She and her imp-mon-ster

her parasitic companion.

It fed on her hesitation,
failure,
gaucherie,
Sneeze uttered, word stuttered, step stumbled,
fashion blunder, hairy ankle, hair frizzled.
Mistaken calculation, inadequate estimation,
incomplete mastery, directional incompetency,
a lack of good common sense
here and there.

Pointed it out over and over,
forever and ever.
It came alive when she was in the spotlight,
and screamed,

“look! she cannot do anything!”
“what a fraud!”
And cackled,

it knew that only she could hear it.
she could no longer separate her own thoughts from its poison
and wondered –
how did others tame their beasts?
or did they not have any?

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Caitlin McDonald: Five Lessons from Dance Hack Day 2017

Caitlin’s a writer, coach and award-winning researcher whose mission is to help people rediscover wonder. I was amazed by her experiences with this intriguing fusion of dance and technology – it’s an avenue I had never thought of. Check out her blog!

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Dance Hack Day is a global celebration of the intersection of dance and technology which happened over December 3 and 4 this year.  Watching the presentations for the day at the Amsterdam site I was fascinated by the range of work people displayed, from recording technology which enables multiple dancers to choreograph together on their smartphones to creative coding libraries pairing music, lights, and pathways for an interactive composing experience.

As a person in the early part of my programming journey I’m a while away yet from creating integrated light and sound systems used for concerts and big media shows of 12,000 people at a time as some of the presenters are doing, but it was great that even as a beginner I could still fully participate in the event and to feel that my participation was valued.  With two collaborators, I created a multimedia performance called Khamseen, representing a sandstorm rising from the desert and whirling around the globe.  My five key lessons from this experience were these.

1. Insulate, insulate, insulate.  My main contribution to the performance was an Arduino-powered dance costume that changes colour when the dancer moves, based on this Adafruit textile potemtiometer hoodie project.

The costume has two reactive pieces, a sleeve and a sash over the dancer’s abdomen.  The conductive thread on the sleeve is insulated with silver nail polish and always worked from the moment its final stitches were in place.  The sash, on the other hand, I’d left uninsulated while my collaborator, dancer Casey Scott-Songin, sewed on decorations.  The sash had always been a bit persnickety because I sewed the LEDs in an awkward pattern which caused some short-circuiting, which meant that the lights didn’t behave as expected.  After a little bit of ripping out and restitching it seemed okay.  In the afternoon before the performance, though, we noticed that the LEDs were getting ‘stuck’ in the green position while Casey was dancing.  At first we thought this was because the slider from the potentiometer was catching on the knots at the back of the LEDs causing a short in the data signals so we tried sewing patches over them for a smooth slide.

My heart fell into my shoes when after doing this some of the LEDs completely failed to light up–there was an electrical short somewhere in our sash.  I quickly unstitched my work and mercifully everything lit up just fine, but we still found that the lights on the sash seemed less reactive than their counterparts on the sleeve.  About 10 minutes before the performance I realised the reason the LEDs weren’t responding was a short circuit where the potentiometer slider was coming into contact with one of the uninsulated threads along the side of the sash, preventing the signal from the slider from going where it needed to go.  We’d never put any nail polish or other insulation over these while we were busily sewing on the decorations.  We tried to repair the short quickly with electrical tape but with time running out we weren’t able to do as firm a job as I would have liked.  The lights did change colour during the performance but not as dynamically in the sash as in the sleeve.

Conductive thread is just like uninsulated wire so ensure that yours is well-insulated after sewing or you could be in for an unwanted adventure!

2. You can’t put a weaver’s knot in conductive thread.  On a related note, I was nearly finished sewing two of my LED data connectors together when I noticed I’d accidentally sewn one long loop directly through my sliding potentiometer–no good!  In an ordinary, non-conductive sewing project a blunder like this is no big deal to repair by cutting the troublesome long stitch and knotting the threads into place on either side, but I needed one long continuous connection between the two points of my LEDs.  Not wanting to waste perfectly good conductive thread I decided to cut where the problem was and use a weaver’s knot to connect a new piece of thread.

