What is a Computer Engineer?

November 21 2014

This past week I have been overcome with anger, and it disgusts me. It started with an email from Carola linking to an article on the Daily Dot about the Barbie book.  My immediate response was “no, this is not real. this is a nightmare.”  Then, I purposely forgot about it for about 15 hours, until I decided to read the book to Dave.

“I’m only creating the design ideas … I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!”

Alarm bells were already ringing, but I was still giving her the benefit of the doubt.  I read on.  A virus crashed her computer, and then she proceeded to spread that computer virus onto her sister Skipper’s computer.  Skipper’s response?  A pillow fight!  Admittedly, she gets advice from a female computer science teacher.  But, she ignores said advice when Steven and Brian tell her “It will go faster if Brian and I help” and proceed to do everything for her.  In the end, Barbie takes all of the credit and mistakenly thinks that she has demonstrated what it takes to be a computer engineer.  She has no clue!

After reading that book out loud to Dave, I could not sit still.  I paced around the house.  I was almost in tears. How is this possible?  Moreover, what can I do with all of this emotion that I am feeling?  I decided  to make a petition.  I am not a petition making person.  I am not a person who shows any reaction when watching a movie: I don’t laugh and I rarely have a strong opinion on liking a movie or not liking it (well, other than LOVING Casablanca … but who doesn’t love that movie?)  I am still baffled about why this book could ignite so much emotion in me all of a sudden.

I think the biggest reason is that I feel that my career choice is often misunderstood by many.  I am a postdoctoral researcher.  No one outside of academia really knows what that means.  I try to explain, but I often get the response “oh, so you are a teacher” or “oh, so you are a student.”  Sigh. No.  (I’m working on a blog post to explain that.  Maybe one day that post will be done).  This Barbie book could have really helped me.  If done the right way, this book could have done the explaining of what “computer engineer” (or, in my case computer scientist / mathematician) does all day.  The gender roles were just icing on the cake for me.  For me, this is not just about how Mattel / Random House have published an extremely sexist book, it is also about the fact that they failed to portray what a computer engineer is.

I strongly feel that the record needs to set straight.  Whatever the title: computer engineer / computer scientist / engineer / mathematician … I want everyone to know that if I “work with computers” that does not necessarily mean that “I fix computers.” (I am very grateful for people who do fix computers though!) And, I am very happy to help friends / family trouble shoot their computer problems, but most of the time, I am as helpful as I just know what to Google.  What I do in my daily life is so much more than just use a computer.  And, it’s often hard for me to explain why or how to friends and family.  And, Barbie just made that harder.  I think this is why I am so outraged.

Over the past few days, progress has been made.  Mattel issued an apology:

The Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer book was published in 2010. Since that time we have reworked our Barbie books. The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for. We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girl’s imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.

In my opinion, this is not good enough.  Yes, they apologized, and yes, they will make future books more empowering.  But, why not pull this book from print / sales immediately?  Why have Random House and the author not made official statements?  Most importantly, why is it still on sale?

Both Amazon (US) and Barnes & Noble have pulled the title from their catalog.   There is some discrepancy as to whether it was Amazon / B&N who did this or Mattel / Random House requesting it.  But, it is still on sale at other vendors and this is not ok.  We need this pulled off the market entirely.  I agree 100% with everything said in the National center for Women in Technology (NCWIT)’s open letter to Bryan Stockton (Mattel CEO).  This book needs to be removed from all inventories, and the promise of a revised version of the book needs to be made.  And, until this happens, this petition must continue.

screenshot-barbie

Two days ago, this was the #1 best seller on Amazon in the category of children’s computer & technology books!

Saving Barbie

November 19 2014

Yesterday, Carola sent me a surprising article about a Barbie book.

I was in shock about the book.  That is absolutely ridiculous.  The whole gender issue aside, kids should be inspired to do things themselves and to create things themselves, not to rely on others to fix their messes and then take credit for other’s work.

I don’t usually do this, but today,
I made a petition … Please sign it

Smelly Pants

September 9 2014

Yesterday, I found my yoga pants under my bed in a box.  I was so excited to go to yoga after being away from NOLA for three weeks … so, I used the pants I found, assuming that they were clean.  Then, at yoga, I smelled someone’s stinky feet, and the smell would not go away.  When I was in plough pose, I realized that it wasn’t someone’s smelly feet … it was my pants!  How embarrassing!

