New Year's Eve hike

We went for a hike today, partially in the spirit of the New Year hikes my family has done in the past, but partially in the spirit of nwc's family love of doing crazy hikes.  (As an aside, N wants to go by nwc now to prevent people from calling him "N" in real life, which has been springing up. There you have it.)

We went up to Magic Mountain--the real LA-98 Magic Mountain, not the theme park, and took a look at the ex-nuclear missile silos and testing area.  It was about 6 miles up and 7 back because we took the steep firebreak on the way up and the longer dirt road down. Our feet hurt now, but it was a lovely hike.

There was an inversion, so it was surprisingly warm to start, with lovely cool pockets all through the hike.  It was fairly clear as well, and we got lot of great views.

I also had the chance to try out my new hydration pack, which I've been lusting for ever since we saw our friends using ones in Nepal.  I was a little too enthusiastic, though, and drank the full 3 liters, which is about 12.6 cups for non-metric people.

All-in-all, a beautiful morning.


Enough with the days of the week!

So after Thanksgiving comes the dreaded Black Friday, the less awful but still consumerist Small Business Saturday, the slightly bizarre Cyber Monday, and now Giving Tuesday.  I have no problem with giving, but for some reason the idea of Giving Tuesday bothers me.

It might be the idea of grouping giving with consumption--that it's something you indulge in to feel better about yourself, possibly similar to the way shopping makes you feel good.  It might also be that we shouldn't need a day for giving, that it should be integrated into our lives regularly and not just thought about one day a year.  It might also be that holidays used to be about spending time with family, taking a break, or celebrating an idea, but that framing a day in this way, especially on the heels of these strange pseudo-holidays, has the potential to degrade the underlying concept of giving.


shawl to scarf

I started a red shawl mid-2012, and worked on it when I commuted into the city that summer. I had been a hour from finishing for several months, but today I finally finished it off.

It's looking to be more of a thick scarf, just due to the way the yarn hangs--it curls in on itself, giving a bit of a scroll effect.  Despite this identity crisis, I think it turned out quite well, especially for someone who can never remember the difference between knitting and purling.

With 2014 looming, I'm very far from keeping my craftiganza rules, but at least it's some progress.  I'd forgotten how much I enjoy working with yarn, and I need make it more of a habit.  (Without becoming a yarn hoarder.)



The world is neither as good nor as just as I would like it to be.

This week, I decided that I could not finish the excellent nonfiction book Zeitoun by Dave Eggers because it was too depressing.  Warning: spoilers ahead, though that feels like a wrong term for nonfiction.

This book described a Muslim man and his family's experience with Hurricane Katrina, and while I don't like to insulate myself from the world, everyone has their limits.  At some point Zeitoun is imprisoned because he was still in New Orleans after the mandatory evacuation.  There is sickening injustice in how he is treated, and nobody is held accountable.

I can often stomach terrible stories if I know the ending in advance--it's the suspense that grates on me, but this book has no real resolution.  The book "ends" with the family together and healing, but midway through reading, I searched for a summary of the history (in order to get through the terrible prison moments), and I discovered that the couple are divorced and she accused him of attacking her.  It's real life and there will be no true end until everyone involved is dead.

Again, I don't like to keep myself in a bubble, but some things are too much for me to manage.  The narrative format of the book makes empathy very natural, to the point of my feeling a nauseating distrust of the government when I read it.  And I just can't handle it.  I need and want to trust the government in order to function as a citizen. Every institution will make mistakes and will even be fundamentally broken in some ways.  Every individual will also make mistakes, either acting on their own or on behalf on an institution.

But there's a powerlessness that I felt when reading this book.  In disastrous situations, it seems as though the government agencies have unlimited discretionary power and then proceed to make substantially flawed decisions.  In the end, the only real lesson I learned was to obey mandatory evacuations.  Keep your head down and follow the rules.

The other thing that was hard is that the emotional strength of the story comes from the family love and unity; this unravelled when I learned about the couple's sad history beyond the book.  It makes me hope that all victims of disasters of this magnitude are getting the support they need.  It's a little ridiculous to talk about how I had a hard time reading a story, when so many people are forced to live similar stories and worse.


cranberry sauce

My family's favorite version of the Thanksgiving classic.  I'll usually can a batch or two around the holiday and use it throughout the year, especially in chicken and turkey lunch sandwiches.

Makes 7 to 8 cups.

1 orange
2 apples that cook well (I use Gala)
6 cups fresh cranberries
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves

Squeeze the juice from the orange and set the juice aside. Remove the orange zest with a flat peeler (some white peel is fine) and then dice finely. Quarter the apples and remove the core; slice the remainder finely, and then chop slices into wedges. Sort the cranberries, discarding any soft ones.

Add everything into a saucepan: orange juice, diced orange zest, apple pieces, cranberries, sugar and spices.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, the apple is tender and the cranberries have burst, about 15 minutes. Cover while simmering or stir in a few teaspoons of water or orange juice if it dries out.

Adapted from the Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library Series, Thanksgiving & Christmas, by Chuck Williams (Time-Life Books, 1993).


on zombies (or, why pop-culturalization of folklore sucks)

The undead have a long and glorious history in folklore and mythology, but zombies in particular come from Haitian folklore. In general, they are dead who have been revived and are under control of the person who revived them. [1] That in itself is a creepy concept.

Zombies in modern popular culture, however, have the added wow-factor of cannibalism, and often associated with apocalypse just to round things out. How did this jump happen?  Mostly, it was the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead.

So what's my beef?  I find the triple combination cannibalism, apocalypse, and being mindless or controlled post-death to be totally absurd.  Each are creepy in a potentially realistic kind of way, but together they form a trinity of absurdity that respects neither folklore nor science.

Consider: one could conceivably be poisoned into a deathlike state and be brought back to life on a hallucinogenic drug and kept in a listless state as a slave.  It could physically happen, and it seems to have actually occurred; that's a little terrifying. Cannibalism also happens. People get hungry with no other options. This is repulsive and scary to a normal, well-fed human.

Pop-culture zombies, by contrast, are both listless, mindless drones and also lethal, cannibalistic monsters. Frankly, the two just don't add up, since I'd imagine it's very hard to kill anyone when you're in a sluggish state. The hallucinogenic drugs could hypothetically give cannibalistic inclinations, but the victims wouldn't be able to do anything about it that would pose a real threat.  So that's the first absurdity...but wait, there's more!

