It’s chess *for girls*!

Sometime in the late 80’s, I saw a “Chess … For Girls!” game. It was exactly like every other chess set in the world, except it was pink and sparkly. I remember wondering how exactly that product development meeting went down. “Well, we don’t want too many people to want our product … so how can we alienate a good chunk of customers?”. No boy is going to want “Chess … For Girls!” even if they’d like a sparkly pink chess set. Some subset of parents will refuse to purchase it because it’s offensive targeting. It isn’t like derivatives of traditional chess are unique – they could have done anything with the marketing. Sets featuring Stan Lee’s superheros aren’t marketed as “Chess … For Boys!”. They could have just called it Chess. They could have made a few different versions featuring glow in the dark pieces, sparkles, and furry animals. But, no … they first imply that other chess sets aren’t for girls. And that the way you can identify a product as being “for girls” is to look for pink sparkles.

I thought we’d moved on from such marketing fails – hell, SNL made a spoof commercial with the exact premise. But today we saw https://jewelbots.com/ … so you can “code like a girl”. Umm, hi! I code just like most other programmers – with a keyboard and using a syntax appropriate for the language of choice. Like girl chess or that Google engineer’s terribly presented suggestion for diversity programs, the sexism isn’t even needed. The product is billed as 21st century friendship bracelets. Bands with what I assume are little Arduino computers in a round plastic thing that makes the whole unit look a little bit like a watch. The plastic housing has a flower design on it. Make an array of inter-changeable band options, a bunch of different plastic cases … and just call them 21st century friendship bracelets. You assign colours to registered friends, and the bracelet glows that colour when your friend is nearby. Use Bluetooth to send secret messages to friends. It’s a cool product  for either gender. And, hey parents … your kids are learning valuable programming skills too.

“Defending Statues”

Something to remember amid the resurgence of Klan and NeoNazi rallies — Robert E Lee, patron saint of the white Southern male “lost cause” literally said he did not support a monument to ‘Stonewall’ Jackson but valued unifying the country and healing the wounds of the war.

 

http://leefamilyarchive.org/papers/letters/transcripts-UVA/v076.html
Sender: Robert E. Lee
Recipient: Thoms L. Rosser

Lexington VA 13 Dec – r 1866
My dear Genl
I have considered the questions in your letter of the 8th Inst: & am unable to advise as to the efficacy of the scheme proposed for the accomplishment of the object in view. That can be better determined by those more conversant with similar plans than I am.
As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated; my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the Country, would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; & of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour. All I think that can now be done, is to aid our noble & generous women in their efforts to protect the graves & mark the last resting places of those who have fallen, & wait for better times.
I am very glad to hear of your comfortable establishment in Baltimore & that Mrs. Rosser is with you. Please present to her my warm regards. It would give me great pleasure to meet you both anywhere, & especially at times of leisure in the mountains of Virginia; but such times look too distant for me to contemplate, much less for me now to make arrangements for –

It’s different when it’s your own …

U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips, in a motion to compel an ISP to turn over 1.3 million IP addresses that visited a Resistance web site:

“That website was used in the development, planning, advertisement and organization of a violent riot that occurred in Washington, D.C. on January 20, 2017”

Charlottesville is under a different district, thus different people involved. But anyone think the DoJ is pressuring a bunch of alt-right, Klan, and neo-Nazi sites to turn over their visitor IPs, registered user information, draft blog posts, and so on?

Peppermint Swirl Dress

I started cutting the peppermint swirl dress. I cannot wait until fabric can be 3D printed (yes, I’ve seen Electroloom … but they went under, so don’t really count. I totally would have purchased one and started a custom fabric business. In the solid color realm, you could do some amazing pre-cut kits. Or white and hand dyed the printouts). This dress would be so much easier to make if you didn’t have to cut twenty eight little swirl strips 🙂

Wow does this use a LOT of fabric! Especially if you don’t think about it for a second first and cut the fabric folded wrong sides together. *Not* symmetrical. D’oh! So now I have to order another yard of the cream fabric. I’ll get the rest of the cream cut, all of the blue cut, and start assembling the dress. It’ll be 75% done before I actually need that last cream strip. I’m curious to write an algorithm to place the pieces on a length of fabric. It seems like the S-shaped combination of the two strip pieces could be nested to decrease the length of fabric required to get seven sets. Haven’t yet, so I’m getting two sets from a 44″ wide piece of fabric — cut the fabric in half and laid them together with both right sides up. Important, that.