The culprit ...

The culprit …

The CV

September 4 2014

I’m officially on the job market.  And so begins the task of cleaning up my job application materials.  

I’ve started with my CV, and wanted to share some of the things that I’ve learned while doing this.  Maybe you don’t agree, but this is what works for me:

  1. The CV is not for me.  Highlighting the things important to me (for example, my undergraduate research in conjunction with an abstract algebra class) is not as important as highlighting the things important to the people reading it.  This means that I had to move my internship with Lockheed Martin up to the first page instead of the last.  Readers expect to see all of the work experience together, so give it to them.  Leaving the ones that I don’t think fit as well into my story (since I was not working on computational topology at LMCO) until the end is confusing to the reader.
  2. Important points should not be lost.  Burying my Goldwater scholarship among being on the deans list, being a member of various honor societies, and receiving other university-based scholarships plays down how big the Goldwater was.  Placement is key.
  3. Categories are vital.  In order to help the reader navigate the paper, categorize.  If a category gets to big (or, as in point 2, becomes too heterogeneous), then divide categories.
  4. Keep items concise.  There is no page limit on the CV, but don’t waste space.  I try to keep each item on one or two lines.  So, when the book reviews I voluntarily wrote were taking 5 lines, this was disproportional to my just-over-one-line single-author journal paper.  So, I figured out a way to have them on 2 lines (namely, by creating a category for book reviews).  Also, white space makes the CV look more organized and easier to read.
  5. You will outgrow certain items in your CV.  At one point, I listed every conference that I had attended.  At the beginning of grad school, this made sense.  Now, my CV is long enough without this list, so I only list the conferences/workshops that are selective: either by invitation only or ones to which I had to apply.
  6. Approach the CV with new eyes.  When I have someone else look at my CV, they often provide useful feedback.  I tell them to give me all feedback that they may have.  I like to listen to all options, and filter out the ones that don’t work for me.  This also goes back to point 1.  If something is confusing to even one of my friends/colleagues who look at my CV, it will be confusing to someone of the review committee.  (I’m welcome to more suggestions as well).

As I said, this is what worked for me.  #1 in my list was the hardest thing for me to deal with.  But, once I realized this, I made a few small changes that had a huge impact on the readability of my CV for someone who is not me.

Huba Huba

August 18 2014

Three and a half years ago, I cleaned out my grandparent’s apartment.  My grandmother, Nanny, had just passed away.  My mom had gone through the important paperwork, but there was still lots to do.  I boxed up many things, hoping to go through them one day.  And, slowly, I am going through everything.  One day, I may even find that banana-shaped spoon my sister keeps asking me for.

Today, I found a piece of history.  I found my grandfather’s list of WWII missions, typed by typewriter.

Mission LIst

Mission LIst

Just one week ago, I went to the WWII museum in New Orleans and spent hours with Debbie learning about Operation Overloard (the invasion of Normandy that started on D-Day).  As I read the document in my hand, I thought that I was looking at an artifact in the museum.

