discussing this on a (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) collegiate level. I do, however, feel like this issue is even more important for young children. The fear of failure kicks in for young students (especially girls) and keeps them from even attempting things that they could possibly get wrong. How often do you hear shy girls answer "I don't know." even when you're certain that they do? What if the classroom adopted a model that revolved a bit more around computational thinking and the scientific method? What if students weren't labeled as "wrong" when they answered something incorrectly? What if they were then presented with another opportunity to succeed? Imagine a system where students were allowed to continue revising their homework assignments until they had tuned them to the desired specifications. Assignments could be graded on a combination of correct answers and time taken to achieve the final draft of the assignment.

This all has come about mainly because I don't like the "You got it wrong, your grade-points are gone, now move along." attitude in academia today. Students have been trained to memorize things for tests, then forget them as soon as the term is over. In practice, there are very few professions where you're forced to have instant recall (without the Internet, books or colleagues) for facts that you rarely use. Information is so readily available that trivia is no longer a commodity. Instead, it's the ability to take the facts and use them to develop helpful solutions that has become rare. Let's start working on that.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Waking Up is Hard to Do

I'm so tired. I haven't been to bed while the clock read "pm" for a very long time. My life is an amazing whirlwind of beauty and aspiration right now. I can honestly say that I'm living up to my recently acquired nickname as a "Technological Force of Nature." Between being a single-mom, completing the final year of my Master's degree and working as the chair for Women in Computer Science at the University of Oregon, I have also been passionately shaking the publicity tree for my latest project, Picture Me in Computing Day.

Born of an idea by Julia Fallon (the Crazy Idea Factory) picmecomp has become a movement greater than two intelligent women had a right to believe it would. With the website, promotion, blogging and research, I'm spending more time on picmecomp than homework and school work combined! I've been staying up until three in the morning, getting up at seven and working hard not to neglect my children or friends. You'll find that my next sentence is missing, due to the fact that it has been sacrificed as an offering to the gods of the Internet in an effort to get all y'all to participate on 11-10-10 in recognition of all my hard work! -- - -- - - -

One thing I've learned by trying to juggle a seemingly endless stream of flaming swords is that it's much better to refuse to take one on than to drop one on your foot! Some of us find it very difficult to decline opportunities to help, even when our hands are already full. For this reason, I'm providing the following helpful list of ways to say "No!"

  1. When you hear someone say the words "I've been meaning to ask you..." turn and run!

  2. Associate an email filter with the words "help", "request" or "your time." Then, have it autosend a reply saying that you will get back to them as soon as you return from entertaining the troops on the international space station.

  3. Acknowledge all requests by including the phrase "your inquiry is currently 4,237th in the queue. Please continue to hold and I'll be with you as soon as all previous requests have been handled."

  4. When asked to help at an event, resist your urge to join-in by faking a heart attack. Not only will you have an effective excuse, but you just may wake up to find someone feeding you Jell-o!

  5. and if none of those work for you, try:
  6. "That sounds like a great opportunity. I happen to be a little overextended at the moment, but please think of me next time!"

I hope you've found this list to be helpful. Since I, myself, don't expect to be slowing down any time soon, I'm counting on you to take particularly good care of yourself so that you'll be around to check me out of the loony bin at the end of the school year!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What the #$*!& ?

Cussing. Swearing. Curse words. Profanity. Whatever you call it, it has me perplexed. For some people, it's a big deal. I suppose that I've always been aware of that (since I was a very little girl in pig tails who used the word "bitch" and promptly had my mother tell me that little ladies don't talk that way.) What I've recently been surprised by is how offended some people can be at "replacement words".

Okay, I admit it. I'm taken aback when I'm in the presence of someone who drops the f-bomb, s-word or especially the c-word. None of the other words generally offend me very much. Even so, I was always relatively careful not to use any of the "second-string" curse words, because I didn't want to make others uncomfortable. When I was feeling frustrated, I'd dig deep into my third or fourth string and whip out a "GOSH DARNIT!" or "GEEZ LOUISE!!" Who would have known that these exclamations could also be offensive? As it turns out, my dad did. Apparently, my father subscribes to the philosophy that it doesn't matter what the term is that you use, it's the emotion behind it that's startling to people. He considers even the most tame of the expletives (such as "dang") viable curse words. I was truly dumbfounded by this.

I was blissfully unaware of this whole micro-culture who switches the station at wanting to be a billionaire so "freaking" bad. The people who make their children sing "Oh, oh oh oh oh oh oh Oh my Goodness" instead of "Oh my gosh." If that's the case, I'm certainly not fooling anyone using the terms "Oh Gawd." and "Geezus!"

So what's the deal with all of this sensitivity? If I were to stub my toe and scream "POTATO!" would the same people charge me with cursing? If it really is the expression of the harsh emotion and not the actual word, then are these people offended by others who are injured or upset? Is it okay for someone to be offended by genuine emotion?