I soon discovered this was a bad idea as it caused a short circuit within the knot itself!  Some current was clearly getting through as the remaining LEDs were lighting up, but with unexpected behaviour: different intensity of light and not colour-responsive the way I expected.  Fortunately none of the LEDs blew out in this experiment and after I restitched between the two connector points it was fine.

Always sew your conductive thread in a single continuous line between two connector points.  If you encounter problems, discard that thread and resew from the last connector, or you’ll find your project behaving in mysterious ways.

3. The test LED won’t change blink speed.  The Arduino Gemma has an LED right on the chip which can be used to test what’s going on while you’re setting the project up.  The project instructions say to test the sliding potentiometer once it’s sewn down by seeing if the onboard LED blink speed adjusts when the slider is used.  However, both times I tried this I found that what actually happens is the onboard LED makes a barely perceptible twinkling when the sliding potentiometer is moved around and it’s not really possible to see what’s going on until proceeding to the next step using the colour-changing code and hooking up one of the pixel LEDs to the Gemma using alligator clips or conductive thread.  If all is well, at this point when you slide the potentiometer up and down you should see the colours changing on the pixel.

Both times at this point in the project I saw what looked like an inert red LED on the Gemma and panicked, assuming I’d done something wrong.  Then I wasted time by trying to load the test programme onto the Gemma over and over.  It’s only when I tested by connecting to a light pixel that I realised it had actually worked just fine all along.

Trust yourself–you might be further along than you realize!  Also, alligator clips are your friends when you want to test without sewing down first.  I actually recommend hooking the whole thing up using clips before sewing anything down so you can see how all the pieces fit together first.

4. Even a beginner can contribute something to a project.  When I arrived at Dance Hack Day I really had to fight off some powerful impostor syndrome vibes.  How could I possibly contribute to this global celebration with my one tiny project?  After all it was only two little strips of lights and I hadn’t even written the code myself from scratch–I’d just followed the instructions like brownies from a box.  Would any of these experienced choreographers and coders even want to work with me and Casey?

But the reality I found was far different: each person participating in our collaboration had something unique and remarkable to bring to the table; something that made our performance more than the sum of its parts.  It turned out that was true for every participant in every team: everyone had some special expertise to share and when it all came together it was truly magical.

If you’re a beginner don’t be afraid to participate–put yourself forward.  There are plenty of events which seek out and welcome people of all levels of ability and diverse sets of skills where you can shine.

5. If you want to go far, go together.  The most important lesson that I learned in 2017 is that my most rewarding creative experiences are those where I collaborate with others.  As I get older and wiser, I feel less inclined to try to do everything myself or to expect that I have to be an expert in everything.

As a former academic, it can be pretty hard to move from a model where you’re increasingly rewarded for specialising deeply in an ever-narrower range of knowledge to one where the rewards come from knowing when to seek expertise from others.  That isn’t to say my learning journey is over–far from it!  One of the new skills I learned this year is to recognise the value of building on the specialisms and different perspectives of talented people to bring an idea to life.  If I’d tried to do it all on my own, Khamseen would just be a glimmer in my mind instead of a fully realized multimedia experience.  The same is true of other projects I worked on this year.  Plus I have the satisfaction of knowing that the projects I’ve worked on are rewarding for my collaborators also–if I hadn’t suggested their involvement they wouldn’t be able to look back with satisfaction on what we created together.

There are definitely areas of technical skill I’d like to continue to grow, and I feel lucky to be in a position where I can pursue those skills relatively easily.  But overall the biggest gift is recognising the exciting creative and productive possibilities that happen with a shared vision.

Find people you trust whose skills you admire.  Share one of your dream ideas with them.  You might find they get as excited about making it happen as you are!

Sheryl Sandberg & the Youtube Comments Section

 

There’s a famous Harvard Business School study on a woman named Heidi Roizen. And she’s an operator in a company in Silicon Valley, and she uses her contacts to become a very successful venture capitalist. In 2002 — not so long ago — a professor who was then at Columbia University took that case and made it [Howard] Roizen. And he gave the case out, both of them, to two groups of students. He changed exactly one word: “Heidi” to “Howard.” But that one word made a really big difference. He then surveyed the students, and the good news was the students, both men and women, thought Heidi and Howard were equally competent, and that’s good. The bad news was that everyone liked Howard. He’s a great guy. You want to work for him. You want to spend the day fishing with him. But Heidi? Not so sure. She’s a little out for herself. She’s a little political. You’re not sure you’d want to work for her.”

– Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook

Inspired, supercharged with hope,
Only to discover that I could not cope
With the senseless comments galore:

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Great comment, but in reality,
I present a counterexample seriously,
I am a woman with neither preference,
Therefore, your statement is an invalid inference. \square

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A woman who received highest distinction from Harvard,
Consultant at McKinsey,
Worked for the U.S. Secretary of Treasury,
Served as VP of global online sales at Google additionally.
So how can women gain inspiration
From this extraordinarily unaccomplished figure?
What an accommodation,
To natural behavior quite the perturbation,
For men to wash more dishes,
aXe m, why don’t we listen instead to your wishes?

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Dear Atlas,
Please brush up on your history,
Especially Curie, Herschel and Goodall sincerely,
Burnell, Rosalind and a sprinkle of Meitner.
Lovelace, McClintock and Hopper,
I could go on and on, for women continued to seek science,
In the face of vast societal and economic bias.

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“I think we can do well without the Thirteenth Amendment”,
“I think we can do well without Independence”,
“Up to this point the majority of childbirths have been from women,
So I don’t see why women should hand over parenthood to men.”
Quite the misnomer, don’t you see,
To view the status quo as complete,
To not embrace the promise of progress,
And instead, regress.

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I see that you are a time traveller in disguise,
Unable to shed your 18th century guise.
Let me lend you a hand,
It is imperative to understand
That there exist no such natural roles,
And history will always look unkindly upon those souls
Who stand on the side of such oppressive absurdity.

 

Verses for Breitbart

Now published in Resistance Poetry on Medium.

There Ought to Be a Cap on Women Studying Science and Maths
– This nonsense he defends,
For us fragile women do not have the mettle to contend
with the ferocious competition. We drop out because we cannot cope, shouts out
Milo Yiannopoulous, twice the college dropout.

Any soul sound in the head,
To  acquiesce to Breitbart’s drivel he shall never be compelled.
Or so I held,
Until I scrolled down and beheld
Horrific ignorance unparalleled.

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keyster
you highly intelligent creature,
you should receive widespread acclamation
for so astutely figuring out that we have no aspiration.

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rhcrest
you know best,
so we should just take a rest
and let you define what we should do with our life
for we do not choose careers to contribute to mankind, improve society, seek independence
no, we just want to be a wife.

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oh susan
how cleverly you discern
that only men do the work their jobs require
while all women wallow in mire.

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mrminwinc
truly, I applaud you
for contributing to the discussion such a relevant breakthrough.
You deserve a Nobel
for conducting a survey so well
and applying its findings to serve all of womankind as well.

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retiredfire
we are such liars,
to tell you that we can do science.
Only you can tell us the truth about our abilities
so why did we commit ourselves to such obvious impossibilities?

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WalterBannon
thank you for pointing out to me the reality
that Marie Cure was a fantasy.
Ada Lovelace, Lise Meitner and my fellow women at Caltech will reel with shocks
For it turns out that we don’t have the “chops”

Women everywhere, please note
that these comments and attitudes shall never denote
the breadth of your passions and extent of your capability.

Reaction to Why I’ll Never Date a Feminist

A day ago, a St. Joseph News-Press columnist published a piece titled “Why I’ll Never Date a Feminist”.  It’s ok, Dave. We won’t date you either.

“The truth is, I don’t blame women, (especially in my generation) for hating men. They’ve been told there’s a wage gap (I disagree). That there’s a culture of rape on college campuses (I also disagree). And the patriarchy is keeping them oppressed in almost every facet of their lives (I reallyreally disagree.)”

Sure. Because we only believe in what we’re told, right? It’s not like we have personal experiences and encounters with inequality. It’s not like we have facts. We’re just whining about trivial, nonexistent issues which are not real in any way at all because we love the idea of oppression.