MISSIONS – EUROPEAN – THEATER OF OPERATIONS
FRANCE  JUNE 8 – ETAMPS — Faireasy
FRANCE  JUNE 10 – CAMBRAI – Rough for some of the fellows
FRANCE JUNE 14 – Le BOURGETS (PARIS) Flack Gunners were hot
FRANCE JUNE 17 – LILLE – *Not bad
GERMANY JUNE 17 – HAMBURG – Flack – Plenty of it tough holes in ship
FRANCE JUNE 19 – BORDEAUX – Bad weather turned back – Flack Mild
FRANCE June 20 – WATT – Buzz Bombs Flack Moderate
FRANCE June 22 – ROUEN – Flack moderate to light
FRANCE June 28 – LEON – Flack light
FRANCE JULY 4 – TOURS – Flack light
FRANCE JULY 6 – CROSSVILLE – More flack – Not too close
GERMANY JULT 7 – LEIPZIG – Plenty flack – German must have been mad
holes in wings gas tank
FRANCE JULY 9 – VILLERS DE HOSPITAL – Pretty good
GERMANY JULY 11 – MUNICH – Plenty of flack
GERMAN JULY 16 – Some more flack more holes sweater somemore
GERMAN JULY 18 – PEENEMUNDE – Flack not close long ride
GERMAN JULY 20 – LEIPZIG – Flack holes – rough worried for a while
FRANCE JULY 24 – ST.LO – Helped the ground forces no flack
FRANCE JULY 25 – ST LO – Went again really paster the enemy
GERMANY AUG 4 – ANKLAN – Flack light not bad
GERMAN AUG 5 – NEINBURG – No flack good trip
FRANCE AUG 8 – CAEN – Flack very heavy holes in ship engine hit
BELGIUN AUG 9 – MALMENDY – Flack light not bad
FRANCE AUG 11 – BREST – Flack light short ride not bad
FRANCE AUG 13 – LOUVIER – Flack light but fairly accurate
GERMANY AUG 14 – STUTTGART – Plenty of flack accurate holes in ship
GERMANY AUG 16 – LEIPZIG – Flack heavy rough holes in ship
BELGIUN AUG 17 – NAMURE – Flack accurate not too heavy
BLEGIUN AUG 26 – ANTWERP – Flack accurate not too heavy

My grandfather’s typed notes that read like a weather report, if only the word “flack” were replaced by “rain”.  I suspected that flack = enemy fire, but I looked it up on Wikipedia to be sure:  Flack is anti-aircraft warfare.  That means that every second of every mission, my grandfather and his crew did not know if they would make it to the next second.  War is horrible.

According to the typed notes, they flew 29 missions total. According to the 351st bomb group online records, my grandfather flew 31 missions (search for Edward Ryan or serial number 13099759).  There was a second mission on 20 June and a missing one on 12 June.  I am not sure whose records were more accurate — and both could be flawed.  I remember my grandmother saying “your grandfather flew X missions over Normandy and Germany”.  I just wish that I remembered what number X was.

Then, I remembered a story I was told about the plane my grandfather flew in, the Huba Huba.  I was told that it was shot down in the very next mission after my grandfather’s last mission.  So, I wanted to see if these records could verify that (I don’t remember who told me or when, so seemed like a good fact to check).  When I looked at the records, I realized that my grandfather’s crew flew on multiple DIFFERENT B-17s.  (If you look at the online records again, you’ll see that each missions lists the aircarft number).  The last plane he flew went on two more missions.  The last mission of that aircraft (mission # 199) was gunned down, killing all but two members of the crew (who became prisoners of war).  I was still a bit bothered that it was not “the next” mission AND the fact that I couldn’t verify the aircraft’s nickname.

So, I googled “Hubba Bubba” and found a plethora of links about bubble gum.  After reading two newspaper article that I found a year ago from my grandfather’s WWII reunion weekends, I realized the plane was the “Huba Huba” (sometimes written “Hubba Hubba”) and I came across a newspaper article about the plane that went missing.  

That was aircraft 43-37557.  During it’s fated last mission, mission 185, the plane never returned, presumed to have been shot down.  The previous mission, mission 184, my grandfather and his crew were on that plane.  Although mission 184 wasn’t my grandfather’s last mission, I know that this is the plane he was referring to.  First, the name of the plane matched.  Second, he would have known that the plane did not return to the base in England.  What he did not know was that 8 of the 9 crew members survived and became prisoners of war.

Sleepy Heart

August 14 2014

When living in Austria, sometimes special health screenings would come to the office. One day, they were doing EKG’s, so I decided to get one. The nurse performing the EKG was surprised by my low heart rate (that morning, it was 43 beats per minute).  Since I had just woken up (the exam was conveniently in the same building that I lived in), she suggested my heart was still sleepy.  

That EKG provided me a chance to learn a little more about myself.  In high school, I found out that I had a heart arrhythmia.  I had no clue what that meant, as I never felt it.  As I went through many tests, the doctors had shown me my EKG and explained the physical reason why the abnormality happens, but I didn’t really understand.  In particular, I had never had the chance to examine my own EKG with the aid of the internet.