For myself, I just don't like hearing the harshest of the words. To me, it indicates lack of control. Just like I don't like hearing people say "I HATE broccoli," (I prefer "I really don't like broccoli") I believe people should use words that live on the same level as the emotion that they're needing to express. If you use one of the top-tier curse words, I'm going to assume that you're expressing top-tier trauma and I will react to that. Now, all of this isn't to say that I'm a low-tier supporter. I think for the most part, people use curse words as replacements for forming complete thoughts and sentences and when used too frequently, they can be a sign of low intelligence or lazy communication. Personally, I'll continue trying to save the malediction for times when I really want to be shocking or make a point.

A btw for the non-sensitive:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Who am I and who the heck are you?

There's a girl named Nikki and a girl named Sally. Nikki and Sally get in a horrible accident and by some freak, sci-fi medical mistake, Nikki's body gets Sally's brain and Sally's body gets Nikki's brain. Which one is Nikki and which one is Sally? Does the name go with the body or the mind?

I tend to think that it's your personality that makes you who you are. After all, if you were a brain in a box, you'd still be you. Right? I suppose having your body stripped away is likely to change your personality a bit, so maybe you wouldn't be quite the same you, but another version of yourself for sure. In fact, I'm still pretty much me after going through a huge personality change during my divorce, then again when I got over it. My experiences are deeply influential in shaping my state of mind.

With that said, it seems more likely that it's our history that make us who we are. If that's the case, it's safe to say that many of you have been instruments in my life. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the role that you've played in creating my memories. Because of our time together, you will always be part of me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

P = OMG!

Have you ever had a day in your life so monumental that you thought your head might explode...or you could pass out...or combust? This is that day for me.

For me, today has seen the furthering of my latest cs opus, a personal victory, a huge step in net neutrality and the proposal of the biggest proof of my, I'm looking hot ;)

Those of you who are following my work for women in computer science already know that I'm involved in the "Picture Me in Computing" day coming up on 11-01-10. What you don't know, because it just happened, is that we officially have support now from Intel, and Curtis Silver (of Geek Dad/Shamable/etc.). We're now adding them to the list with Google, Girls Inc., and soon Mattel. Our website is en utero and we're off and running! With a few extra press persons, this promises to be the biggest campaign that I've ever been involved with. w00t!

It's also evaluation time for my class. My students have come up to me throughout the term and told me how much they love my class, but none of that means anything to the department if they don't write it down! I was just informed that one of my students commented that I was so instrumental in her love for CS that she wishes that I would be teaching other classes in her series! That's honestly the biggest ego boost I've had in a while. Such a great feeling to be taking an active part in fostering love for CS in girls and women.

In addition, after all the hullabaloo over the rumors that Google and Verizon were paving the way for pay-for-priority internet, it looks like they've actually been working on a best-case scenario for that type of deal. It seems that Google and Verizon are planning to work together to ensure that the "regular" internet stays free and they propose installing a *new* series of tubes for the priority content. This would ensure that huge corporations don't mess with the little guy on the web as we know it...EVER! This is huge news. It's so appealing to me that I can actually see it changing the course of history forever. Over-dramatic? Perhaps, but you have to admit it's way better than what was expected.

On top of all of that, today a very reputable man, Vinay Deolalikar, believes he has shown P != NP. This is a huge accomplishment that means a lot in the fields of physics, mathematics and computer science...just to name a few. It's literally the ULTIMATE question in my mind...and while the troublemaker in me would love to see P = NP, I have no doubt that the opposite is far more likely. Being alive for this proof is monumental. If it turns out to be accurate (there are well over 50 faulty proofs on the same subject) then I will be witnessing the end of one era and the beginning of a new one. Now, intellectuals will finally be able to start pondering what it is that makes a certain category of problems so much harder than others.

All in all, today has been overwhelming to say the least. So much good in such a small space has me reeling. It's a welcome change from the bumpy road I've been schlepping for a while now. I'm enjoying the view from up here today. We can think of tomorrow later.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


What year is it? 'Cause last time I checked, we were out of medieval times and women were actually being accepted as functional members of society. How is it that a subject as benign as Women in Computer Science could bring so many closed-minded, sexist extremists out of the woodwork to pollute the airwaves with comments of negativity and hate? If you're not familiar with the current debate over Google supporting women in CS, here's a link that will bring you up to date.

First, let me state that I don't consider myself a feminist. As far as I'll go in that direction is "Femininist," a trait that I blogged about just shy of two years ago. And while I don't go around bashing men or blogging about the supremacy of women, I do believe that women can do whatever men can do...even if they accomplish it differently.

