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For My Snowed In Friends

In the Northeast of the US, millions of people are about to be snowed in. Trapped at home under travel bans. Trawling the Internet. Hi, snowed in people, have some reading recommendations!

Share With Your Family

  • Help Us, Great Warrior – The bravest, cutest, cheekiest girl-power warrior in all the land.
  • A Redtail’s Dream – Lushly illustrated webcomic based on Finnish mythology about a boy and his shapeshifting dog. Appropriately snowy! It’s complete, too, so you can read it from beginning to ending.
  • Sauerkraut Station – A science fiction novella about a girl who lives on a space station, the boy traveler who comes through, and the events that they endure. Along with sauerkraut recipes and what it means to make a difference.

Longer Reads

  • Drowning Kiribati – The other side of climate change – temperature increases and sea level rise – in the small island nation of Kiribati. More articles here.
  • The Conversation – “The Conversation is a collaboration between editors and academics to provide informed news analysis and commentary that’s free to read and republish.” An intellectual friend sent this to me and I promptly started screaming, “Where has this been all my life?”
  • The Blue Castle – Escape into this adult novel from L.M. Montgomery (you may know her better as the author of Anne of Green Gables). Bobbed hair! Disreputable fellas in jalopies! Unwed mothers! Heavens to Murgatroyd!
  • Books, Free or Worth It – I recommend more free online long reads here. Victorian scenery-chewing and Edwardian South Seas adventures await.

Blog Posts of Mine

  • Vintage Precious Jewelry – “Vintage jewelry seems to baffle people as much as, if not more than, vintage furs. And it has an even higher cargo of expectations about its value and emotional significance. Plus, who doesn’t like looking at shiny sparkly things? So: a post about vintage precious jewelry.”
  • Five Things to Read Instead of 50 Shades of Gray – Gnh. The 50 Shades movie is coming soon. Here are some other options that might make you glad you don’t have anywhere to go…

Illustration above is “Chicago Interior” by Theodore Johnson; below is “Two Women Reading” by Katsushika Hokusai.

Two Women Reading by a kotatsu

For many of us, this is friendship…when you can read together.

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BRB, Being a Woman in Tech

Ever So Scrumptious has been a little thin on entries this year partly because I’ve been busy being a Woman In Tech ™. With the many dialogues about Women In Tech lately,  and because today is Ada Lovelace Day, when we honor and share stories about women in STEM, here’s my experience.

I consider myself a Woman in Tech who focuses on documentation, communication, design, and usability. Like many Women In Tech, it’s a second career for me, and I made the transition with a master’s degree in Scientific and Technical Communication at an engineering-focused school. (In New Zealand, I see people transitioning into tech comms with this diploma, and into programming with intensive Dev Academies like this one.)

A high percentage of web administrators, STEM marketers, and technical writers are women. Is this an interstitial way to be a woman in tech? Yes. Am I “not as technical” as a programmer? Yes. Does it mean that I am one of 4 women out of 100 technical employees at my workplace? Yes. If you aspire to be a Woman in Tech, those of us in interstitial roles have been dealing with tech office politics and sexism for you, often years in advance, and smoothing your way.

The personal qualities that have helped me in tech are: being resilient and persistent, being totally transparent with employers and clients, being personally on the geek continuum*, and making time for a second shift of self-education. People in Tech have a second shift of staying informed, via self-driven learning, going to talks and conferences, and participating in professional groups. My American accent has also helped in workplaces where the programmers come from around the world. I’ve been told, “You sound like the TV and we can understand your English!”

For me, working in tech is fulfilling because I love intellectually engaging work that makes a difference. Often, I’m providing training, and trainers know that empowering reluctant tech users can be the hardest part. Male reluctant users are more stubborn than female ones. A freelance client who never really gets a grip on their web site/social media and comes back to me for changes is more profitable, but the clients I never hear from again because they GET it, and run with it – those ones give me a warm happy glow. (And referrals.)