An apocalypse is also a scary, vaguely realistic thing.  It's entirely possible (though not probable in the short-term) that through mismanaging natural resources, natural disaster, a devastating virus, or nuclear stupidity, civilization could be degraded to a more primitive form.  It's a little silly, but I do worry about personally having the skills necessary to survive in such a situation, even if it was localized and relatively short lived.

But...zombies?  Apocalypse causing cannibalism I could understand, but apocalypse being caused by cannibalism?  Or better yet, being caused by a horde of sluggish, mindless people?  Either (let alone both) would be completely bizarre.

So modern zombies irk me a little; they trivialize real and potential tragedies. They fabricate a fictitious facade over folklore and fact.  These pop-culture figures can be humorous or scary, but regardless, they just don't suspend my disbelief the way other science fiction and fantasy characters do.

A world of zombies has no compelling motivations that could not exist with more resonance without them. These more profound worlds are harder to write, and so zombies provide an easy gimmick. Zombie enthusiasts, I'm sorry, but they just don't do it for me.  Please forgive me.

[1] See Wikipedia and Outside Magazine.  Neither are particularly compelling sources, but were you really expecting a Nature citation?


the guy at the gate: a confession

A week ago, I was driving and took a wrong turn and ended up heading toward the university gates after hours.  I figured it would be easier to go through campus than turn around, and so I showed the guy at the gate my id, and he asked me where I was going.  For some reason, I just lied on the spot and told him I was picking up a friend at the "athletic center."  He gave me a funny look, and was like, the gym?  I told him again that I was a student and rattled off some stuff that only a student would know. Then he says, more or less, Well, that can all be true, but it doesn't seem like you know where you're going.  At that point, I'm mad about being caught in a lie and I turn around.

I'm not the kind of person who lies about stupid stuff like this. I try not to be the kind of person who lies at all. I felt and still feel terrible abut the whole thing. It's hanging with me much longer than I ever thought it would.

What baffles me is that for a while I was mad at the guard for not letting me in.  If I were actually picking up a friend at the gym, I might very well have done the exact same thing because I often forget the proper names of things and turn to descriptions of them instead.  Pass me the writing thingummie. Where did you put the scooper for soup?  If I were actually caught in a situation where they weren't letting me in and I had a reason to be there, I don't know what I would have done differently.  Maybe provide the details of what the friend was doing?

The truth is I made a mistake and instead of dealing with the mistake, I chose to complicate the situation by fabricating a story.  I could have just told the guard that I made a mistake.  The thing is, I know they don't allow through traffic after hours, and there are places to turn around far before the guard house, so I should have just turned around as soon as possible and corrected myself.  This could be a metaphor for life, but I'll leave it up to you to iron out the details.

In an odd way, I'm glad it happened.  It's making me thing about bigger things like honesty, taking responsibility, thinking things through, and correcting mistakes.  I couldn't have asked for a kinder situation for a wake-up call.


there's a reason we do science in this houeshold

I just finished a painting that took forever-epic-long.  At first, I hated it, since it's a little cartoony. Then, it grew on me a little, but it still isn't my favorite.  N doesn't understand why I like to leave so much sky.  The reason is that I like painting skies and I really like how landscapes look with huge skies.

I have no idea what I'll do with it now, but it's safe from N throwing it away at least until it dries. He's been trying to get rid of this particular slab of masonite for probably a year, and I've continually thwarted him by painting it a bit every time he gets almost to the point of action.  See in the upper right the note he left me: You have until Nov 15th to do something me (finish or move).  After that date I will go into the trash.  Sincerely, Unfinished Painting  Ah, complete sentences.  But I guess we shouldn't expect that much from a painting, eh?


Nepal and India

This post is waaaaaaay overdue.  We came back in June; it's now November.  Forgive me if some details are fuzzy, though I did use a journal sporadically on the trip and wrote half this post soon after returning.  I'm currently suffering from hiccups as punishment.

Before I left for India, my labmate told me that India was an assault on all your senses, and the experience was true to his words.

N and I left at the end of May, flying nonstop into Delhi to catch a night's sleep before continuing onto Kathmandu in Nepal.  There, we instructed a taxi driver to take us to the Suzuki dealership in a certain part of town, where we met up with another couple--good friends from our Berkeley days whom I will mysteriously call Petra and Mike. Magically, nothing went seriously wrong, and we found them waiting for us.  We stayed at Petra's extremely generous aunt's house and explored Katmandu before heading out to Pokhara to begin the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek the next day.

The trek itself was lovely, but the story is much like any traveller's experiences there in late May/early June: beautiful mountains playing hide-and-seek among the clouds, rainfall, prolific flora, and welcoming tea houses with hot food, decent beds, and the occasional hot shower.  I became obsessed with omelettes for whatever reason--my body probably craved the protein.  The really unique aspect to our trip was the adventure involved in obtaining and then ridding ourselves of a guide and porter.

In Pokhara, we hunted around for a guide and porter, mostly because we wanted to support the local economy (Petra and Mike were the enlightened ones in this respect). We were also looking forward to seeing some of the incredible feats of strength--I had heard stories of porters running up the mountains with packs, the strong-for-their-home-elevation tourists lagging behind with nothing on their backs.  N and I were won over by an older gentleman named Lale, who ran a shop and told us that he was a guide, and that his wife looks after the shop when he's trekking.  Petra and Mike didn't like him as much, but he was willing to agree to our demands, specifically that the guide carries a pack and that we could push the schedule.

Making group decisions is hard (especially in retrospect when things go badly), but I'll freely admit that I pushed to go with him.  We made a deposit for 7 days, him thinking that we would take 10, and us thinking that we might well take less.  I'm fairly certain that he agreed that we would get money back if we returned early, but it's hard to remember.

The next morning, we came to meet Lale, and he said that we were waiting for our guide and porter.  Aren't you our guide?  No, it would be his nephew.  Feeling a little deceived, we waited, and waited.  Eventually the guide arrived, and we caught a taxi then a bus, and we picked up our porter somewhere along the way--our guide's friend.  At some point, the bus broke down and we had to transfer to another one.  Given that the first bus was full, it was crazy crowded, so we sat on the top with the luggage and food being transported, which is illegal.  When we passed the police, they called up, and the guide and driver said we're tourists, and he waved us on.  Apparently tourists get to bend the rules.  Given that tourism is the nation's largest industry, this almost makes sense.  Regardless, the grumpiness from being lied to and the guide being late lifted, and we enjoyed ricocheting through the mountains, ducking under power lines and branches, and seeing the spectacular views of tiered farmland.