I was so mortified by some of the comments in the twittersphere that I couldn't focus as I headed to teach my CIS170 class yesterday. I was still shaken when I got there, so we took a little time out and I decided to have a discussion with them. My students are from all over the world, diversified in age and plan to go into a varied mix of majors. Of those 10 students, only one was of the opinion that men were better than women at logic and math. He said it was a fact. But he said women were better at languages, so that made it okay.

The other students were just about as in awe of the situation as I am. Many of them are going in to fields where women are an equal or greater percentage of the population, so they're quite comfortable working with the female gender. Not one of my students had an issue with a private company offering grants to help underrepresented groups attend a prestigious conference.

I mentioned that I could understand that filling chairs with unqualified women would be an abomination (trust me, it doesn't make us look good to be filler) but if the women are equally qualified and need extra encouragement to attend an event such as this, I see no problem in offering that encouragement. To me, it's the difference between "This group is underrepresented in a field that could benefit from having more people like them." and "We just like this group better." The first is commendable, the second is not.

In my opinion, Google is simply adding depth and diversity to a field that is currently risking levels of stagnation due to the lopsidedness of the participants. If we can fill out the base of creativity a little more, it will benefit everyone. Oh, and in case you're wondering, we're not *taking* jobs from anyone. According to NCWIT, almost half of the CS jobs out there will be unfilled by the year 2018. We need more people, period. Our largest untapped resources just happen to be women and non-white men. Let's tap that!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

If I Could Turn Back Time

Time travel isn't that hard. I've done it about half-a-dozen times now. The problem is that it takes me such a long time to put the machine together, then I only get back as far as when I've almost completed the damn machine before it comes apart and I'm left to pick up the pieces again.

My friend just shared an article with me about Time Travel Without The Grandfather Paradox. It made my brain feel like it was about to explode. I've never done well with scientific solutions that require that we get to set our own conditions. When in real-life do we get to set our own variables so that things work out exactly as we had hoped they would?

I happen to have my own theory on time travel, that is probably not going to be well-received or popular to any sci-fi/fantasy subscribers out there. I think that if one were able to travel back in time (they would have to be unaided by hardware to prevent the repetition I describe in my opening paragraph) I believe that one's body would also regress. Just as moving through space causes a location change, I believe that moving through time would cause a change in age. I don't think it's possible for our current selves to go exploring previous generations. Instead, I think it would be very much like pressing 'rewind'. One copy of us travels backward, getting younger and ending up in the same position that we originally were. The question then becomes, would our brain retain any of the knowledge of the life we rewound from? If so, we still have the potential to go back in time and change events, we just have to live them over. Like 'back' in a web browser, any changes we made in our surfing would change the course of 'forward.' It *would* therefore be impossible to go back and kill your grandfather, because you couldn't possibly go back any further than when you were in-eutero...and if you did, you'd still have to wait for your egg to get dropped and fertilized.

An interesting thing happens when I consider that one doesn't get to keep the thoughts that we build as we originally age. Suddenly, time travel seems feasible. In fact, time could constantly be moving back and forth, but we have no knowledge of it...except maybe that faint whisper of deja vu that we get when we reverse through a moment and then immediately begin forward again.

No, I don't think time-travel needs to be invented. I highly suspect we're all already going in every direction at once.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tick Tock

Not too long ago, I watched a movie called Timer. Basically, it's about a timer that people can install in their wrists that tell them the exact day that they will meet their true love. The movie follows three main stories: One woman who finds out that her true love won't come along until she's 46, a boy who finds out that he'll find the love of his life at the age of 14 and the main character who's timer hasn't even started because her yet-unknown partner hasn't been fitted with his chip yet.

Having recently separated from a man that's more than I ever dreamed of - knowing we love each other but can't end up together - this movie has been rolling around in my brain. The phrase "bad timing" has been used between us more than once. The phrase "too late" has come out a time or two, as well, being that I didn't meet him until after I was married, even though we were still both in our very early twenties.

I can't help but use the characters in the movie to predict all of the things that could have happened. Take for example the boy who finds out that he will find love three days after he receives his timer, at age 14. Think of all he gives up by resigning himself to that relationship the day he meets her. Since he "belongs" to her from that first day together, he never goes out and makes mistakes with others to appreciate what a wonderful woman he'll eventually end up with. He doesn't have to feel the loneliness or heartache that makes one so grateful of the real thing when it comes along. How will that change the overall enjoyment of their life together? Is there something to be said for knowing the person you're going to end up with and coming back to them after you've grown-up emotionally?

Now take the sister who learned at age 14 (currently at age 30) that she wouldn't find her true love until she was 46. Because of that, she gave up on having anything real or meaningful in between time. She went from fling to fling, torturing herself and others in the wake. Had she not known, she could have had a lovely and beneficial relationship for years, perhaps decades, before her "true love" came along. She may have had children or maybe even a partner in young-adulthood to help her on the road to her dreams. Instead, since she knew she wouldn't be with any of these guys for the rest of her life, so she checked out. She missed years of possible love and growth because she was holding out for a guarantee.