What about the negatives? Harassment, ageism, men not wanting to work with a woman? I have encountered all of these, but in the earlier part of my tech career – later I learned to seek out employers and workplace cultures that made gender less of an issue. They are out there! A good guideline: even though I don’t have children myself, workplaces that support parents with their policies are often OK workplaces for women with their culture. This is vital: when women leave tech, it’s usually because they are fed up with the culture. I have noticed a quiet dynamic of software development teams hiring 1 – 2 women, but no more, and replacing this woman with another woman if she leaves….

Another factor about working in tech is that, to anyone not in your immediate field, more than two sentences about what you actually do will zone them out of your conversation. (Someone once actually fell asleep while I told them.) I have a few glib, nimble sentences to describe what I do, and unless my fellow conversationalist is in the field, we usually leave it at that.

Do you want to be a Woman in Tech? But not in marketing? May I suggest the following, based on your personal strengths:

  • Good at math but hate programming – Search results optimization and web site/software use analysis.
  • Great with people – Training and support.
  • Multi-lingual – Localization/translation management. This is an enormous field.
  • OK with both programming and interpersonal communication – Information architecture. Documentation. Wrangling WordPress or Drupal. 22% of websites around the world are now WordPress. And I was recently asked, “Do you know any Drupal programmers looking for work? Drupal experts? Please?

Also note that:

  • If you have an undergraduate/graduate science degree but aren’t working in the field –particularly with physics, mathematics, and geology – tech employers will pay attention.
  • In New Zealand, about half of the interesting jobs with open-minded companies are in out-of-the-way industrial neighborhoods. The other half are in the cities where we’d all prefer to work.
  • There’s an increasing trend of women operating tech businesses with women as clients – for apps, e-commerce, and communications. I’ve just wrapped up a site for one independent business owning woman and I’m about to do another. Mind you, I do see some of these businesses peddling very girly blog designs that, perplexingly, cost 30% – 50% more than non-girly blog designs. Because, presumably, they are DESIGNED?

To bring this back around to style…As part of the Women In Tech dialogue, we are getting scrutinized in fashion magazines and style spreads. 70 Startup Women Show Us What They Wear to Work is an interesting glimpse – look at who’s there and who isn’t. This piece, How to dress for a conference like a fashionable lady scientist, is one of the best guides I’ve seen.

From what I’ve seen, if you are very good at being a Woman in Tech, you enter the blessed realm where you can wear almost anything you want. I’ve seen bushels of goth jewelry, pink hair, and other forms of edgy dressing. As a mere mortal, my default Woman in Tech outfit is: a third layer/jacket, sleek comfortable trousers, booties, and business-time makeup with lipstick. Eyeglasses are important and often strategically deployed. Modest tops are essential, because if I’m not framed sitting at a desk or table, I am walking up to someone at their desk, or leaning over them at their computer. With their eyes at my chest level. I’ll fill necklines in with necklaces (jewelry is where vintage fits into my work wardrobe).

None of this is as chic as these women here, but I’m not a forward-facing staffer of a retail website or Marisa Meyer: I’m writing about programming microwave radios to send cellphone transmissions, or setting up websites. When I want to wear a skirt or dress, I will, but usually in the same colors the tech guys are wearing – blues, grays, blacks.

This is the face of a woman in tech – me! Photo courtesy of a fellow woman in tech, Sarah Wheaton.

If you too are a Woman in Tech, be it coding, STEM academia and research, or interstitial roles, I’d love to hear about your experiences and style thoughts in the comments.

* The social meaning of being a nerd/geek has changed tremendously over the past 30 years – a great piece about that here.

Note that this is a small car, just for the driver herself
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Your Mileage May Vary: Women, Cars, Wellington

In one of those life-phase convergences, it seems like I and half my friends are suddenly updating our vehicles. Hence, a post about driving and buying cars while female in Wellington, New Zealand.

Note that this is a small car, just for the driver herself

Aspirational images of fashionable women with cars, 90 years ago and today; click to read the modern driver, Affi’s, take on her car.

Wellington region driving requires vehicular oomph and endurance. We drive and park on steep, winding hill roads, wrangle a storm-swept stretch of highway across Wellington Harbour, and accelerate on other highways that ascend/descend at 45-degree angles. I needed a reliable gas sipper that could take it – my sweet spot was a car with an engine between 1.5 and 1.8 liters. And I wanted to enjoy the 20th-century pleasure of driving while it’s still accessible. You know, while we still have petroleum and the resources to maintain cars.

