Sometimes I Respond To Email

Because I lack discipline and any real “life structure,” my email habits are rather capricious. I either respond RIGHT AWAY or I phantom respond. That is, I will BELIEVE I responded but what really happened was I wrote a response in my head but never actually committed it to something anyone could receive. BTW does everyone talk to themselves a lot? I feel like I talk to myself as much as John Nash as depicted by Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, like when he was becoming full-on schizophrenic.

This morning a self-described tech industry exec wrote to say he mentioned me in his blog post, and was that okay? It turns out we had an email exchange back in 2014 when I was covering the tech and culture beat. The topic was the lack of diversity and women in computer engineering. (I had been writing a lot back then about the alarming gender and racial disparities in tech.) He had emailed me to say that the engineering team at his company was overwhelmingly white male but the problem was “nearly impossible” to change. I don’t remember what I wrote back but he did.

I know this because of the SHOCKINGLY FLATTERING post he wrote about it. I mean, seriously, I could not have made this up because if I were to make up a situation in which I helped someone out, I wouldn’t make is sound this nice because it wouldn’t be believable.

“I have not always been the greatest advocate for women, but I am learning. In 2014 a reporter from NPR, Elise Hu, had written a series about a lack of diversity in tech.  At the same time I was actively hiring and trying to fill the role with women. That said, I had gotten resumes from something like 50 candidates and roughly 47 of them were white men. What was I supposed to do?  How could this be my fault?  How could I be accountable? I reached out to Elise and pointed this out to her, thinking it was definitive proof that myself and people like me were off the hook.  
She wrote back in a little over an hour. She said many smart things, but asked me simply who had taught me to program?  The answer was my uncle.  She then carefully explained to me that white men were often teaching other white men to program and there in lies the problem.  They were sparking interest in computers in young white men, and doing nothing to spark an interest in more diverse populations. The cause of the pipeline problem was outside of academics.   
This resonated with me because it is my belief that while you can learn a lot about technology in academics, applying that knowledge successfully often requires direct one on one mentorship. The pipeline is our responsibility because we have the knowledge and even though we might not be academics we can still spend our time mentoring and sparking the interest in more diverse populations.  The problem is not caused intentionally, but simply based on normative behavior and pre-existing relationships.
We are accountable. Until that moment, I thought the best thing I could do was simply stand out of the way and avoid being biased as much as possible. Essentially be passive. It was again a strong and intelligent woman who changed my thinking, and taught me that it is everyone’s responsibility to play an active role in change.”


Second, the lesson of this is that sometimes the exchanges with strangers who write you can seem really mundane and perfunctory. But if you can offer your time or thoughts, they could potentially make an impact or have quite a ripple effect.

OK Computer at 20

Though Yorke insists that “OK Computer” was inspired by the dislocation and paranoia of non-stop travel, it’s now largely understood as a record about how unchecked consumerism and an overreliance on technology can lead to automation and, eventually, alienation (from ourselves; from one another).

Amanda Petrusich, in The New Yorker

I Had A Really Weird Weekend In Nashville

This is the "Delta Island" that was in the middle of my hotel "lobby."
This is the “Delta Island” that was in the middle of the spectacle/hotel “lobby.”

I lost. In my increasingly tech-dependent existence, this was the weekend I completely disconnected from the physical world. It caused me great stress and a Saturday I’ll never get back. Here’s what happened:

I went to Nashville Friday night to give a Saturday morning training session for the Society of Professional Journalists, a swell group that I’m always happy to help out. I do a flying short course on the latest digital tools I like and use to make my journo-life easier, and it’s always fun to meet new people or go somewhere I haven’t gone before. Plus, Nashville is supposed to be a lot like Austin and my friend Val is down there, so off I went.

Things started out smoothly. Friday night, Val and I caught up over pork ribs and catfish and sweet tea before proceeding to a really swank bar next to a Sherwin Williams paint store. As it turns out, Sherwin Williams was a real theme of the weekend, since we meeting-goers were put up at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, which is the size of a planet, and so self-contained with plants, restaurants, bars and other amenities that you really could just live there — for years — and sustain yourself without ever leaving the premises. It’s like a cruise ship on land. Or a dystopian biosphere. And that’s where Sherwin Williams sales guys hold their big annual convention, so I had to walk over a fake bridge (is anything “real” at a Gaylord property?) of about 600 men in order to reach the path to my room. And there were many turns and escalators and gaudy CONCOURSES I had to get through before I actually FOUND my room, which really was like searching for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

Really meaty catch-up time with Val. And there's some taxidermy behind us, natch.
Really meaty catch-up time with Val. And there’s some taxidermy behind us, natch.