What about our ingenue? The girl who's timer isn't even activated? One might argue that she's the luckiest of all. She has plenty of opportunity to test the waters - having lots of potentials who end up getting timers and proving that they aren't right for her in the end - but also experiencing the moment when you know that someone isn't right for you without even needing a guarantee. Even she eventually finds her match and it's easy to see that they probably wouldn't have ended up together without the help of the timer.

There's one more character I would like to mention. She has a small, but important part. She's the woman who is so in love with a man who is not her "one" that she has her timer removed. She knows that she's destined for someone else, but chooses to believe that being happy in the moment is far more important than any guarantee. I wonder what my timer would be doing.

What would I do if I knew? Is it worth missing out on even a minute of love if you know that it won't last forever? If you hold on to something that isn't meant to be, will it prevent you from finding something that is? Can any two people eventually become "meant for each other" if they love each other enough and are willing to grow along with one another? Perhaps most frighteningly, what happens if you blow it with "The One"? Do you get a second chance or are you forced to settle for second best? For now, I'm choosing to believe that new "Ones" continually make their way to you, until the day you realize that the one you're with makes you happier than anyone else you've ever loved.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

End of the we know it

Tonight, I had ten minutes with nothing that I had to do. Class prep was done and the kids were with their dad, so I decided I would take 10 minutes to unplug (which is very rare for me) and go lay outside beneath the setting sun with nothing more than a towel and a bottle of water. My laptop nestled safely inside, I laid flat on my back. The evening sun felt wonderful on my face. Almost below the fence line, it was neither too bright nor too warm. That's when I did something I shouldn't have done. I opened my eyes.

If you're a frequent reader of my blog, you've probably heard me talk about the "Acme Effect" already. This is my name for the phenomenon where Wile E. Coyote can defy gravity, but only until he recognizes that he's doing it. Once he acknowledges that he's breaking the laws of physics, the jig is up. Well, that's very much the sensation that I had. Sometimes, when I look at very tall buildings or, apparently, cloudless skies, I am overwhelmed by the fact that no matter where we are on this planet, we are upside down to *someone*. In this case, it was the depth of the clear, blue atmosphere that caused me to lose my breath. Instantly, in a meaningless reaction, I clawed the if a handful of grass roots would keep me anchored should mother-earth decided to release her gravitational pull on my sunkissed body.

Now, logically, I know that I'm not going anywhere. I knew I wasn't going to fall wildly off the earth and spin out into space. The reaction was, instead, a larger clue into what was going on in my brain. It was a symptom of not trusting something that has always been there for me. The irrational fear of a good thing disappearing just because I've learned to rely on it. Whatever that moment meant, I'm certain that it wasn't my last waltz with irrational fear and the need to have control over myself. I've chosen to type this up, because as odd as my experience may seem to most of you, I'm certain that someone out there has felt something similar. Anyone wanna share?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's written all over my face

The center of my brow is permanently furrowed. Now that I'm in my thirties, I've started looking a little closer at the lines I see in the mirror. Out of curiosity, I called about Botox for my forehead, but then I started to think about what hiding my facial expressions really meant.

First of all, I've only recently started thinking about the lines in my brow, even though I've had them for as long as I can remember. I showed my mother the face I would have to be making to create such a landscape and she told me that it was the exact expression that I had on my face when I was born. A little research taught me that the expression in question is associated with worry, anxiety and controlled fear. Not a big surprise. That's the undersong of my life. Apparently, my face does accurately represent who I am.

I find it amazing how well we can infer fundamental bits of one's character by looking at his or her face. When we start changing the cues to our emotions with injections and surgery, how do we change the way people interact with us? I suppose the depth of the concern over this would depend on how comfortable you are with showing emotions in the first place. Our faces, unfettered with pins or potions, can't help but give away telltale signs of what we try to hide. Take some of these famous faces for example...

Barack Obama's deep vertical eyebrow creases indicate masked anger.

George Bush's tight lips and wrinkled full brow indicate contempt and confusion.

Conan O'Brien's laugh lines and crow feet indicate a jovial personality.

So, even though I can't promise that I'm going to age gracefully, I *can* promise that I'll think twice before I paralyze the muscles that are responsible for advertising who I am. My lines may not be beautiful, but they're honest...and my mom taught me that honesty is a good thing.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

It's All a Matter of Perspective

Flatland. Originally introduced in a novel in 1884, it has become an illustration of dimensional observation as well as a highbrow punchline in the century-and-a-quarter since. It's a 2-dimensional world whose residents cannot comprehend the free movement in three dimensions that we enjoy. The idea is that there's a square that lives on a single plane, unable to exist in multiple segments of the third dimension at one time. It sees the world differently, not understanding our enhanced view.