When we finally got started on the trek, we had to walk through a town.  The guide and porter started to carry our packs, and we walked leisurely.  N bought a hat, and we waited for the guide and porter, who took their time.  Perhaps they're just saving their strength.  They'll toast us on the uphill and in the higher altitudes.  We waited, walked ahead, waited, walked ahead, waited for directions, walked ahead.  The road turned into a trail, and got steeper.  Eventually it became clear to us that they're just slow.  Okay, still manageable.  The trail is clear, and we can just tell them where we'll stop for lunch and the night and they can go at their own pace and we'll meet them there.  We discussed plans with them, and they offered resistance, but eventually we got our way.

Fast forward, and everything came to a head that night.  I'm the least confrontational of the four of us, and so I opted out of the epic discussion that evening.  Apparently Mike offered progressively easier options, but still with a fast itinerary.  There were angry phone calls with Lale, and I could head voices from where I was trying to sleep.   The guide and porter simply claimed that it was too hard and that they had never carried packs before.  Again, I wasn't involved much in this, but by morning, we set out without them, intent on visiting Lale and asking for a partial refund of our deposit when we returned.

The rest of the hike was stunning from the tiny flowers to ginormous mountains.  We played cards wrapped in heavy blankets, read next to windows framing cloud-filled valleys, and I got to take steroids for altitude sickness.

When we got back to Pokhara, Lale refused to refund us, and said that if anything we owed him more money. We got the tourist police involved; we told them we were happy to pay for the two days time that the guide and porter actually worked (one day up with us and one day to return by themselves). Then the tourist police laid the smack down (our guide was probably not licensed) and we got our money back.  I have no problem giving money to people, but A) if I'm going to donate money, I want it to be to a good cause and not because I'm being ripped off and B) it's not okay to allow the precedent that might hurt future travelers.  We think Lale tried to follow us afterward, but we savvily ditched him by getting in a cab.  It's sad because Pokhara was really beautiful, and I think we would have stayed there longer had we not been worried about Lale doing something stupid.

Petra taught me that everybody's got a water buffalo.

Superhero shot.

Baby goats!!  Oh, and, you know, gorgeous mountains.

After recovering from the trek, we had some more fun in Kathmandu, and then settled on doing a land crossing to India.  The bus ride was a little tedious, but I got a fair amount of reading done.  Our first real stop was Varanasi.  There, we indulged in food, showers, and air conditioning.  We found Lonely Planet's recommended Blue Lassi and Brown Bread Bakery, which were as good as the book described.

The next morning, we took a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges, where we saw the docks in full action, as well as a the body of a deceased holy man floating down the river.  After more eating and rest, N and I opted to head out to a tiger park while Petra and Mike stayed in Varanasi for another day before heading off on their own adventures.

Himalayas to Varanasi: opposite extremes in almost every way conceivable.

We didn't see any tigers at the park, but we got plenty of AC, decent food, showers, flushing toilets, and rest.  This was all especially important because both N and I were having stomach issues--this was probably my fault for going for some sketchy street food.  We were also burnt out from numerous scam attempts and logistic issues during the trip.  I won't detail them; it's just a hazard of travel.  We ended up resigned to just spend a significantly more money on drivers in the second half of the trip to make things easier--we wouldn't have been able to see the Taj Mahal otherwise.  We also splurged on a fancy hotel in Dehli that had mood lighting settings; we considered it and the tiger park to be our three-year wedding anniversary gift to ourselves.

People washing and playing in the Ganges (left).  N at the Red Fort in Delhi with the longest beard he's ever had (right).

Sunrise on the Ganges.


Kindle review

I've had my Kindle for almost six months, and I'm close to finishing my seventh book on it.  (Don't judge, my reading-junkie friends!)  I haven't written about it until now because my opinions on ebooks have been evolving for a while, and I wanted to have a somewhat settled perspective.

I started off by reading a few things on our iPad, but reading on a screen stressed my eyes in a way that reading from paper does not.  Eventually, I starting lusting after a proper e-reader, and several months after that, I finally made the purchase.

The version I have is the lowest tier without "special offers," or ads.  I like that it isn't lit because it makes it feel more like a book and less like a screen--I get enough of the latter already.  I also like that it isn't a touch screen because the delay between pressing buttons and the screen reacting is long enough that a touch screen would be a little silly.  I also like that I don't have to be careful about not touching the screen, since then I can handle it a bit more like a real book.

I've been going through one-time reads, and I like not cluttering the house with new books.  Libraries used to be my go-to for many (but not all) of my one-time reads, and so the Kindle is certainly enabling my being a lazy consumer.  At the same time, the library doesn't always have what I want and I'm happy to support the authors I enjoy.  I like the experience enough that I'm considering getting old favorites that I already own in electronic form, but Amazon is currently rolling out an program that gives you discounts for exactly this scenario--I might wait to see if some of those are adopted into that program first.

Once upon a time, I would carry a book in my purse, and this has certainly lightened the load.  It was great when we took our trip to India, since it lasted the whole three weeks (I might have charged it once in the middle at one of the strange charge-your-phone stations) and I read two different books that would have taken up a lot of space.  I also used my Kindle every day when I commuted to the city via train.

Technical books and papers (PDFs) aren't good to read on it, but I'll forgive it that.  Some novels even have slightly wonky formatting, but most of them are great.  Occasionally pages will be rendered differently (as in the page breaks at different places) if you turn it off then on again or move back and forth between pages, which is a little odd.  The thing that I thought would bother me the most was the whole screen flashing occasionally on a page change to clean up the residue from previous pages.  I don't even notice it anymore.

I think we'll still have paper books for a good long while, but there is a place for ebooks.  My favorite moment was when N read something for a while on my device, and when he finally passed it back, muttered sheepishly, I want a Kindle.


the lady doth protest too much: a response

My mom sent me a snippet of this article, which was quoted in the WSJ last week. She was all, "I don't agree, but I thought you might want to see this..."  Right she got my blood boiling.
The “women in tech” experiment has been a disaster. [...] It all comes down to one, dirty little secret. Whisper it. The tech industry is not sexist.
Tech isn't sexist?  Most individuals I've met in tech aren't sexist, but some are, just like in any industry. It's harder to see when you're not the recipient of the bias, but it certainly exists.  Additionally, I have my own sexist moments, so how could others who have not thought as long and hard about women in tech not have sexists moments?

Okay, so assume tech doesn't have any more sexist individuals than any other industry.  There is still an huge issue that Yiannopoulos doesn't even consider: that the culture is sexist.