So the completely artificial lodging didn’t help in keeping me grounded to reality. (The training session did go well and was a highlight of my time there, as I loved the engaged participants.)

But then came my flight home, for which I arrived at my gate 40 minutes before takeoff. Which meant I was at least 15 minutes from boarding. I sat at the gate next to mine (C13) under a TV monitor, keeping myself busy by tweeting, texting Sudeep about stocks and watching news of the Columbia Mall shooting while wondering why my flight wasn’t boarding yet. I got up to wander around a store (where I saw a Taylor Swift album cover blanket, true story) and got back to the gate to ask what happened with my flight.

“It’s probably over Raleigh by now, it took off ten minutes ago.”

I was aghast. It was the only direct flight from Nashville to DC, and I cut my presentation short 15 minutes early just to make it to the airport on time. What. The. Fuck. Happened. Tears started streaming down my face as I asked for options (this is futile), and the gate agent did walk down the jet bridge just to be sure the plane was gone (yes), but responded by saying, “I don’t know ma’am, everyone else seemed to make the flight just fine.”

My only theory is that I was so lost in my texting and tweeting that I separated from the physical world and missed the FLIGHT THAT WAS BOARDING RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. I ended up having to wait another agonizing hour to get on a flight to Dallas — flying way west in order to connect to a flight back east — and not getting home until 11, missing my chance to see my darling daughter.

It is time to take a vacation from my devices.

We Sent Rebekah A Snapchat on Tuesday. It is Friday

When people my age use Snapchat:

Mr. Zuckerberg Goes To Washington

The Atlantic editor James Bennet interviewed Mark Zuckerberg.
The Atlantic editor James Bennet interviewed Mark Zuckerberg.

The bazillionaire founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, paid a visit to the Hill today to press lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to support some sort of immigration reform, which tech companies are interested in so they can get and keep high skilled, often Indian and Chinese labor. But Zuckerberg says his interest in the policy debate has extended to all 11 million estimated undocumented folks in the U.S.

As part of his visit, The Atlantic snagged him for a sit down interview in front of an invited audience. I went as press. The “#ThisTown” crowd attended, so David Gregory was there, all eight feet of him, and so were about 200 other interested Washingtonians.

Among the more interesting things Zuckeberg said was actually about his Mandarin, and how he set up a personal challenge to learn Mandarin and learned enough to communicate basics but found he had a hard time listening and understanding it when others spoke the language.

“I told my wife, I’m really bad at listening in Mandarin. She said, ‘You’re really bad at listening in English.'”

Oops, I Ran Over My Phone

My phone had a bad day.
My phone had a bad day.


I spent all day wondering what had happened to my iPhone. (It’s an iPhone 5, the model that is going to be discontinued when the 5c and 5s’s go on sale.) I remembered checking it sometime while I was in the car driving to work, and yet, when I got to work it was nowhere to be found. I’d called myself numerous times, and nothing. Eventually I used the ‘Find My iPhone’ tool, which indicated my phone was at home.

So after work, I drove home, eager to reunite with my device. Only, I couldn’t find my phone at home, either. I tried Find My iPhone again. I realized the thing I had “located” earlier in the day was actually my other Apple device — my iPad. The phone was showing itself in the vicinity of my office. So I returned to work and drove back to the parking spot where I parked. That’s when I saw something reddish on the cement. Upon closer inspection, I discovered it was my phone, face down in its red Speck case, with tire marks on it. Amazingly, it still works, though I feel like I’m cutting myself every time I try to type or tweet.

P.S. This is the first in an attempt to write a personal blog post each day this week. I’ve gotten away from keeping this blog up, so I’ve given myself a small, measurable goal of publishing an observation or an inane happening from each day this week. As I am writing this, it occurs to me I’d also like to pick out the best thing I read each day to share with you. Today’s favorite read is an excellent meditation on evil and the non-morality of Breaking Bad’s Walter White, by my colleague Linda Holmes at NPR’s Monkey See blog.



The Lactation Station (And Other Nursing Adventures)

This is how Eva and I spend a lot of our time together.
This is how Eva and I spend a lot of our time together.

Someday when I am old, I will look back on these days of new mommahood, when at least four times during the workday I find myself in a windowless 3’x5′ room, on the other side of the wall from our national security correspondents, attached reluctantly to an electric breast pump while overhearing conversations about the ramifications of unilateral disarmament.

To be clear, I think nursing is awesome. I truly enjoy providing both physical and emotional sustenance for Baby E in one loving act. It’s really no sweat, either, since Eva is my only baby. My Chinese great-grandmother nursed seven (7) babies in total, earning her the respect of many generations and lasting evidence of her hard work — mom tells me my great-grannie could actually fling her drooping boobs over her shoulders. Impressive on many levels, that lady.