I've been thinking about Flatland lately. Actually, I've been thinking about the 4th dimensioners that would see us the way we see Flatlanders. We can witness a 4th dimension (time) only in individual slices, but is it possible that there is some being that can exist in multiple points of time the way we can in space? When I look at it this way, time and time-travel for a 3-D being makes so much more sense. It's not that different copies of us exist simultaneously in several parallel time periods. More likely, it is just as it would be with the square moving in the third dimension. When it enters a new plane, it must leave the old one. That's not to say that it has to travel the dimension linearly, maybe it finds a way to drop several units in an instant, but to the other residents of Flatland, it would seem to disappear instantly from one and appear instantly in the other. I think that's how time-travel would have to work for us.

What's more, Flatlanders experience time as well. They are, in fact, experiencing all of the same dimensions as a 4th dimensioner would, but they are only capable of expanse in two of them. Are there other dimensions out there that we are already experiencing one point at a time, but cannot perceive without the continuum? We don't know what we don't know. Dogs don't know that color exists, even though they mingle with those of us who can see it. Do we walk among bees that span centuries? Spiders that span gravitational leaks? Cockroaches must exist in at least six dimensions, right? And if there's truth to any of this, what is the Möbius Strip of higher dimensions? I'd love to take a walk on that!

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Google Reader will be the Death of Me.

Between the articles that I subscribe to on Google Reader and the articles that my friends share, I'm processing over 150 headlines a day and full-on reading many of them. There's so much information flying around me every day, that I don't know how I have any room in my brain for what I'm learning in school! Lately, the math articles have been keeping me particularly occupied. Graphs, fractals, how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop(TM)...all are problems that I get sucked into and can't seem to pull myself away from for the sake of dishes or laundry.

Recently, I've been thinking mathematically about "Less is More." The thought that you could take away something and actually have more. I guess that it makes sense in a natural way...if you deadhead your flower bushes, you end up with more blossoms later. If you trim your hair regularly, you end up with longer stronger hair eventually. But how do you get that numerically? I've been mulling it over for about twenty minutes now and this is what I've come up with.

-6 < -4

Okay, the above statement is easy to see. Negative six *is* less than negative four. So, if you have negative four, negative six times...

-4 * -6 = 24

And 24 is absolutely *more* than negative four. Here's what bothers me about that. First, in our initial step, we're relying on the premise that less is less. We can't start with one condition and then end with the opposite...that's proof by contradiction.

Now, let's look again at

-6 < -4

Could this statement be false to begin with? Well, mathematically, no...or else the world would turn on it's ear, Pythagoras would roll over in his grave and Radiohead may actually deserve some academic respect. But figuratively, one could look at this in such a manner. For example, If I owed my son four cookies and you owed him six, you would actually owe him MORE than I do. Taking away less actually leaves you with more and that's kind of a nice lesson in and of itself.

What *is* mathematically possible, however, is that less of one thing could mean more of another. Less blue marbles in a jar means there is space for more red marbles. So, when someone looks at your choice in accessories and tells you "Less is more, hon." You can just look at them and say, "It all depends on your perspective."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

So. Emotions...what are those about, eh?

Emotions are crazy things, aren't they? Ups. Downs. Emotions we're extremely familiar with...ones that we don't recognize. What are we supposed to do with them?

Our bodies are genetically programed to respond to our emotions in order to keep us safe. A twinge of fear can cause a rush of adrenaline which allows us to do things that we may not be able to do under normal circumstances (run faster, lift heavier things) and some people believe that it goes even deeper than that. Here's an article about a woman who does an experiment with her blood and a microscope.

She finds that her blood really does look different as she induces strong emotions with a sort of sentimental meditation. What is even more interesting, is that the blood continues to shape-shift according to emotions once it's outside of the body. I wonder, along those lines, if other people's blood could actually shift according to another's strong feelings. I would assume more research is needed in this budding field. Actually, I think it's mostly crap, but it's pretty entertaining.

With all of that in mind, I want to know what the repercussions are of trying to artificially control our emotions. I, myself, enjoy feeling my full range of emotions. While I'm not one that people would describe as "stoic," my highs and lows fall in what I consider to be a very normal range. As badly as I hurt when I'm at the bottom of a down, I would much rather feel that than numb away any other part of the roller coaster. I acknowledge that it's my own personal preference for the dichotomy of living (I'd rather be sad than apathetic, have a bad day than a boring day, have a nightmare than no dream at all) which drives my decisions to ride out the hard times. Others may not share those preferences and they may experience swings of emotion that are far more wild than mine. So what is the consequence for the body when you admonish the natural feelings? Does it help you stay physically healthier to shave the stress and sadness in your life or could it possibly stop you from learning lessons that could keep you from getting hurt in the future? A caveman on Xanax, for example, may not flee the sabertooth tiger.