That's right.  A culture that encourages starting work at 10am, taking long lunch breaks, and playing pinball mid-day means that you basically spend all day at the office.  Why is that sexist?  Because there's pressure from (some of) the rest of society for women to have kids, clean house, and be home to make dinner.  I'm not saying women should feel pressure to do those things, and so our general society's culture can be fixed too.  But it should be a lot easier to change the beneficent tech industry to be more flexible rather than the other way around.

For each of the four industry jobs I've had, my daily start and end times have been earlier than the average employee.  I was usually one of the few who cooked their own dinner, let alone packed the occasional lunch.  The stereotypical mother and wife norms clash with the norms of tech employees.  A lot of women want jobs where they can do homework with their kids, go out to a bar to meet someone after work, or hang out with friends not related to work.

So when our Mr. Yiannopoulos might actually be right when he says things like the following.
Of course, the number of women in tech will never be the same as the number of men, because most women simply don’t want to do these sorts of jobs.
He might be right not because women aren't good at tech, but because the culture is insular and demanding, and many women (via nurture or nature) want to do stuff outside of work.  But, even if he is right, I want him to prove it, because it's ludicrous for anyone to pull a statement like that out of nowhere.  I'm doing my best not to degrade into a fit of profanity.

There are a lot of reasons for fewer women in tech, and the answer to many of them is to break the stereotypes that perpetuate the issues, which isn't just about fixing the numbers in schools and watching it propagate, as Yiannopoulos naïvely suggests. Women need role models and other women at the top to both show that it can be done and to help make the policies so that it can be done with greater ease.

The article isn't all bad; in fact the most interesting point is that underrepresented racial minorities and socio-economic groups deserve more air time, which is very true.  That doesn't mean that women deserve less, though.  If anything, women are even more underrepresented in those groups.  By evening out the playing field for all women, it also helps other minority groups, not to mention roughly half of the population.

In addition, the minorities that are most underrepresented, in my opinion, share many stereotypes in common with those for women: being family-focused is an easy example. By making the tech industry more appealing for one category of minority, we're widening the door for everyone.


trains are the best

I am writing this from a very comfortable seat on an Amtrak train headed for a weekend trip.  Now, I don't do sponsored posts, but if I did, I don't know if any of them could compare to how gushy I'm going to be about trains.  Amtrak, you should really be paying me.

Anyway.  Trains are my absolute favorite mode of long-distance transportation.  (Biking and walking are my short-distance modes of choice.)  Airplanes are really convenient for some things, like crossing continents or oceans, but for trips that might take half a day by car, trains are the best.  Perhaps you ask: Why?  Buses and driving are usually cheaper.  Planes are faster.  But!  The thing people usually don't take into consideration while traveling is stress.

There was only one line I stood in for three minutes to board the main train, I have an open seat next to me, and there were no security hoops.  I don't have to deal with traffic.  Everything is as scheduled.

This morning, I walked out my door, waltzed onto a train (figuratively), had two completely painless transfers, and several hours of reading, working, playing Minecraft, writing email, and blogging later, I'll arrive at my destination.  It's quite nearly as comfortable and productive as sitting on my couch, and so the day of travel has really cost me under an hour in terms of time.

You can see the countryside in ways that driving doesn't allow.  And while the price of Amtrak isn't the lowest relative to buses or driving, if you play things right with AAA, booking early, and Amtrak rewards, it's quite reasonable.  I'm willing to pay a little extra not to lose a day driving or cramped on a bus. And I'd really rather not be subject to the whims of traffic.

Also, trains are just awesome.  What other mode of transport is so cool that there are miniature replicas of it made for adults?  Sure, there might be the occasional car miniature, but trains win hands down.  Because they really are that amazing.

I love trains for commuting and for longer weekend trips.  I love them abroad and domestically.  I love them here or there.  I love trains anywhere!

The fine print: I love everything right now; being done with generals is making me a touch high on life.


the new MCMC

MCMC typical stands for Markov chain Monte Carlo, a standard class of algorithms in the world of machine learning.  Well, now that I'm done with generals, I'm redefining MCMC to stand for Minecraft and Mac'n'Cheese.  I look forward to rebalancing myself, but for now I'm spending a night on the sloth end of the spectrum to make up for the roughly nine months of uncharacteristic pertinacity. I swear, if my life were a movie, the vast majority of this year so far would have been a look-at-me-working montage.

(I won't actually know the results officially for a bit yet, but I feel pretty good.)


Answering the Temple Recommend Interview Questions, Part 1

Originally posted at Zelophehad’s Daughters.

The LDS temple interview is an interesting process to me. We’re expected to give relatively short answers to fifteen questions, but I feel like some of them require more elaborate answers. For the sake of the interviewers, I spare them the ten-hour monologue that would be required to give them the full picture of my faith. While I’ve thought through each of the fifteen questions, I’ve wanted to record a written answer to each of them. This is the first post in a series in which I will answer each with varying degrees of verbosity.

Question 1: Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost?

I have faith in God; my most honest prayers are Teyve-style. I do not know if God is male, female, both, or neither, but I’ve prayed to each one. Because of my upbringing, praying to a male or joint-gender god (Heavenly Mother and Father) is most comfortable for me. More fundamentally, I do not know that God exists, but I have had experiences that feel like they come from a divine source. I have prayed particularly about the existence and nature of deity, and received ambiguous (but comforting) experiences that allow my otherwise hyper-rational self to have faith in God, without firm knowledge of his/her/its existence or nature. I don’t know if God is embodied, but I find that perfectly reasonable, given that I hope for an embodied afterlife. I am comfortable talking about my faith in God and its complexities (as made obvious by this post), and consider that to qualify as a testimony.

My faith in Jesus Christ is inherently tied to my understanding of the Atonement, so I’ll leave most of my discussion of that for the next post. I believe that Jesus lived as a real person, and taught the principles, if not the same parables, that are recorded in the gospels. I believe that it’s possible that he is the son of God as we are all children of God, but that he played the role of Savior, advocating on our behalves and acting in some sort of pre- and post-mortal leadership role. While my faith in God is stronger than my faith in a divine Jesus Christ (the former is intrinsically more general), I would be comfortable explaining the gospel of Christ and testifying of the role it has played in my life.

While the Holy Ghost is arguably the member of the Godhead with whom we are in most direct contact, I feel that I know the least about him/her/it. The Holy Ghost could have some connection to Heavenly Mother, but my hunch is that she is too important to play spiritual courier and instead conveys her love and messages to us through the Holy Ghost, as does Heavenly Father. I’ve never prayed about the Holy Ghost–I think of it more as a medium for spiritual communication than something I need to ask God about. It’s a little like calling your folks up and asking, “Can you tell me that this phone is working?” after you’ve asked “Are you there?” Thus, my faith in and testimony of the Holy Ghost is very much wrapped up in my faith in God, as I think it’s supposed to be.