The moniker of “girl car” is often slapped, like a cartoon character’s feminizing ribbon bow, on visually appealing, fuel-efficient, reliable vehicles. I am grumpy that “girl car” is an insult to the point that I myself feel awkward handling the term – even though I was shopping for a quintessential girl car.  “Girl car” stigma followed me around the car lots. During my month-long car hunt, if I went by myself, salesmen (always men) went deaf and failed to hear my engine requirements.

Despite this, time to look around and reacquaint myself with cars today was very useful, both seeing them in person and checking online reviews. You can find long-term driving online reviews for most cars from 2004 onwards, and these are more meaningful than one-offs. Search for “long term” and “road tests”.  In print, even though its authorial voice is “Boys’ Town Gazette,” I enjoyed the irreverent, informative magazine Top Gear NZ, which has a summary of all the new cars on the market here. Talking with my friends also helped: I had an epic 50-comment social media conversation that was 100% women. “Are you going to get heated seats? A reversing camera? Keyless starting? iPod stereo? A hybrid?” Stymied on hybrids because I don’t have anywhere to plug one in, here’s what I looked at, and what I thought.

  • Hondas – The compact Fit/Jazz is supposed to be good, and I liked it. However, used ones with the 1.5 liter engine carried a premium price, and the ones I did find outside of Honda itself seemed tired after the rigors of Wellington driving. The 1.5 liter Fit Aria sedan finds its way here as an import and, on a test drive, was perfectly adequate, if boxy going around corners. It’s popular in Asia and is worth a look if you are on a budget and need space and security rather than an exciting drive – lots of them get imported into Auckland. Mid-2000s Civics were on the stodgy side – the hatchbacks would make great family cars, or cars for surfers, but I didn’t need that much room. Civics after 2009 looked appealing, but weren’t in my budget.
  • Toyotas – Having had the Vitz/Yaris and the Corolla recommended multiple times, I tried these, too. A friend’s Vitz has survived an incredible amount of driving throughout New Zealand. 1.5 to 1.8 liter ones were punchy, especially the sports versions. Some of these were keyless, a usability change on a par from changing from an older mobile phone to a smartphone.
  • Volkswagen – The boxy but handsome Volkswagen Polo is a favorite with many, and suits Wellington’s driving conditions well, if you can afford the service. I heard the caveat often, “If you can’t afford a new European car, you can’t afford a used one,” because of the service costs.
  • Mazdas/Fords – Mazdas and Fords, despite massive branding differences, are vehicular cousins today, manufactured in close association. Again, it’s challenging to find used ones with engines between 1.5 and 2 liters used in Wellington, because they get bought quickly, with a used-car premium. The Ford Fiesta is similar to the Mazda 2; the Mazda 3 has many fans among my friends; the Ford Focus comes across as a good solid option.
  • Based on my requirements, I should have looked at Nissans, but none captured my attention. They seem like good cars for a good price. -shrugs- I also neglected Kias (just not that many of them) and the Suzuki Swift (very few 1.5 liters in my price range, never quite satisfied with the interiors I saw.)
  • Lemons to avoid are often the “cute cars” of five to ten years ago. I took a peek at some of these, read the online comments, and said “Never mind.” These included: used new-generation Mini Coopers (expensive! CRAZY dashboards), used 2000’s VW Bugs (low luggage space, visibility issues for drivers, and body paint problems in the NZ climate), used Mercedes A-class compacts (don’t get me started).

Being short influenced my car buying experience to a surprising degree. Bringing somebody taller along was a useful way to check that a vehicle that was fine for me was also passable for my passengers. Car salesmen tend to be tall, and car negotiations often begin while everyone is standing up, emphasizing the height difference. (The one woman I found employed at a car place was also tall!) An affable, polite tall salesman talking to me is like a friendly giant – I remain somewhat wary. A tall salesman who decides to play hardball or get aggressive comes across as a brute pretty quickly. (One of these reminded me of Swelter from Gormenghast; another evoked a chilly, dead-eyed H.P. Lovecraft villain.) While these encounters were fascinating, I don’t give brutes my money. The one short salesman I ran across cleverly neutralized his height – and mine – by sitting beside me in cars. Tall salesmen who want shorter customers to feel respected should do this more. By the end of my car search I was deploying fiercely confident body language and flinging myself into equalizing chairs whenever possible.