 

On many sides

Spartacus, Gaspar Yanga, Ali bin Muhammad – unruly insurrectionists the lot of them. And don’t get me started on those bigots in Syria who hate Bashar just because he wants to murder civilians en mass. Is decrying violence against violent oppressors the pinnacle of moral relativism? Can Trump find new levels of depravity? Tune in next week for the exciting continuation of … oh, bugger, real life?

I told my mom a few days ago that an author — not a no-name author who had never been published, I mean one of those people who could get a chicken to peck at a typewriter and sell the novel famous author types — who wrote the past year as fiction would have been laughed out of the publisher’s office a decade ago. Somehow, Trump seems determined to outdo all of his previous antics anew each week. Which I blame on his reality TV fame — you’ve got to do something more outlandish each week or you’ll lose viewers!

The whole making America great again slogan always struck me as uber white male. Because, really, “again” implies that there was some greatness in the past to which we are returning. Is that back when women couldn’t vote? When your skin color determined if you were allowed to sit on the bus? Or, hell, if you were a person or possession.  Couldn’t imagine a Republican candidate calling back to the Clinton years, so unless he meant the halcyon days of 1985, that slogan is treading well into “make America great for white dudes” territory. And if you’re talking about the mid 80’s … with out of control interest rates and fairly overt racism, you’re in “great for rich white dudes” territory. Then again, Making America Great for Neo-Nazi’s Again or Making America Great for the Klan Again doesn’t have a catchy abbreviation you can slap on hats and t-shirts to make a buck.

But this new low is down in the Marianas Trench and still digging. A bunch of bigots are holding a rally out in Virginia, and there are counter protesters. Bigot runs a car into the counter protesters. What’s the president say? “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. On many sides.”

Unless “many sides” means the Klan guys, the Neo Nazis, and the White Pride folks, the denotative sentiment doesn’t help the current situation. But words have connotative meanings as well — the emotions invoked by the words, the history associated with the words, the word in conjunction with other words being used, even the educational level and class associated with the words.

I won’t disagree with the violence on many sides — don’t know if it is true in this case, but my experience with counter-protests at Klan rallies in the 80’s is that, yeah, there’s violence on both sides.

Is it OK to hate racists and neo-nazis? I know there’s the whole judge not lest ye be judged idea, but civil is about the best I can do. But in conjunction with bigotry … to me, ‘hatred’ implies irrational hatred based on bigotry. Deciding a single facet of an individual’s personality can be so heinous that there is literally nothing else they could be/do/think which would make you say “yeah, he’s a racist pig … but he is XYZ too so it’s all OK” is your prerogative.

To the literal definition, that’s bigotry: intolerance toward an individual because their beliefs differ from yours. But by the strict definition, a lot of people are bigots when considering serial killers. Just because you think randomly murdering dozens of people is bad and wrong … the emotional definition of bigotry isn’t just hating someone because they have different beliefs but also that their beliefs are perfectly reasonable and don’t hurt anyone.

Messaging fail.

Corporate Tax Rate Bullshit

The most nonsensical bit about the trickle down sales pitch is that few trot out GE as an example of a company being helped by corporate tax cuts. These cuts are going to help all sorts of small businesses, farms, etc. The corporate tax rate is not a flat 35% unless your business makes over 18,333,333$! On the low end, the rate is 15% of taxable income <=50,000$. 50k may not seem like a lot of money for a business, but small/medium c-corp entities don’t pay taxes on their receipts. They pay tax on their *profits*.