So this may be starting to sound like I'm against covering up our emotions, because I believe that we need to feel them in order to learn something. Maybe. The truth is, though, that I think it's very important to learn to control our emotions. I just happen to personally prefer controlling them on my own. When I was younger, I was very dramatic. I know, you're SHOCKED, aren't you? A woman with creative flair, purple hair and savoir-faire...whoda thunk? As a teenager, I would cry at the drop of a hat. It took almost nothing to shake me to my core. Life has a funny way of slapping us out of that. For me, it was a sadistic boss when I lived in Seattle.

In my early twenties, I had a boss that loved to make the women cry. It was a game for him and I swear he tried to improve his time each round. Whenever he would call one of us in to the office, the others would all feel so bad for her and some kind of group lunch was sure to follow. I'll relate one such instance of my own.

I am a good employee. I'm good at what I do and I hate to let anyone down. The first time Mr. Bossman (obviously a fake name, but hey, no one really cares who he is) called me in to his office, I thought it was just a routine check-in. He sat me at his desk and started to ask me questions about my personal life. He watched my face and when he would touch on something that was obviously sore for me, he would pry a little further. Being the innocent and emotional girl that I was, I didn't suspect his motivations. He asked me about my failures, about my family and about my future. He told me that if I didn't become more firm with my coworkers I wouldn't succeed in the company. He then started talking about what I would be like as a mom. Even though I didn't have kids at the time, motherhood was one of the most precious goals in the world to me. I wanted to emulate my own fabulous mother and having him tell me his opinion on how my kids would turn out was torturous. I started to mist-up and he belittled me. He told me to wipe off the doe-eyed sadness and get out of his office. But I had given him the fuel he needed for the future. From then on, whenever he wanted or needed something from me, all he had to do was call me in his office and focus on the weak spot. Working there was horrible, but it taught me to keep closer control of my emotions, because you never know how someone will use them against you.

Nothing highlights that concept more than a divorce. By the time I was done with my marriage, I was pretty sure that I was done with loose emotions too. Those renegade butterflies that take over your insides are only good for giving others weaknesses to exploit. For that reason (and a couple of others) I chose to limit my dating habits to one night only. For a while after my divorce, I had rules and guidelines and so many other crutches that I was positive that I would never let another ninja butterfly attack me. That is, until Patrick came along.

After my very first date with Patrick, I started to question all of the safeguards that I had put in place for myself. I kind of wanted a second date. I wanted to feel the tingles and I wanted to let him in. I just didn't want to tell *him* that. In fact, the one thing I still hold on to is the fear that sharing the true depth of my feelings will just provide ammunition for something unforeseen in the future. I'm convinced that without my former boss, Andre, I would still be hiding my love. Hearing the way I talked about "Colorado Guy," Andre would ask me why I don't just put myself out there. For conversation after conversation, I tried to convince him that if I could just control my emotions, it would be best for everyone. And each time, he worked a little harder to try to make me see that if I didn't open myself up to acknowledging what I was feeling, it would eat me up and wouldn't have a chance at finding the love that I deserve.

In a Hollywood production, those conversations would have been all that I needed. But really, it took all of those talks, visiting Patrick in Colorado, seeing him with the boys, then talking to my cousin who asked, "And how would you feel if he started seeing someone else tomorrow?" before I realized that whether my emotions are on display or not, I am equally vulnerable. What is worse is that if I didn't share what I was feeling, the possibility of getting hurt was even higher.

Alright. Now that I've showcased my talent for making a long story longer, let's get back to drugs. I want to know what you all think. Is there any difference between stifling your emotions with self-suppression vs. medication? Do you personally prefer one method over another? To what extent should one try to control their own emotional state? What good comes from feeling, besides feeling good? Please comment.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Social Media - Y U B H8n?

You Tube, Twitter, many new online applications have been developed to help turn a scattered world into a cohesive population. But how are we to expect our peers to take full advantage of these when there is still such a rebellion against email in favor of snail mail and cell phones for land-lines?

We've all heard it.

"I got along just fine before cell phones were invented." or,

"If someone wants to reach me they can wait until I get home."

Well, that's fine if life as status quo is your preference. If you think your biggest risk is not being reachable in case of an emergency and you're okay with that, then you can disregard the rest of this blog. What these people don't get, the things they're missing out on are all of the millions of ways that the entire world is being offered to us, literally in the palm of our hand. There are many people who are put-off by the intensity of this information stream. I recently read an article by Peter John Lindberg in Travel and Leisure magazine, called "How Social Media is Changing Travel." It was very entertaining, I suggest you give it a look. In that article, Lindberg talks about the way technology is altering our vacations, saying (among other things) that it's robbing us of our serendipitous mistakes and spontaneity. I can see what he's trying to say, but think about all of the things that we're gaining. I, for one, missed my carefree and spontaneous years. I didn't travel at all during that time. Now, I'm a single mother of two young boys and I can't afford to be careless with my life or even with my time.