My top three picks for dealers in the Wellington region are as follows:

  • Upper Hutt Car Sales – This is where I bought my car, a Mazda2. Worth the trip: their web site lists incoming vehicles as well as cars available on site. Lots of Toyotas, Mazdas, and Nissans. The sales staff are low-pressure and genuinely helpful. I’d send my sister here if I had a sister.
  • Turner’s – A large, also low-pressure used car sales place/auctioneer, with a good reputation overall. Largest price range of these three recommendations, from $2000 to premium secondhand.
  • Honda Cars Wellington – Trustworthy cars sold by mannerly staff. I showed up one day to test drive in post-dance-event clothes (showgirl makeup, multiple flower hair clips) and was treated as an intelligent car buyer. Also, note their very good finance interest rate.

Even if you aren’t car shopping right now, here’s some excellent reading about women and/or cars:

  • The Rise of the Flapper – “The rise of the automobile was another factor in the rise of flapper culture. Cars meant a woman could come and go as she pleased, travel to speakeasys and other entertainment venues, and use the large vehicles of the day for heavy petting or even sex.”
  • Cellomom on Cars – Dry, witty, and environmentally minded, this car reviewer looks at both fuel usage and whether a vehicle can fit her three children and a cello inside it.
  • Mis-managed marketing to women – Focusing on the new Honda Fit She, a vehicular embarrassment supreme. “If you just say, ‘Here’s a pink phone for women, or a pink shirt for women,’ women will shoot you in the face.”
  • J.G. Ballard on Cars – In this piece, written in 1971, J.G. Ballard, the author of Crash, foretells the demise of the steering wheel: self-driving cars are becoming legal today.
  • It doesn’t get any more staggering than this history of Hitler and the VW Bug here, complete with photos of Hitler caressing a model of a VW Bug. “Punchbuggy” will never be the same.
Someone loved this vintage radio, built in Christchurch, NZ
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“My greatest luxury”: radio in the 1940s and my Nerd Nite talk

Tonight, I’m giving a talk at Nerd Nite Wellington! It’s about the history of wireless communication, our passion for it, and whether or not we are loving our wireless access to death. Here’s a tidbit from the presentation – a glimpse of what radio used to mean to a stylish young woman living through World War II.

Someone loved this vintage radio, built in Christchurch, NZ

““My wireless was small, round-shouldered, encased in shiny brown Bakelite; I treasured it as my greatest luxury….That little friendly lit panel, with all those names and numbers printed fanwise, red and green, represented freedom, warmth, a world that was alive…During the war I think the wireless must have been a greater blessing to more people than it had ever been before. No telly, no outside lights after dusk, many theaters and some cinemas closing down, almost everything rationed….I certainly enjoyed my wireless more actuely and greedily than I have ever enjoyed it since.”

excerpt from “The Purple Dress”, Jenifer Wayne’s memoir of growing up in the 1930s and working for BBC Radio during World War II.

"The things I've seen!" say these US WWII Navy binoculars.
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If These Binoculars Could Talk

"The things I've seen!" say these US WWII Navy binoculars.These just may be the sexiest WWII Navy issue binoculars ever. You see, they have a story.

I was at a friend’s house and he said, “You’ll like this!” And he showed me two things. First he showed me a Pliocene era articulated Ostridae fossil, complete and articulated, and that was greatly appreciated. Then, later, he brought out the binoculars.

“The story with these is that the former owner’s grandmother accepted these during World War II in exchange for a weekend with her. They would have been worth about $1000 at the time.”

The mind reels. Forget silk stockings. How hot was she, for him to steal the binoculars? What kind of woman accepts high-end military optics as the price of her favors? Maybe one who’s in a local underground militia? Did they burn with chemistry for one another, and the binocular exchange was just an excuse?  Did she think he was a schlub at first, but changed her mind after the weekend of passion? Why did she keep the binoculars?