For doctrine relating to the Godhead or anything else, I strongly prefer to keep any of my now rare proclamations of spiritual witness or testimony (of this or any doctrine) to audiences eager to hear such affirmations. On the other hand, I am much more comfortable talking about my pragmatic involvement in the LDS church.

In the end, my simple answer to this question is “Yes,” sparing the poor interviewers my long-windedness every two years–they probably would rather be home with their kids.


white male boards and white male commenters

Just read this article on the breakdown of the boards of directors in tech. The article is great, but some of the comments are really distressing.
Not having women on the board is an issue of innovation? Since when did women innovate? People need to get used to hearing non-PC but completely accurate assessments. Companies don't perform based on 'wishful thinking'.
Wow.  Since when do women innovate?  Uh...since men started innovating?  Perhaps they don't have as long of a history in industry, but that doesn't mean they don't innovate.  The problems are that 1) far fewer women have the training necessary and 2) being on a board requires being pushy enough to move up the chain, which most women aren't comfortable doing, either because it's not culturally acceptable or because they care more about their personal lives.  And we shouldn't get used to non-PC statements of this variety because these are all cultural issues that have solutions. Addressing them starts with identifying a problem. Well, problem identified.  (Hint: part of it's you, bucko.)

Another doozy:
Let's hire based on race and gender instead of qualifications because people who can't get hired on qualification are moaning! Great idea for those who are moaning but horrible idea for people actually running the business.
Nobody said we should hire more women that aren't qualified.  Nor are we saying the the problem needs to be fixed RIGHT NOW.  It's a matter of understanding the causes and then addressing the cultural factors that impact this imbalance.  Until we do address the underlying issue, it's important to take just a little time to consider candidates outside the usual mold, but still qualified.  They exist, but it's harder to find them, so it takes effort.

The reason why this is important?  Because you care about equal opportunity, not for those that are qualified, but for future generations.  People need role models, and if there are no women on your board, what does that say to your female employees?  What does that say about your company to women students?  It says: don't bother trying to climb the ranks because you won't get there.  We need to say please try, so that we have a better candidate pool.

We have the opportunity to craft our society for the future.  We can either say: well, that's the way its; suck it up.  Or we can say: that's not the way I'd like it to be; here's how we can change it.  Saying that this is just the way to world works is equivalent to stating that women and other minorities deserve these inequalities, not for cultural reasons, but because of their inherent lack of ability.  Or that you're okay with the inequalities (often because they benefit you).

Next steps to fix these issues: trying a little harder to find qualified minority higher-ups, creating or improving family friendly initiatives for both genders, and developing mentorship programs for students and lower ranked employees to increase retention.  We know these things already, it's just about taking the time to help them play out in order to reap the rewards.

P.S. I like white male people!  My husband is and most of my wonderful mentors are/have been white males. You are instrumental in making these changes happen, so thank you!  


in the loop

In the past two hours or so, I've gotten 2 texts, 3 automated calls, 2 emails with voicemails attached and 6 emails in text form (3 to my personal address and 3 to my university email) all about the gunshots heard on campus.  That doesn't count the call I got from my mom when it made national radio news, and it also doesn't count N's phone going off almost simultaneously with mine.

All's clear, and I'm not sure if there was any threat to begin with, but BOY do they take things seriously 'round these parts.  I mean, gunshots are pretty serious, but they've got the notification system down for sure.  Whew.  No worries about being out of the loop here.

And now, just because I'm in the mood for it:

two clicks becomes three

Google Chrome recently updated.  Some of the changes are fine, but I don't like that they've hidden the "recently closed" tabs up in the menubar, which is a feature I use all the time.  The new tab launch page is now prettier, but it takes me three clicks (or actions, really since the second can be a hover), when it used to be two.  Also, the new actions require more mouse dexterity because the targets are now smaller. Screenshots of old and new below.  And yes, I still haven't removed the Google Reader bookmark.




unintentional haiku

This past week I got a text from N that read in typical cryptic textese: "Leaves falling and it feels like summer. Weird."  (For those of you that don't know, yes, we finally reenabled texting after a few years of having it disabled.  Do I regret it?  A little, but not because of texts like this.) Anyway, N isn't a particularly poetic bloke, but I read the text as haiku-ish:

leaves falling
feels like summer

And then, of course teased him about it repeatedly.  What he meant was that the autumn leaves are changing colors and falling, but that it's been consistently warm. And that's really strange. Yesterday when we got it the car it was hot, as in about 85 degrees outside, let alone inside the car.  Temperature-wise, this past week could have been in July.  I wonder if the government controls the weather...


the parable of the peanuts

It was an all around unprofitable year in the garden, but mostly due to my taking a huge plot and then working a full day in the city, commuting for 3 hours, and then prepping for generals in the evenings and on weekends.  (That last part is still happening...)

Anyway, I experimented with peanuts this year, and I learned that they need to be babied a bit more than I had time for; as a result, they produced fewer peanuts than I planted.  Thus, the parable of the peanuts:

For the garden is as a woman travelling into a far city, who called together her vegetables, and delivered unto them her seeds.

And unto Peas she gave a two hundred seeds, to Zucchini fifty, and Peanuts twenty and five; to every vegetable according to his several ability; and straightway took her journey.

Then he that had received the two hundred seeds went and made them other four hundred.

And likewise he that had received fifty, he also gained other hundred.

But he that had received twenty and five went and digged in the earth, and hid his lady's seeds.

After a long time the lord of those vegetables cometh, and reckoneth with them.

And so he that had received two hundred seeds came and brought other four hundred seeds, saying, Lady, thou deliveredst unto me two hundred seeds: behold, I have gained beside them four hundred seeds more.

His lady said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lady.

He also that had received fifty talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me fifty seeds: behold, I have gained hundred other seeds beside them.

His lady said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lady.

Then he which had received the twenty and five came and said, Lady, I knew thee that thou art an a busy woman, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:

And I was afraid, and went and hid thy seeds in the earth, where squirrels did findest them and did eat many: lo, there thou hast that is thine, the remaining ten seeds.

His lady answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:

Thou oughtest therefore to have put my seeds to good growth, and then at my coming I should have received at least mine own.

Take therefore the seed from him, and give it unto him which hath four hundred seeds.