But the difference between nursing a baby and pumping milk for a baby is like the difference between visiting Venice and going to the Olive Garden. Pumping is tedious and soulless and in my case, always really awkward when I emerge from the lactation station and make eye contact with the national security guys who surely overheard my pump as they were discussing war and Syria and what not.

I am glad I had a daughter, because maybe one day she will have a baby of her own, and she, too, can experience the wonder and the weirdness that is motherhood.

Some Notes and Photos from NewsFoo

The spawn, the spouse and I just got back from NewsFoo, an unconference put on by O’Reilly Media and the Knight Foundation. The 150-ish attendees are all involved in technology and/or journalism in an interesting way and I’m certain I was the dumbest person there.

If you’ve never unconferenced, the main idea is that at more traditional and scheduled conferences, all the best connections and interesting conversations end up happening at lunch or during coffee breaks. So unconferences aim to foster the coffee break vibe for an entire weekend by only setting session start and end times — the session topics are all pitched and plotted by the attendees after they arrive. No Powerpoints, no formal presentations, no nonsense. Below, some photos, and after the jump, notes from the Foo and links from my animations session.

Continue reading “Some Notes and Photos from NewsFoo”

Social Media 201 at #UNITY12: Useful Links

A big thank you to the two Angies — Angela Kim of Yahoo! and Angie Goff of NBC Washington — for paneling it with me today at the UNITY Journalism convention. UNITY brings together the minority journalism organizations for one giant confab every four years, and I’m really happy to have moderated this (hopefully practical) talk about tools you can use to better engage with your audiences online.

Links and examples from the presentation:

Yahoo! Homes on Pinterest
An example of how Yahoo! developed an identity on Pinterest.

Marketplace: Your Neighborhood Through Your Eyes
A Public Insight Network project using photos to tell a story. Any news organization can get involved with the Public Insight Network by contacting American Public Media.

Yahoo! Sports on Instagram
An example of what you can do with your reporting team’s photos on Instagram.

Down But Not Out
How Yahoo! Finance aggregated user-generated content on a simple, free Tumblr.

Social Cam
Allows you to update a story in the field or set the scene before a liveshot for your Twitter/Facebook audience. You can also capture moments during commercial breaks.

Demonstrating Free Apps – “App of The Day”
To better integrate tech products with your television audience, most newsrooms have the capability to allow talent to introduce and demonstrate free apps.

Encourage the audience to interact with you ask questions. Also builds your own social media brand.

Google + and Google Hangout Tutorial
KOMU-TV in Columbia, Missouri rocks their Google+ presence. This quick video tutorial shows viewers how to get on Google+ and participate in a hangout.

Questions? Feedback? Leave a message in the comments or tweet me.

Boston With Some Big Brains

Over the past couple of days, the Center for Civic Media at MIT and the Knight Foundation gathered about 200 of the brightest minds in media and technology to talk about data, algorithms and how they’re changing storytelling. (It was also a chance to announce the winners of the Knight News Challenge, which I helped judge this spring. Congrats to the six inspiring winners!)

One of the takeaways from our two+ days together was that in discussing the future of news we are in many ways arguing for a return to the past — a more distributed one, before media producers were aggregated at gatekeeper institutions, and back to a time when storytelling was produced slower, with more context, as exemplified by the presentation of Paul Salopek‘s fascinating plan to spend the next seven years on a slow-reporting journey around the world. And with the big trend toward more data journalism, AP’s Johnathan Stray and others reminded us that data has fingerprints all over it — that data journalism requires many selective decisions by humans, which means “there’s no such thing as objective data.”

Chatting with Michael Maness and Joi Ito at MIT’s Center for Civic Media.

Monday, I sat down for an on-stage chat with Knight’s VP for Journalism and Media Innovation Michael Maness and Joi Ito, a Knight trustee, venture capitalist, early tech pioneer and the director of the MIT Civic Media Center. During the conversation about funding trends for information efforts, Michael announced Knight’s new Prototype Fund, part of a a new effort to fail fast in funding new ideas by giving out 50-60 smaller grants for innovative ideas each year. Both men both delivered some memorable gems, and I got to wear one of those motivational speaker type headset microphones, which was the highlight of my week. (You can’t even tell it’s there, it’s so skin-colored and invisible!)

Michael wrapped up some of the big themes that came out of the conference in his closing session on Tuesday. Check out the notes from the liveblog. And Stiles did some great data visualizations on the attendees and the Twitter volume during the confab. More resources/coverage of #civicmedia after the jump:

Continue reading “Boston With Some Big Brains”