“I was a cashier at an Italian restaurant in high school in the early 90s. I worked with a boy, also in high school, and learned he made more than me when we compared pay checks one day. Neither of us had any idea that we were being paid differently for the exact same job. I complained to the boss, one of the owners of the restaurant. At first, he tried to justify it by saying the boy was a grade older than me. Finally, he admitted that he just thought boys should be paid more. End of story. I was infuriated.” – Margaret, Los Angeles

“[Forty-five years ago], when asking my boss for insurance for myself and my child, I was informed that males in the company were married, so they got family insurance, but I was female and not married so I got squat.”
I repeated what my boss said back to him to see how it sounded to him. He shook his head and self-righteously said: ‘yes, a man with kids gets insurance but not a woman with a child.’ I was shocked and felt demeaned.” Jane, Lynwood VA

“My husband and I graduated together and got the same job at two different companies. I was hired a few weeks before he was. In his final interview, he mentioned I was being paid $33,000, so his company bumped my husband’s pay up to $36,000 so he would be earning more than I was. I started at my company at the same time and for the same salary as a new male graduate – but the company advised him to start a day before me so he would always have seniority over me.” – Cassandra, San Francisco

I knew for a while that others were paid at a higher rate compared to me. I just accepted that and I don’t really know why. I guess I thought I just wasn’t as good and others were slightly more experienced. I am an engineer and have a masters degree in my subject (and a lot of student debt to go with it), this is necessary for my job role, and this is my first company after graduating. I am the only female engineer. Others in the same role as me were less qualified, studying part time and having their fees paid for by the company, and also getting at least 1 day per week study leave. It was when I found out that their study day was not unpaid but paid at their normal day rate that I got angry and upset. I was fully qualified working 5 days a week. They were unqualified, earning 50% more than me and working only 4 days per week.I asked for a raise to match the others’ day rates. I stated my case and said it was not fair and that I would leave if it was not resolved. I was nearly fobbed off with a much smaller raise but I said again that I would not take anything less than being equal to the men. My supervisor agreed reluctantly. – Erin, UK

adapted from The Guardian’s article

 

Hysteria, hysteria, hysteria. We’re all just so hysterical.

“Women are more likely to graduate college, they live longer, are less likely to die in the workplace, less likely to go to prison and extremely less likely to die in war-time combat.”

You see? We’re so lucky. So very lucky. We have it all good. We should just stop complaining because it turns out that we don’t have any issues that need to be fought for anymore!

“It’s evident that gender politics is hurting our culture. More marriages are failing and women are reporting that they’re unhappier now than ever.”

Women everywhere, let us just abandon the cause of equality everywhere because it’s obviously making us unhappy. Why would we want equal pay, the right to choose and social justice? Logically, it’ll break up the peace and sanctity of our marriages and make us unhappier because “the increased opportunity to succeed in many dimensions may have led to an increased likelihood in believing that one’s life is not measuring up (from the enlightening Slate article linked to).” Woe us.

“There’s plenty of examples of how the justice system has failed victims. But, it also fails men….Often times, anti-male or anti-female rhetoric is rooted in a previous bad experience. They’re cultural opinions that reflect our world views, and thusly, affect how we want to raise our families”

Feminism = equality for women. I’m very sorry if you automatically see that as inequality for males. That is a slippery slope that leads to one illogical conclusion: feminism must be abandoned because it’s anti-male.

fem·i·nism
ˈfeməˌnizəm/
noun
noun: feminism
  1. the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

I assure you, it’s not. The whole point of feminism is to draw attention to women’s rights. If you want to draw attention to other inequality issues, by all means, go you. That does not and should not negate feminism. That does not and should not mean that feminist attention towards women’s inequality should be suppressed or subdued. It’s very sad that in this day and age, there exist groups and ideologies that belittle, mock and even oppose a movement whose entire goal is to advocate women’s rights and equality.