And cast ye the unprofitable vegetable into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.


this bird wouldn't voom if you put 4 million volts through it

Generals prep.  Migraine.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

I'm looking forward to binging on Minecraft, sleeping 9 hours a night, and generally going back to a normal-human schedule once this exam is done.


pinball machine God

Belief in deity is obviously a complicated thing. You could pick any two aspects of belief and make a pretty diagram, kind of like I have on the right, which depicts the magnitude and method of divine involvement.

The two dichotomies are familiar: Atheism versus the broad sense of Theism, and Deism vs. the narrow sense of Theism.  The reason I want to present the dichotomies this way is so that I can propose a new analogy: the pinball machine God.

Deists love their watchmaker God analogy.  This lovely little world is created with awesome science, and the awesomeness of science proves that God is.  Some deists might edge up the side of the side of the triangle a little.

On the other hand, narrow-definition theists might be offended at the puppeteer analogy.  They'd also probably be offended that I classified Deism as having the same magnitude of involvement.  But look at it this way: you construct and elaborate timing mechanism, flick the switch to place your bomb via an intelligent robot you designed, and then go out and get a cup of coffee, return a library book, and sit at a cafe overlooking a famous river of your choice.  As you're hailing the waiter for the check, the bomb explodes a hundred miles off, destroying your evil arch-nemesis' secret lab.

OR, you fight a half dozen lackeys at the lab yourself, using your super-awesome martial arts moves, place the bomb by hand, light it with a match, and run out, just in time to feel the heat of the explosion on your back as you roll safely onto the grass.

Either way, you still blew up the place; it's just an issue of method.

And even though it doesn't really matter which method God uses, I'd now like to explain my idea of a pinball machine God, which sits pretty close to the center of the triangle.  God constructs this elaborate machine for us: the pinball machine we call Earth.  There are an uncountably many number of targets, bumpers, balls, and flippers.  Maybe we're the balls, but God is certainly the player.  The coin is inserted, and God mutters under her breath: let there be light.  And the machine comes to life.

See, the the pinball machine world, there's a lot of factors.  Every ball starts with a unique trajectory, maybe some special dents and scuffs too, or perhaps they pick them up on the way.  Maybe they have different masses, radii, and densities.  They bounce around making and missing targets, ricocheting off of bumpers and running into each other.  An then, every once in a while: fwip!  They're hit by a flipper.  Maybe some balls are flipped all the time, and maybe some balls are basically never flipped.

The core of the analogy is this: it may be that God constructs the world and influences it certain ways, but that there's a good amount of randomness inherent in the system.  Random here doesn't mean that God doesn't know about or account for problems or peculiarities, but that God can't do too much about it anymore because that's intentionally the way he built the game.  Part of the joy in creation, I'd imagine, is watching something flourish on it's own.  Flourish?  Okay, maybe God the Gardener would have been a better analogy...


nerd sniped: books about distributions

It was decided today that I need to learn more about the Poisson distribution, and preferably not just from Wikipedia.  Thus, I decided a two-pronged approach to build up my intuition: playing with it in R and reading up on it in Johnson et al.'s Univariate Discrete Distributions.

What should have been a quick trip to the library ended up involving me sitting on the floor (bottom shelves always make me stay longer for this very reason) and browsing the books for at least ten, maybe fifteen minutes.  That's not terribly long, you might say, but I'm an incredibly decisive person* and this is a topic that most normal people would spend fifteen minutes avoiding.

{* Aside: As long as I'm the only one making the decision, I'm very decisive.  As soon as other people's opinions come into play, I'm wishy-washy like whoa.  Anecdote: my wedding invitations were selected down to font and ink color probably within 7 minutes of opening the two huge binders full of options.  But, ask me for restaurant preferences for a group dinner and you'll get an annoyingly placatory response. }

So I end up leaving with not just the book that I had intended to check out, but also Severini's Elements of Distribution Theory and Consul's Generalized Poisson Distributions.  Great reading for a Friday night.

While I was there, I also stumbled upon a book called A Folio of Distributions, which, as far as I could tell, consisted entirely of plots for all of its 500-some pages.  It was originally published in 1987, long before the age when a student of statistics could simply fire up R in order to see how a distribution behaves in different contexts.  I almost checked it out, but given the facts that A) I was on foot and B) the computer I was already carrying could produce the same results, I let it be.

The moral of the story: I love university libraries, especially those belonging to absurdly privileged institutions.  If these books don't grow my brain, they'll certainly grow my muscles.


ah, September

The campus is teeming with new students and excited old ones--it makes me feel a bit cantankerous.  I mean, I'm happy, but it's not intrinsically tied up in the rush of starting a new semester.  Durn young'uns.

It was nice to get a change of scenery for the summer (by being at Microsoft Research in NYC, in case you didn't know).  Jake Hofman was an incredible mentor, and I learned about things in a refreshingly different light.  It's always a little sad to leave anywhere pleasant, but I'm happy not to spend three hours on a train each day.

Now I'm trying to find my routine for the semester; I need to be productive and prepare for my General Exams in October.  It's a little scary, but I'm feeling much more confident about my work than I used to be.

There's a lot of non-research I need to do as well, things that I let slip over the summer.  Fixing up my bike, harvesting the last tails of the garden, making dentist appointments.

Nothing is overwhelming yet, and hopefully it'll stay that way.  Maybe that's why everyone likes September so much.


let's live more

It's what I've been saying this for a while, and now more people are starting to agree: let's live more.

Some guidelines that I try to live by:
- don't get directions from a mobile device unless you're starting to feel a negative emotion like fear or frustration from being lost.
- don't use a device for social purposes when you're already in a social context.
- only rarely divert conversations for looking up facts.
- uses devices for recreation only a limited amount.

I just pulled those out of my ear, though.  Just like I did that expression.  I'm sure I could have written a more thoughtful post on this topic, but I'm gunna close my computer and do something else instead.


seeking Mormon women in Computer Science

There was a lunch presentation at work recently by Mary Fernandez, CEO of MentorNet. She talked about connecting students with mentors in STEM fields, focusing on women and ethnic minority groups, who have fewer role models. This got me thinking (again) about Mormon women in STEM fields, specifically computer science.

I ran some really rough numbers based on the number of PhDs in computer science in the United States and the number of Mormons. Uniformly sampled, there should be a non-trivial number of Mormon women with PhDs in computer science--on the order of tens to low hundreds. But have I met a single one? No. Have I heard of a single one? No. Does BYU's faculty have any?  No. On the U of U's CS faculty listing, three out of 67, or 4.5% of the faculty are female.  But even still, one does not simply email women faculty at Utah-based schools and ask them if A) they are Mormon or B) they'd like to give me life advice.  I have some social skills.