This is the problem I had with not-a-Joe the not-a-plumber’s question to Obama years ago. Buy a plumbing company that runs two million dollars in receipts a year. You’ve got 20 people working for 50k a year and that’s a mil deducted right there. Petrol for your trucks, vehicle maintenance, office supplies, advertising. Bring an accountant on staff (their salary is deductible too) and you can get into the whole amortization/depreciation adventure when you expand your building or buy new vehicles. You’re not paying taxes on two million dollars @ 35 (or whatever) %. You’re paying whatever personal income rate on the money you pay yourself and the business is probably paying about 20k on 100k in profits. 20k is a lot of money too, but it’s 20% of the 100k in profits. And if you want to pay less in corporate taxes, you know an easy way to do that that also benefits your company? Hire another dude, invest in some energy efficient building enhancements … turn that profit into deductible expenses.

Women In STEM

Some Google engineer failed to heed the parable of Harvard President Larry Summers – suggest in any way that women and men are different, and there will be an uproar. What’s ironic is that the main jist of the guy’s monologue (available online) is that not discussing differences between men and women because doing so is insensitive yields diversity programs that are ill suited for their goal. And that companies make business decisions on how close to a 50/50 split they want to get. (If having parity in gender representation was the highest priority in hiring decisions, then a company would only interview female candidates until parity was reached.). And the general reaction online has essentially proved the guy’s point. A reasonable argument would have been challenging the research he cited. Doing so is a fairly easy task. Baron-Cohen, for instance, couldn’t even reproduce his own results. In other cases, the Google engineer conflates correlation and causation. Men don’t take paternity leave because of retribution — my husband was terminated after taking this two weeks of vacation after our daughter’s birth. That’s not even asking for paternity leave — that’s attempting to use vacation time as paternity leave. I experienced more stress as a woman entering an IT support department not because I have a female brain but because my capabilities were questioned (you’re going to fix my computer!?) and some coworkers felt entitled to make sexual advances towards me (I doubt any new male employee was asked to provide his measurements and describe his genitalia to provide a picture to accompany his coworker’s pleasuring himself to the individual’s voice on conference calls).

The mistakes people make, both in the case of Summers and this engineer, is mistaking population-wide averages for attributes of an individual and conflating ‘different’ for ‘inferior’. The engineer wasn’t wrong in one way – it is difficult to discuss gender norms and studies. Trying to divorce emotion from discussion of gender-specific behaviours and preferences isn’t a battle worth fighting. There have been too many badly formed studies designed to prove the superiority of some majority group for any new study to be approached seriously. But he could have made the same suggestions without the contentious topic of gender norms and diversity programs.

Gender aside, different people think differently and have different preferences. I don’t believe this is a contentious declaration. I have artistic friends, I have detail oriented friends, I have creative friends who are not artistic. I know people who love cats and people who love jumping out of perfectly functional aircraft. Introverts and extroverts.

Historically, computer software was not used by people. Programmers hired back in the 60’s and 70’s were not brought in as user experience designers. Text interfaces with obscure abbreviations and command line switches were perfectly acceptable code. They progressed in the field, moved up, and then hired more people like themselves. As computers were adopted, both in business and personally, computer software was slow to adopt ‘usability’ as a goal. Consider the old blue screen word processor. When I left University in 1996, I went to a temp agency in the hope of getting a paycheque that week. They had a computer competency test — figured I would ace it, I’d been running student IT support at the Uni for about eighteen months. I installed Windows 95, IRIX, and AIX and was fairly proficient using any of them. I served as a TA for intro to word processing an excel classes – knew Office 95 better than most of the instructors by year end. Then the temp agency sat me down in front of a computer with an ugly blue screen. What the hell?? I later discovered this old word processing package was common throughout businesses (Universities get grants and buy the latest cool ‘stuff’. Businesses reluctantly forked over a couple hundred grand ten years ago and are going to use that stuff until it decomposes into its component molecules.). People start out with a strip of paper over their function keys so they have a clue how to do anything beyond type on the ugly blue screen. Of course the temp agency was looking for competent computer users so didn’t have the quick ref strip. I couldn’t even start the test (open the file whatever.xtn).