Take a look, for example, at the road trip I took with my boys (then 4 & 5) last summer. I would have been OUT OF MY MIND to attempt such a thing alone without the confidence of a constant connection. What if I had broken down on a deserted road? What if there were an emergency back home? What if Jack had an allergic reaction in the Painted Desert? That experience, the one that caused my boys to take interest in geography and helped us bond as a renegade group of explorers, would never have happened without my extra layer of protection in the form of an LG Versa.

Imagine if I had not had that phone. What would we have done when the van was overrun by ants and we needed to find a garden store that carried child-safe pesticide? Drive around LA for hours looking for a Home Depot while the ants climbed our legs? I don't think so! We looked it up on the phone and had Verizon's GPS take us right there. Problem fixed. Vacation saved.

What about my trip to China, in October '08? I was able to blog my experiences so that I didn't have to call multiple people (at $1.99/minute) to relay the same story over and over. I was also able to take advantage of Skype to see my children who I was over 5,000 miles away from for longer than I had ever been away from them before. Would I have gone on that trip if I didn't think I could be contacted in an instant if there was a problem with my babies? No way.

I use Dropbox to synchronize folders between home, work and school. I use Picasa to share photos of the boys with their grandparents. Google Calendar helps me keep several itineraries straight so I can share appointments with my mother and boyfriend. I watch TV on Hulu to save the $29.99 for cable and get my movies instantly online with Netflix. I keep up with friends via Facebook, sharing and learning things that I would have otherwise been unable to share due to lack of time. I tweet on Twitter (Twitter is a noun, not a verb) and...I blog.

Long story made a little shorter? The only reason I've been able to succeed on this chaotic, exciting path to improvement all by myself is because I'm never alone. Now, I challenge you to choose one application/technology that you've been avoiding and embrace it for a week. Then, let me know what you did and how it treated you!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Feeling Wiley

It's been over a week now. I dutifully kept a food journal and discovered some shocking things. For some reason, I had assumed that my diet didn't contain enough protein. Whenever I have been faced with rather equal food options, I generally choose the one with more protein. I drink protein water, eat things fortified with soy protein...all to discover after three days of journaling that I'm ODing on PROTEIN!

The average adult requires somewhere around 50 grams of protein. I was getting close to one hundred! Along with many of those sources come saturated fat...of which my intake was also about double what is recommended. Seeing that pattern early on, I decided to do something that I claimed I wasn't going to start right away. I changed my diet. I started opting for the foods with less saturated fat. I skipped the Track Town pizza and did the salad bar instead. I reduced my intake of everything that I considered junk. What do you suppose happened? If you knew me my first time through, you can probably guess.

I call it "The Acme Effect." I'm pretty sure the term has appeared in my blogs before, but let me elaborate anyway. Ya know how Wiley Coyote can be walking happily along off the edge of a cliff, but then as soon as he looks down...GAME OVER! He falls and makes a dusty thud on the ground below. Failure. I've experienced that phenomenon in many things over the years, but none as noticeably as in my weight. The harder I try to reign myself in, the more I gain. It's very discouraging. In fact, during the first week of my weight loss attempt, I GAINED 5 pounds. Yes, I probably put on a bit of muscle with my workouts, etc., but WTF??

A strange twist to this tale. I stayed at my sister's house Thursday night and weighed myself on her scale...which had me in at three pounds less than I was when I started journaling. Could it be that my scale has an issue? Is her scale nine pounds low? More to come when I get back to my house and I can investigate further!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rude Awakening - The 4 year old and the earthquake

My four year old likes to watch the news. He spent more time watching coverage of the last election than I did. Unfortunately, the news is laden with things that he's not quite ready for, so I try to curtail his exposure to CNN.

Last night, however, I forgot to switch the tv from NBC to OPB before I went to bed, so this morning when Jack woke up to watch cartoons, he got a brain full of something a little to intense for a preschooler. Snuggled soundly in my bed, I heard Jackson run in to the room he shares with his brother and scream at a still-sleeping James, "Bro, guess what?? Bad news! Bad News! There was a Haiti Quake and people are trapped!!!"

My eyes popped open. Instantly, I knew what had happened. My baby was being bombarded by the same images that I had seen last night. Things far too frightening for his sensitive heart. I went and got him, brought him back out into the living room and switched the tv to cartoons, then, I asked him to talk to me about the Haiti Quake.

"What did you see?" I asked.
'There was a Haiti Quake and people are trapped." He responded.
"What does that mean?"
"It means there was an earthquake in Haiti and people are trapped in the quake."

