The GoPro, the Polaroid Cube, and why there aren't more women in engineering

October 5th, 2014 No Comments »

This is a response to a video my friend posted on Facebook.

Part 1: The GoPro

A coworker of mine once got a citizenship award at work, and along with the award came a prize: a GoPro Hero 3.

Honestly, I was kind of confused by the choice in prize. Granted, we are part of the Chrome Media team, but my understanding of the GoPro was that it's this ugly thing you strap to your head to record your EXTREME SPORTING ACTIVITIES:

Alright then.

Alright then.

"What a weird, ultra-niche camera to select for a general purpose award," I thought.

Turned out, though, I was in the minority – Dale and the other recipients were super excited to receive the GoPro, and my other prize-less teammates thought it was a cool, thoughtful idea from our management.

It did make sense, actually: Most people in Seattle love hiking and climbing and kayaking and skiing and all that stuff, and the GoPro fits in line with that. It's me who's the weird one, I who characterizes my outdoor interests as the extreme opposite of extreme. I like picnics, for example, or taking walks iff equipped with the right shoes.

So anyway, whatever, I concluded. I don't really take many videos, and I definitely have no interest in recording, or even watching, GoPro footage of mountain biking on extreme sidewalks.

So whatever, I concluded. This camera isn't for me. I'm just not into this stuff.

Part 2: The Polaroid Cube

The other day, I got a REALLY WELL-TARGETED AD from Facebook about the Polaroid Cube.

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 11.45.06 AM


I clicked the ad (if you've ever wondered, "Who actually clicks on ads?", it's all me, apparently) and AHHHH!! It's an adorable little real-life camera! It's a video camera thing that you can use to take casual videos with your friends!

What would I record? Oh, Photojojo has suggestions:

Capture the moment in wide-angle as you cover your morning pancakes with whipped cream and sprinkles or bring it to the park to make super-actiony videos of puppies, frisbee enthusiasts and those who are both.

But I didn't need the suggestions. I could put this thing in my purse and take videos with my friends at, like, our favorite tea place! I could keep a video diary on vacations! I could record Day in a Life videos and send them to my mom!

I ordered a Polaroid Cube that morning.

Later that day, I was taking a walk down the beautiful streets of Stockholm (I had the right shoes) and continued imagining.

"If had my Cube, I could record what I'm seeing here on this walk. Though, it'd be nice if I could mount it somewhere so I wouldn't have to hold it up the whole time. If only there was a good place to mount it while on a walk…

"Oh oh, I know!! The bottom of the cube is a really strong magnet. I could get a wide metal headband and attach it to my head. Maybe decorate it so that it looks like a giant bow."

Yes, I bought light-weight, durable action camera… that I plan to attach to my head.

Maybe I am into this kind of stuff.

Part 3: Women in Engineering

Why do I prefer the Polaroid Cube over the GoPro?

No, "prefer" is too weak of a word. To me, the Polaroid Cube elicits sheer joy. "OMG CUTE. OMG THINK OF THE POSSIBILITIES!" For the GoPro, nothing. Flatline. Total void of feeling, absolute 0 interest.

Why the stark difference? That's a complicated question.

Luckily, it's not the interesting point of this story.

I want to emphasize a very important difference:

  • I am interested in strapping a camera to my head and taking videos with it.
  • I remain completely and utterly uninterested in the GoPro.

I myself did not know these two things were true until seeing the Polaroid Cube.
I myself did not realize these two things were different until seeing the Polaroid Cube.

I conflated product, the GoPro, with concept, Action Camera on Head.

I see people making this same mistake all the time with girls and engineering.

We spend way too much time trying to fix the princess "problem." We're selling princesses to girls, spaceships/LEGOs/trains/race cars to boys, and we think "Gosh, of course boys like engineering. We're teaching boys to like spaceships. Let's teach girls to like spaceships to get more women in engineering!"

I want to to emphasize a very important difference:

  • I am a woman interested in engineering.
  • I remain completely and utterly uninterested in spaceships/LEGOs/trains/race cars.

Let's stop trying to force girls to put down their princesses. Let's instead teach girls that engineering is more than cars, space ships and video games.

Let's stop trying to force women to like GoPros, and let's make more Polaroid Cubes.

Part 4: Why Marketing Matters

You have to understand, I never liked physics. I got okay-ish grades in my courses but it was all dull, rote memorization to me.

Physics is important for space ships and cars and figuring out the trajectory of baseballs. Okay.

But on my walk, I started thinking, "Huh, that's a pretty small microphone. In a restaurant with a lot of people, I probably couldn't hear my friend very well on the other side of the table. I wonder how I could solve that."