With this exam in Austria, I was given the EKG printout.  So, I started to compare it against other EKGs that I could find online.  Looking at one beat, I can see what the doctors see (even though I still can’t feel it):

EKG

my EKG

The part highlighted in cyan is called the delta wave.  It’s not present in a normal heart beat.  The big peak should pretty much go straight up and down, but mine has a small slope at the very beginning.

Don’t worry though, doctors say my heart is nice and healthy!  The arrhythmia is just part of what makes me unique.

Washing the Dishes to Wash the Dishes

August 3 2014

I’m reading The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh.  One of the most well-cited lessons he offers in this book is to “wash the dishes to wash the dishes.”  This lesson is in the first chapter, The Essential Discipline.  This is what he says:

There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.

My first reaction was that this is ridiculous.  I can understand how to embrace every moment, but only for certain moments, for example when going on a hike with David.  But, who really wants to wash the dishes?  I especially loathe that task, ask Dave.

Then, I was in the car with my friend Nav.  He had one hand on the wheel and one on the phone, working with the GPS.  He refused to let me handle the directions.  His driving got me car sick, I had to close my eyes multiple times, and we went the wrong way.  Then it clicked.

There are two ways to drive a car.  The first is to drive in order to get somewhere (fast), and the second is to drive the car in order to drive the car.

The meaning of “washing the dishes to wash the dishes” became very clear to me.  In fact, it was a light bulb moment.  Even though Nhat Hanh provided an interpretation, I didn’t really understand it when reading the book.  So, I’ll explain in my own words (which now seem surprisingly similar to what I read a few days ago).

In order to really live in the moment and to be present in every moment, you need to fully experience of each moment (i.e., be mindful) , no matter how mundane the task is: washing dishes, driving a car, … As he said in the book, if you are washing the dishes thinking about the tea you will drink after you are done and thinking about what tomorrow will bring when drinking your tea, then there is no time left to experience the present.

I offer another reason to experience the present: it gets the job done better (and, in the case of driving, is just plain safer).  I’ve seen this when grading Calc III homework.  The difference between the students who do the homework to get it over with and the students who do the homework in order to learn is like night and day.  Sure, those who do it to get it over with have something passable written down, but the fact that they are not fully present when working is very transparent (especially if they are working with someone else and copy the answer down word-for-word, including the name at the top of the paper).

So, I tried to explain my thoughts to Nav.  I’m not really sure how that came across, but I hope he starts to drive the car in order to drive the car (maybe he will if he reads this and sees that I’ve called him out on his bad driving).

Marvelous Mondays

July 29 2014

Living essentially out of a suitcase for the past five years, I never really thought of myself as someone who has a routine.  But, I am.  I like to walk into a coffeeshop where people know my name.  I like to have everything put away in its place at home, including my suitcase.  When there is paperwork to go through that I’ve been avoid for days (weeks, months or years …), I feel unsettled.

For our first anniversary, Dave decided to surprise me by buying me a chair.  I call her my thinking chair:

Thinking Chair

Thinking Chair

The first time I sat on the thinking chair, I told Dave “If I were reincarnated as a chair, this would be me.”  Needless to say, I love this chair.  I knew that I wanted to put it in my office, but it was covered with paperwork: old notes from meetings, Geico statements (I got rid of Geico over 6 months ago), pictures in boxes that need to be hung up.  So, in preparation for the arrival of my reincarnated self, I started organizing, cleaning, and drilling holes into the wall.  Seeing this room without the sorted piles to go through is quite a relief.  (The piles are now on my dining room table, but I am slowly going through them for 30 minutes each morning).  I still don’t quite know how to arrange the furniture in my office, but I’ll work it out sooner or later.

Settled.  The idea of ever being “settled” somewhere seems so far off to me.  I think that is why I like my new chair so much, it helped me to settle just a little bit more.  

When sitting in my thinking chair this evening, I surprise myself and found that I do have patterns in my schedule.  I have a (loose) schedule, at least when I am in New Orleans.

On Mondays, I wake up, do some work around the house (like the pile of paperwork that has now relocated to my dining room table), then head into the office around 10:00.  I usually work on something relating to my research with CMU TopStat until the 2:00 meeting I have with the CMU group.  After the meeting, I continue to work in my office until I head to Mariny for my 7:00 yoga class with Thomas.  Recently (the past few weeks), I’ve been going to Flora gallery and coffeeshop in the late afternoon instead of working in my office.  I love the environment there, and they have interesting fruity drinks (without alcohol of course).  Depending on my level of tiredness after yoga, I occasionally go to the Bacchanal wine to grab (delicious) dinner and to see Helen Gillet play the cello.  So, my Mondays in New Orleans are pretty routine.  On occasion, I even wake up early enough to start my Monday with a 6:30 a.m. cross-fit work out!