 

Judgement Day – College Decisions

Yes, it’s that time in a high schooler’s life. College decisions. As those dreaded dates loom closer, it’s easy to absorb yourself in something so relatively trivial that you forget your grand ambitions, passions and dreams. This post is dedicated to people like me who need a good reminder once in a while.
Guess who got rejected by Harvard Business School? Warren Buffet.
Guess who got rejected by Princeton and Harvard? Ted Turner, founder of the one and only Cable News Network (CNN)
Guess who got rejected twice by Harvard Medical School and was advised by a dean to join the military? Harold Varmus, Nobel laureate in medicine
Take these inspiring success stories to heart. College is just an environment to nurture your growth; ultimately, it is up to you to reach your true potential! (At least, that’s what I’ll be telling myself this weekend.).
But truly, do not forget the scale of the world in that second after reading your decision. Remember, this event in your life is but a speck in the grand scheme of things, like the pale blue dot in that fabulous selfie of our solar system.
So, before you go and open the judgmental letter that you’ve been waiting so long for, take a breath, pause for a minute and think: What do I want to do with my one-in-seven-billion life? 
Keep your answer in mind; the words on that piece of paper can never stand in your way.
Yours truly,
STEMGirl.

Don’t Stay In School?

This weekend, I stumbled upon a YouTube video so articulately titled, “Don’t Stay in School”.

At first watch, I was inclined to dismiss it as a silly creation, but the song tossed around in my head the entire day.  I realized: I can relate to this. Yes, everything he is saying makes so much sense! Or does it?

“If you can’t explain why a subject is applicable to most people’s lives, that subject should not be mandatory…Nobody should be forced to learn something that isn’t practically useful.”

Yes, but how can anyone possibly know what pieces of information will be applicable to the rest of their lives in high school? How many of us actually knew what we wanted to become in high school?

“Introduce those topics, yes.” But all of high school IS introducing various topics. The basics of mathematics, science, english, and history – principles that changed the world and have led us to where we are right now – are taught, and we can choose what we like and continue on with it.

The “practical information” mentioned in the video – first aid, human rights, current events, financial information – are concepts that do not require years of study to understand; in fact, we learn most of them even through experience and exposure to the world.

However, algebra, geometry, and calculus cannot be learned so quickly – they require years of study and building upon concepts. The history of the human race – essential in learning from our past mistakes and successes – cannot be “introduced” so quickly. The biology of how our body works and the chemistry of the world around us took centuries to understand and cannot be introduced so lightly, either.

That said, yes, it is true that not everyone will find these topics useful in later life. But how will you know that you won’t use this, don’t like that or don’t want to learn about this until after you know about it? I’ve personally changed my career plans several times after taking certain classes, even if I did not find those topics “useful” or “practical” in the beginning. If we all stopped learning things we don’t find practical or useful, humankind would never progress.

All being said, I am not saying that there is no problem in our educational system. Certainly, real life skills are not emphasized as much, but all of what we learn is not impractical “trivia”,  no matter how useless it may appear.

 

An Open Letter to McInnes

“Women do earn less in American because they choose to. They would rather go to their daughter’s piano recital than stay all night at work, working on a proposal, so they end up earning less. They’re less ambitious. This is sort of God’s way — this is nature’s way — of saying women should be at home with the kids. They’re happier there.”

– Gavin McInnes

I have no words. Your complete lack of logic makes me cringe.

There are 161 million women in America, and please remember that before you make such a generalization about us. What you are doing is looking at data and using it to support a claim that has absolutely no foundation. You cannot just look at the wage gap and formulate a stereotypical generalization that all women are unambitious and thus, earn less.  And if that isn’t enough, you go on to preach to us that if we are independent, working women, we’ve made a mistake and are unhappy.

All right, let’s pretend for a second that we live in a world where your logic works. This is what happens:

American students rank 35th out of 40 in math achievement in the world. Therefore, we are inherently unintelligent and this is nature’s way of saying that we should just drop out of school, because we’d be happier at home. Math majors in college, you’ve screwed up.

Not so logical now, is it?

As a 21st Century resident, you should already know this – there are PLENTY of “happy” women in the workforce. The woman next to you in your interview is one.

Yes, there is, nevertheless, a wage gap.

The Thirteenth Amendment was passed  150 years ago, and racism and racial gaps still exist. Decades of oppression cannot be fixed so easily. The Nineteenth Amendment was passed 95 years ago; yes, there are people alive who lived through times when women were not allowed to vote. So please, give us some time to bounce back.

Sincerely,

A Happy STEMGirl

Note: I don’t mean this to be an accusation against anyone. He is fully entitled to his own opinion, and I am simply expressing my disagreement with it.