Enter signal processing. Enter microphone design. Enter all this physics stuff that I swear I thought I had no interest in learning, and suddenly I wish I had paid more attention in class.

It's more than just the realization that I like cameras after all. The Polaroid Cube gives me a vocabulary and context for the physics problems I gave no craps about years ago. Without this context, I don't care at all about how a microphone works. With this context, I'm suddenly very interested. It gives me motivation to learn about this field that I honestly thought just wasn't for me.

Part 5: The Moral of the Story

Science is everywhere. Engineering is everywhere. It is not limited to gadgets and cars and space ships.

We don't have to get boys to play with Barbies or girls to play with train sets to get gender equality in technology.

If you try to tell me there's something in our DNA that makes boys predisposed to trains and girls to dolls, I could buy that. But if you try to tell me there's something in our DNA to make men and not women predisposed to a field as diverse and varied and omnipresent as engineering, I will not have it. Girls LOVE making stuff. This is pure marketing, plain and simple.

Let's give our little girls a vocabulary and context for engineering, since it's everywhere. Hair instead of LEGOs. Making dolls and dollhouses instead of trains and space ships.

When we make awesome technology for a diverse population, when we recognize and foster engineering skills in ways that appeal to a diverse population, diversity in the technology field will follow.


What Didn't Work

The GoPro website does feature pictures of women using the GoPro:

I do not believe this affects my feelings on the product.

Also, notice the Polaroid Cube is not just a pink GoPro:

Not gonna lie, this does appeal to me more than the grey. But still not enough to significantly sway my feelings on it.

The #1 Source of Untapped Engineers:

Tell me these are not feats of engineering:

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 2.04.35 PM

How is this different from LEGOs? You take a basic building block — strands of hair — group them and arrange them in creative ways, keeping in mind structural integrity, to create your vision. Then you take it all apart the next day and start over again.

Btw, as a woman who cannot do hair at all, these women are magicians. WELL DONE, LADIES!!

Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

April 29th, 2014 No Comments »

So, confession: I’m one of those people who for years claimed that Salinger was one of my favorite authors, even though I had only read Catcher in the Rye. Yeah, I know. But seriously, Catcher in the Rye was great! I figured at some point, I would validate my favoritism by reading the rest of his work, and with last year’s release of the Salinger documentary, I felt it was time.

There’s obvious risk in backfilling the justification for a supposed favorite thing of yours, years after your initial claim. What if it sucks? What if it turns out that I hate it? Then I’d have to admit to everyone that I’ve been living a lie!

With that shame cloud looming over me, I embarked on the rest of Salinger, hopeful and a bit nervous.

I started with Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. Raise High was … it was good, pretty, sweet. Seymour was okay, nothing mind-blowing.

Next I read Franny and Zooey, and… it was good, but I was starting to get a bit worried. I mean these books were all good, quite good, and all were sometimes very pretty, but I wasn’t excited about them in the way that I was expecting-slash-hoping to be.

Then I read Nine Stories, and I let out a sigh of relief. So let’s get started!

A Perfect Day for Bananafish
Yes, this story! This is the story that reminded me why I hailed Salinger a genius and a legend after reading only a fraction of his works.

(As always, only spoilers lie ahead. Actually, the internet says that this story is pretty readily available online. It’s short, so why not read?)
Read the rest of this entry »

"Thrifting" vs Shopping at Goodwill

January 30th, 2014 No Comments »

People who hate rap love to praise Macklemore. Oh, not because of his music, but because of his messages, they say. "I don't like rap, but I really like the messages Macklemore stands for." "Rap is always about money and 'bitches and hoes', but Macklemore raps about real issues, like social issues, and consumerism, and homophobia, and drug use…"

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu no. No, he doesn't.

Macklemore has exactly one message, and it’s "I'm a white middle class male, and I'm going to impose my moral superiority on everyone else!"

My rant tonight is about Thrift Shop. Man, I hate this song. I actually think it's catchy, at least it was before it was overplayed all to hell, but my God, I hate this song's stupid message.

In Thrift Shop, Macklemore is explaining how "f*cking awesome" thrift shops are. He’s proud of hanging out at Goodwill with the moms and grandmas because he loves saving money and getting unique baller outfits for dirt cheap.

Yeah, okay. The only reason Macklemore enjoys shopping at Goodwill is because he’s never had to shop at Goodwill.