I've known plenty of Mormon women who have gotten a Bachelors or Masters in STEM fields, or PhDs in Social Sciences or Humanities. I appreciate the camaraderie of both of those genres of similarity, but it'd also be really nice to have someone who I could talk to about the particular situation of being a Mormon woman in a STEM PhD.

But why is the particular combination of Mormon and STEM PhD important?  These two cultures are the strongest external pressures on my big life decisions, and have largely conflicting objectives. 

Mormon culture says I should be having my second child by now (let alone a first), that my husband's career should be getting priority, and if I do pursue higher education or have a job, I should only do around my children's schedule--once my children are in school is ideal.  I want to talk about how when I meet other Mormons, male or female, they usually ask me about what I do only after they have asked me about what my husband does, if at all.  And they pretty much never ask my husband about what I do.

On the flip side, I want to talk about the pressures of academia, and not in an abstract sense.  I want to talk about the technical details about what I'm doing and have them understand.  I want to talk about what I should do after my PhD program beyond the general categories of industry and academia--I want advice on particular institutions and people.  I want to talk about being female in a male-dominated field and how that impacts the way I perceive things and the way people perceive me.

Putting it all together, I want to talk about how I feel when my male academic colleagues and female Mormon colleagues are having kids.  I want to have kids, but I feel that I can't right now, or I'll risk falling behind.  There needs to be substantial planning for it to work, which doesn't feel fair.  I want to talk about no matter how strong my ego is, sometimes I think that I'm just not smart enough, but don't want to admit it because I need to be an example to other women, both at church and in CS.

It's actually not that important for me to have a female Mormon CS or even STEM mentor, since I have all sorts of wonderful support: my husband, my parents, my advisor, my mentor at work, my colleagues at school and work, and select friends from church.  Perhaps I've just been adding modifiers until I get such a tiny subset of people that I can complain that I haven't run into any.  That said, it never feels bad to know that you're not alone.

Regardless, if you are or know of other LDS women in CS or STEM fields that are looking to connect with similar folks, please let me know!  That is, unless they kvetch as much as I do.


new haircut!

Chopped off a good six inches of my hair today.  Or rather, Delia of La Jolie Salon & Spa chopped it off.  I think I'm done with my binge-and-purge approach to hair--it'll stay at about this length for a little while.

Nathaniel graciously indulged me when I asked him to take pictures.  Since I'm quite particular, I was still using photos from over three years ago for all my online profiles; one was from back in college, at least five years ago.  It was definitely time for a change.

Also: five years ago?!


random stuff

I've been storing some of these up for a while, but it's high time they get posted. These links run the gamut from artsy videos to a Bayesian inference package. And yes, I intentionally don't say much about each one so you have to click. Maybe you'll discover something new!

leap motion controller
arial photos of tulip fields
beautiful nature GIFs
CONTACT: a LEGO masterwork
Henry VIII: the game
geometric projection art
floating temple
why wives don't out-earn husbands?
longest roadtrip
dynamic target tracking
night stroll
♥ Stan ♥
updated egg box
time is finally finished

It is time.

This is what I get for opting to use the lovely Old Reader as my Google Reader replacement: the developers have decided to make it private, which means I'll be booted off.  Sigh.

I've been wanting to write my own RSS reader for a while, and have snippets of it done, but it''s not the the point where I could use it daily. There are a few things that I'd like:

1) grouping articles/posts about the same story together and being able to mark them all as read at once; sorting these by their anticipated preference.
2) Displaying different quantities of content depending on the time of day, the duration of time since the user last used the site/app last and the quantity and type of posts since their last visit.  For example, when I'm at work, I shouldn't be reading loads of comics, but the most important tech and news posts might be okay.
3) integrating RSS with mailing list emails-- they're about the same level of importance to me, and it'd be nice to check them both at once.

One day I'll have the time for all that, but for now, it might be worth building the most basic reader so that I can play as I get the time.


off by an inch (little moment of compulsion #6)

Today I was doing some small tidying when I did a double-take of one of our bookshelves. We have three of them, you know, all from Ikea. One tall and wide, one tall and narrow, and one short and wide, sitting smartly on top of a dresser of the same color and width. I did my double take of the last one, noticing that it was crookedly situated.  I prowled around it for two minutes, looking at it from various angles, including above in order to see the distance from the wall. Yes, indeed, it was most certainly off by an inch--an inch too far away from the wall on its right side, to be precise.

I felt a mix of confusion, anger, and embarrassment--all mild, it was only a bookshelf, after all--since it had been like this for two years and before I noticed.  Two years!  Gah!  We're hoping to move out of university housing in the next few months (once we find a place we like), but I knew that this would bother me every moment I looked at it.  So, I did what any sensible person would do: I took out all the books (and some miscellany), dusted down the shelves, and pushed the right side in an inch.

Then, before putting everything back, I did a second round of dusting and inspected everything to see if we actually needed it.  I even went through every pen in our jar-o-pens (which lives on that bookshelf) to make sure that they all worked.  The whole process didn't take too long, but I probably should have been doing laundry or vacuuming instead.


taking up tennis

This beautiful photo is Copyright Arvin Rahimzadeh.
Several weeks ago, N came up with the brilliant scheme to have of play tennis regularly.  We went out and bought the cheapest rackets we could, as well as two cans of balls, and started the same afternoon.

In my obsession with planning, I decided we would go every Monday and Friday thereafter, to which the gods decided they would make it rain every Monday and Friday.  We've therefore been playing sporadically, and often on wet courts, if not in the rain.

I'm terrible at tennis, and when I started, I'd guess about 10% of my serves were legal.  This meant I was (and still am) thoroughly trounced any time we played a set.  Two weeks ago, I decided that I would have to complete 50 successful serves before we could play a game.  Fate being what it is, of course, the first time I tried my 50-serve goal, a thunderstorm commenced after I spent a half hour reaching 15 legal serves.  We waited it out, finished my goal with soaked tennis balls, and played two games before going home.  N had to serve both since my arm was sore.  Incidentally, he also won both.

In addition to giving my arm a harder workout, the wet tennis balls forced me to serve overhand, since bouncing them for an underhand serve was rather difficult.  Although everyone seems to be recommending me to do underhand serves to start, I find overhand to be more intuitive, and it's obviously more powerful too.  The only problem is that now that I want to hit everything overhand, which doesn't get as many balls over the net.  One step at a time, I guess.