It was true. He seemed to have a pretty firm grasp of what he had seen, so the best I could do was damage control. I told him that we had sent some troops over to help and that he didn't have to worry about it, because it would be okay. I chose my words carefully and yes, I know that it won't be okay for everyone in Haiti, but it will be okay for Jackson and that's all he needs to know right now.

Later, on our way to school, Jack brought up the quake again. I asked him, this time, what he understood was going to happen now. This is what he said:

"GI Joe is going to go to Haiti and throw the earthquake to the North Pole. Then, Santa Claus is going to take the quake to Hawaii where the Hawaiians are going to toss it into the ocean."

It was then that I realized it was time to drop it. Nothing I could say could *possibly* be better than that!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Full Body Scan

Okay, so I'm not the only one who's petrified about being digitally stripped like this in front of airport security personnel. It's bad enough that I get poked fun at about one in every five times I fly. I've had a security man look at my ID, look at me (both with bright magenta hair) and say, "I'm not sure if this is you have any other distinguishing marks?" I've had another make his wand beep artificially over my breasts and then laugh when he saw my expression, saying "I'm just playin'." Some people just don't handle themselves well and people like that don't have any place looking beneath my clothes.

I'll agree that I'm not exactly an exhibitionist. I've been called prude and borderline frigid, but you don't have to be prudent to feel violated having your hidden shapes projected on a screen to people that you don't have any relationship with.

That said, I'm actually comfortable with the new rules for the new generation of scanners setting to be deployed in the airports. First of all, they've done away with the photo-real pictures and are instead creating characterized images for display. To the right is a sample of the new style.

Along the same lines, they have disabled the ability for the machines to capture, save or send these images. That means that there's a constant and real-time visual, but as soon as you're gone, so is the picture. I'm okay with that. It's a lot better than having to go through a tactile search by security looking for hidden weapons. We already have to take off our shoes because of a resourceful bomber, I'm not willing to take off my panties before I'm allowed to get on a plane.

Look. If having this multi-million dollar equipment in every airport will deter people from bringing their tweezers and nail-clippers on the airplanes, then by all means, fire them up! I'd hate to be the target of an extremist plucker.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

One Step at a Time

2009 was a crazy year. I submerged myself in so many projects and came out the other side feeling more satisfied and enriched than at any other time in my life. I started my Master's program, reignited my interest in painting and fell in love.

One failing that I had, however, was breaking my downward weight trend twice this year...once over Spring Break and again between Thanksgiving and New Year's. For the first time since I took my life back, my weight has started rising again. This would merely be a minor inconvenience except for two things. The first is that I'm horribly afraid of gaining back what I lost over the last four years and the second is that I still have about 35 pounds to go.

That said, I feel like I can safely claim that this isn't just a normal, run of the mill weight-loss resolution. This is simply getting back on track in 2010. Now that I've got all of the explanation out of the way, I'm going to tell you how I plan to do it.

What follows isn't exactly a secret. It's not a magic cure-all, because I don't believe that anything works for everyone. What I can tell you, is that it worked for me (to lose more pounds than I care to tell you right now.) My method? I call it "One Step at a Time."

Cold Turkey doesn't work for me...the meat is fine, it's the method that causes me trouble. Whenever I look ahead at all of the things I'm supposed to give-up, I crack. I have to take everything very easy and get used to it. That may sound odd, considering that when it comes to my actual life, I tend to dive-in head first. In this case, when trying to take off some extra poundage, slow and steady wins the race.

First? Pay attention to the time. I find that my body processes food a lot better when I eat progressively less throughout the day. That means a large breakfast, medium lunch, small dinner.

Second? Knock out the caffeine. Caffeine can stress out an already overtaxed body and cause cortisol build-up which is famous for encouraging the production of fat.

Third? The thing that is simultaneously most important and most annoying is keeping a food journal. Whether or not I keep track of the calories, fat, protein and fiber in everything I eat (which I should) it's very important to know just how much I'm eating so that it doesn't add up on me without even realizing it. I also know that I'm a lot less likely to grab a handful of chocolate chips (omnomnom) if I know I'll have to go to my food journal to write them down.

There are several other things that I'll get around to adding to my regimen once I've re-adapted to the three things above. Exercise, vegetables, reduced dairy, and more water are all things that my body reacts very well to. I'll give more detail on these as I incorporate them.

A final thought on the issue: I know myself well enough to know that I can't deprive myself of anything. The more I tell myself that I can't have it, the more I want it. That means that no food will be off limits. Burgers (as always) will be ordered without cheese or mayo. If I want a Blizzard, I'll order one and throw away as much as I need to and I won't feel guilty. I'll continue to have Ben & Jerry's...I'll just eat a little less of it. That's going to be the secret to my success. One step at a time.