At Flora’s, I see the same three people working every week.  The first time I was there, the chef/owner Ali kept coming back and asking the guy behind the counter what he thought of the food he just created.  When Ali didn’t like the responses he was getting, he started asking me.  I said, as probably would be expected, that it needs more salt.  

Today, Ali came out with a spoon and hovered over me for a minute as I was reading.  He startled me a bit, but then he put the spoonful of a delicious eggplant dish in my mouth (which startled me even more).  This time, he didn’t need more salt, so I told him it was perfect.  He seemed pleased.  Then, he invited me (and my husband) the dinner he was hosting that evening.  I told him I would be there.  

Tonight was the last night of Ramadan and he made a huge feast.  Apparently, he’s been doing this all month long too.  There was an eggplant dish (the one I tasted), a rice and butter bean dish, a pizza, a salad, a chicken dish, a beef dish that almost tasted like tender lamb, another rice dish with some kind of crust, and a large selection of small store-bought pastries for dessert.  Someone brought a squash lasagna-like dish that everyone said was delicious (I didn’t dare taste it though).  

The group of people who gathered was diverse, including a musician, a photographer, a bike messenger, myself, …  The one thing that everyone seemed to have in common was that they have traveled.  The bike messenger told about her travels in Costa Rica; the photographer told about her around-the-world tour she took. I really enjoyed the experience of meeting new people, and eating delicious food.  Hours later, I am still stuffed (and that says a lot coming from me)!!

Ramadan Dinner

Ramadan Dinner

Watermelon Gazpacho

July 14 2014

 

Watermelon

The First Ingredient of Watermelon Gazpacho

Tonight, I made gazpacho.  I found the recipe in my Rachael Ray magazine, and–as usual– I made a few small changes to the printed recipe.  At the store, I made a list of the items needed, but forgot to write down the quantities.  I came home with 30 beefsteak tomatoes, but only used five (and I doubled the recipe too!)

Ingredients

Ingredients: Watermelon, Tomato, Cucumber, Serano Pepper, Oil & Vinegar, Salt & Pepper

The recipe is super easy and quick.  And, it is all done in a 5 cup blender!  I doubled the recipe when I made it (did it twice so that it fit in the blender though …)

In the blender, add:

  1. 4 cups cubed watermellon
  2. 2 beefsteak tomatoes, cubed
  3. 1 serano pepper, sliced
  4. 4 tablespoons grapeseed oil
  5. 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  6. freshly ground salt and pepper
  7. 1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced

The main step of the recipe: press blend.  It’s done in seconds.  I let it chill in the fridge as I cleaned up, but it was good at room temperature.  Chilled, it became even better!

Blender

Add it all into the blender …

In a small bowl, I combined 1 cup diced watermelond, 1 peeled and diced cucumber, 1 diced tomato, and a handful of chopped fresh basil.

I poured the mixed from the blender to my bowl, and scooped a large spoonful of the diced veggies.  Topped with sea salt and coarse black pepper.  Delicious!

Watermelon Gazpacho

Watermelon Gazpacho

Always Stay to the Left

June 7 2014

On the bus from Tokyo to Tachikawa (where I am visiting the Institute for Statistical Mathematics), I realized that Japan drives on the left side of the street.  ( I am not sure why I didn’t realize that either time I was on the shuttle between the hotel and the airport).   In fact, this driving rule is a very important thing to remember, even when not in a car:

When walking into a building, stay to the left.  Otherwise, you wind up doing a dance with someone.

On escalators, stand left, walk right.  In fact, the Japanese are much better at following this rule than Americans are of following the stand right / pass left rule.

And, most importantly, when a bicycle is coming straight at you — move to the left … ASAP!  I’ve almost caused several accidents by going the same way as the bicycle.  Luckily, they were better at bicycling then I was at walking, and so all collisions were avoided.


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