Since then, I've gotten much better at serving.  I'm good enough now that it's boring for N for me to do my warm up--before he had to both be encouraging (so I would keep going) and run around a lot more when my aim was worse.  As a result, I've reduced it to 25 legal serves before we can play.

Tennis is definitely less of a workout than running or biking, but the game aspect gets me to do it more frequently, so it's hard to say which is better long-term.  I don't like that one arm gets more of a workout that the other, but I'm ambidextrous enough that once I get decent with my right arm, I might play with my left arm occasionally to balance things out.

All-in-all: it's lots of fun, but I've got a long way to go.  Any tips, pointers, or suggestions are welcome.


Happy Monday!

I've taken a bit of a break from the digital world; the cause was part accidental, part intentional, and part circumstantial.

In the meanwhile, N and I took a trip to India and Nepal, I started my summer internship at Microsoft, the garden exploded, N and I dressed up as pioneers and herded teenagers, and many other small and lovely occurrences worked their magic.

There's a slew of half-written posts lined up, so be prepared for the imminent return of regular updates.


morality in a governed society, emotional premises, and same-sex marriage

Government inherently imposes morality on its society.  Laws define what is morally acceptable and unacceptable, and the enforcement of those laws in turn constrains society to the particular aspects of morality manifest in said laws.

A democratic society should theoretically have laws that represent the morality of its population.  Things get a little trickier with representative democracies like the United States.  While the United States has a complicated and nuanced system of government, I think we all agree that its laws should be supported by a large portion, if not the majority of its population.

So, for the sake of simplicity, let's presume that this idea (that a democratic society should have laws that represent the morality of its population) holds for all democracies, direct or representative.  The people vote for laws and policies, or elect individuals to govern, such that the resulting government matches their own values as closely as possible.

To recap: anything relating to the governance of a society is a moral issue.  This includes the definition of rights.  The problem with moral issues is there is no right answer, except through consensus--that's just the way we work.  A philosophy is only as good as its strength in obtaining adherents.

You see, moral issues, while the can be argued logically, are predicated on some premises, which, when you get to the core of things, have an emotional basis.   A good debater can construct an argument to prove anything given the right set of premises.  That same debater can also dismantle any argument if allowed to disregard or redefine the premises.

So what does this all mean?  Let's consider an example: the laws and rights pertaining to marriage, which seems to be such a popular topic these days.  Some people have the emotional premise that marriage should only exists between and man and a woman.  Other people have different emotional premises that lead to the conclusions that marriage should be able to occur between any two willing adults.  There are also folks who think marriage shouldn't exist as a government construct, based on the premise that government should be minimal.  There are many more variations in opinion and other complicated aspects like rights outside of marriage, but I'll leave itemizing all the permutations and complexities to you.

How do we decide what to do as a society in the US? We vote, courts make decisions, laws are passed.  In the case of courts, judges have a set of legal premises in addition to their own options. Again, it's a complicated system, and in the case of same-sex marriage, there are strong opinions in either side.

I believe that same-sex marriage will be legalized eventually, since the primary purpose of modern marriage is individual fulfillment.  (There are more personal premises and opinions related to whether or not that should be the case.) The question is whether it will happen at the state level or the federal level.  In general, I'm more in favor of state level laws, but there are tricky questions regarding recognizing marriage from other states.

What I really wanted to drive home is that when people make arguments that seem totally illogical to you, it's probably because they have a different set of emotional premises.  (Though it's entirely possible that they have faulty logic.)  I've read many articles about how there are no good arguments against gay marriage.  Of course there aren't if you don't share your opponents' premises!  Opposing same-sex marriage is hard in particular because there is no argument: the opinion is the premise.  Proponents, on the other hand, can dig for deeper premises relating to equality, and thus make more compelling arguments.


incorporating computer science into K-12 curriculums

Math, Science, History, English--the four staples of American education.  Sure, maybe there's Art (performance or studio), foreign languages, physical education, health, and electives in there as well.  Sometimes there's the token technology class or the computer science AP you can take as a junior or senior in high school.

But computer science is huge, and deserves more time than it usually gets in classrooms.  I got my bachelors in CS and am working on my PhD in CS, so obviously I think the world revolves around it, because mine actually does.  But that doesn't mean that CS isn't huge, because it is.  There are the big names: Google, Apple, Microsoft. Wanna buy stuff?  Amazon and eBay.  There are the social media guys like Facebook and Twitter.  There are the folks doing websites and apps: Etsy to Instagram.  There are game companies like Blizzard and EA.  There are movie companies like Pixar and Dreamworks. Adobe, IBM, Yahoo.  The list goes on and on and on.

So we should teach our kids more about computer science, because it's crucial to so many industries.  Even if they're a digital artist, they'll still need to know a little about hexadecimal.  So let's teach them!

Recently, I did a demo at an elementary school science fair in which I brought a balance scale and had a dozen containers of various weights.  The task for the kids was to put the containers in order using as few comparisons as possible.  The older kids got it very quickly, and the patient younger kids got it too.  I was teaching quicksort to 2nd graders, and they didn't even know what hit them!

Kids are more than capable of learning basic computing concepts.  Elementary school kids could pick up counting in binary and hexadecimal, symbolic logic and basic satisfiability problems, sorting algorithms, and deterministic finite automaton.  These topics range in difficulty equivalent to mathematic problems they cover in elementary school: counting to pre-algebra.

I've got so many ideas of how to teach this to kids, and I'm not the only one.  High schoolers could do regular expressions, circuits (and, or, not gates), and maybe transistors.  And programming!  Ugh!  Why doesn't everyone learn how to program?  I know that it's not everyone's cup of tea, but neither is math, and I can't tell you how may people I've encountered that say, Oh I really need to learn how to program...

I was showing a middle-school kid from church how to program in Python, and when he left he told his mom, I wish they taught this stuff in school.  Me too, buddy, me too.

So what has to give in order for this to happen?  Not much.  It can be taught alongside math and science in elementary school.  We can overhaul the terrible "technology" classes taught in some schools and offer more serious computer science electives.  It's totally possible, but it needs to happen at the school or district level for real change to happen.  Going up any higher might just result in more crap "computer" classes.

Part of the problem is that second grade teachers usually don't know how to count in binary--that is, that the concepts that would be so easy to teach aren't yet known by the teachers.  That won't change until everyone starts needing to know this stuff, which wont happen until the system is changed.  It's tautological.  Maybe I'll start by contacting my local schools and see if they'd like me to come in for a computer science day or something.  If I do, I'll let you know how it goes.