First of all, the Seattle Goodwills that Macklemore is shopping at are different from poor people Goodwills. In Seattle Goodwills, if you make a donation, they give you a tax receipt. Poor people Goodwills, you make a donation and you get a coupon for 10% off your next Goodwill purchase. Seattle Goodwills are essentially hip vintage stores, and hipsters like to go "thrifting" there to pick up unique finds. Poor people Goodwills are aisles and aisles of bad jeans and Hanes beefy T’s with design-it-yourself screenprints on them.

Macklemore loves shopping at Goodwill because he can concoct his ~craazy outfits~ on the cheap! Gator shoes and leopard mink! So hip!

Lolz. When you have to shop at Goodwill, you're desperately trying to find things that look normal. The last thing you want is for people to think you bought some weird crap secondhand.

It's fun and exciting to shop at Goodwill if all you're looking for is a hilarious coat or a stupid hat, but imagine trying to get whole family's wardrobe there. Your t-shirts and jeans and all your sweaters.

I mean, jeans from Goodwill. If you've never had to shop for jeans at Goodwill, I mean had to shop for jeans there, let me take a moment to break this down for you. The whole world agrees that jean shopping in general is the worst, especially shopping for women's jeans. Hard to find a pair that's comfortable, flattering, the right wash, the right fit, etc. Jean shopping sucks even when you’re at a normal store where there’s a wall of jeans in the exact same style in a rainbow of sizes from 0 to 16. Even when you can go to multiple normal stores, each with stacks and stacks of jeans, all of which conform beautifully to the season’s trends. Even in these ideal environments, it's hard to find a good pair of jeans.

So, lololol Goodwill jean shopping. When you’re shopping at Goodwill for jeans, it goes like this: You take the entire section of jeans that are in the realm of your size — so like, 3 to 12 — and try all of them on. If it buttons and zips, and doesn't seem to cut off your circulation or fall off of you, and doesn't have like, weird, only-find-this-at-Goodwill crap on it, purchase! Btw, in a given shopping trip, approximately 0 jeans will meet this bar, so expect to go thrift shopping every week.

No, Macklemore, thrift stores suck. Rich people clothes stores are glorious. Beautiful new clothing in beautiful fabrics, all seasonally appropriate and some degree of trendy. Pristine stitching and textures. Fully stocked and organized so I can buy 10 new things in half an hour, versus spending every Saturday every week combing the Goodwill racks, with the hope that maaaybe something in my size will be the same color as those jeans the girls at school are wearing.

It’s so easy to disdain others' obsession with expensive clothes when you can afford it. "Fifty dollars for a t-shirt, that’s just some ignorant bitch shit."

I love that Macklemore is calling something "ignorant bitch shit" in his song where every other line is dripping with hypocrisy and privilege. Macklemore is smugly wondering why more people don’t shop at thrift shops, then the only things he buys there are gag items. Buying Gucci is "being tricked by a business" but he lists the Air Jordan 3’s as "one of my top five Jordans."

Then when people credit Macklemore with starting a conversation on materialism and hip-hop, UGH. ARE YOU KIDDING ME.

Let’s go back 10 years ago. 10 years ago (!), Kanye West dropped All Falls Down, remember that song? All Falls Down is addressing exactly this same topic, the obsession with brands and expensive clothes, but with far more depth and sensitivity than Thrift Shop. Whereas Macklemore condemns people for being obsessed with brands, Kanye condemns materialism while being understanding of why there is an obsession with materialism, an obsession that he admits he shares. "We shine because they hate us, floss cuz they degrade us, we're trying to buy back our 40 acres."

But I mean, as Macklemore says, clearly the only reason someone would want brand name shirt is because they’re "trying to get girls from a brand." Right? Not for pride, not for a glimpse of a better life, but to impress the opposite sex!

Yeaaaaaah. So, tell me again which rapper is talking about real issues, and which one is talking about the "typical" bitches and hoes stuff?

git svn checksum mismatch

December 17th, 2010 2 Comments »

When I update suuuuuper old Chromium repositories, I occasionally get that stupid Checksum mismatch from svn. It happens often enough that it's a thing, but uncommonly enough that I forget how to fix it each time. So, FOR PROSPERITY:

Checksum mismatch: trunk/src/chrome/test/functional/ 5d1082dfc3e6363ece792d7cd49fde0a7ce9c6df
expected: e88e3ea6349cb44955d58e6a3964824f
got: af58cced63097504e4bfb6574c252f4a

Then proooobably what happens was downloaded wonky or something such that the hash no longer came to be the correct thing. So solution:

See what was the revision number of the last change on the file:
git svn log chrome/test/functional/

Reset svn to be closest parent before that revision:
git svn reset -r62248 -p

Do a git svn fetch!

Dance at your success.

I need a hero

September 21st, 2009 No Comments »