Look at sendmail’s cf configuration file, or search for vim quick ref guides. Even git – sure there are GUI integrations, but the base of git is cryptic command line stuff that you commit to memory. This is not software developed by people who are people focused. Initially with the personal computer in the 80’s, usability was not a concern – “computer users” were in some way skilled and learned to work around the software. With public adoption of the Internet in the 90’s, and dramatically accelerating in the 2000’s and 2010’s — people began to use software. In mass. And new users demanded ‘easy’ to use, intuitive software. User experience engineering became a thing. Software was released to ‘regular’ users to obtain usability feedback.

But the developers behind the software are still, predominantly, the same personality types who developed code for ENIAC. This dichotomy creates an opportunity for the company’s recruitment and hiring teams to give our software an edge. As a company writing software that will be used by people, we think developers who lean toward people on the Things — People dimension, or who score as Social or Artistic on Holland’s personality types, etc provide value to the company. Since we have a lot of things / realistic or investigative types here already, we want our recruiting and hiring practices to create a balance with the other personality types. And we should look at ways to change our processes and make engineering work better align with the interests of people who are more people / cooperative and social or artistic.

Even if the argument was considered flawed, I don’t believe it would receive the widespread distribution and uproar the “it’s all about gender” version encountered. Someone could say “we’d rather make our current staff better at UX” or “we don’t think we need to change our practices to appeal to these other personality types”. Whatever. Even if he still offended his coworkers (I can too do artistic stuff!) or still managed to come off as entitled and whiny, I doubt the guy would have been fired.

Fish And Chips

We had watched one of Gordon Ramsey’s cooking challenge shows where contestants made fish and chips using his technique/recipe. Aside: If you grow fresh English peas, you don’t need to add butter to your mushy peas. If you are adding butter, get a new variety of peas!

When we made the grocery list yesterday, Anya volunteered us to make fish and chips too. Interesting idea, it didn’t seem too difficult watching him do it 🙂 So we picked up some cod, potatoes, and yams (I love yam chips, especially dusted with a little cinnamon … doesn’t go well with fish, but if I’m boiling a big pot of oil, figured I’d make some of these too).

Ingredients, per Ramsey’s web site:

  • 4 175g thick cod fillets
  • 120g plain flour
  • 100g rice flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 130ml soda water
  • 170ml lager
  • Salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • vegetable oil for deep fryer

Dredge the fish in flour, then coat in the batter and fry at about 350 degrees F. I was worried that they wouldn’t be crispy and puffy like they are meant to be, but WOW. The batter was super puffy. Spewed oil all over the place too.

We made the fries using a method from Cooks Illustrated that starts with cold oil. I used carola potatoes. Wash potatoes, dry them, and cut them into batons (nice if they are close to the same size. I got some smaller super crunchy ones, medium sized ones cooked perfectly, and larger ones that didn’t crisp as much). Place in a dutch oven & fill with oil to just cover. Turn burner on high and bring to a boil (~5 mins) and then leave ’em alone for fifteen or twenty minutes to cook. When they start to get browned, scrape anything stuck to the bottom of the pan. When they reach the desired color, net them out with a slotted spoon or scoop. Salt immediately and eat.

fish and chips

Cannoli Recipe

We watched people making cannoli on MasterChef tonight, and Anya wants to make some now. I am trying to sort a good recipe.

Shells:

  • 7 oz all-purpose flour
  • 1 oz cocoa powder
  • 1 oz sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ oz butter
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon Marsala wine

Mix together the flour, cocoa powder, melted butter and eggs in a bowl. Then add the Marsala. The dough will start out quite sticky. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth, about 15 minutes. Form into a flattened disk and wrap in plastic wrap.  and let it rest for half an hour.

Roll out the cannoli dough to about the thickness of a penny. Cut it into circles with diameter of about 2.5″ for smaller ~1/2″ diameter forms, 3.5″ diameter circles for larger ~7/8″ diameter forms. Wrap the circles around the metal tubes to shape the cannoli and seal with a little dab of egg white. Heat a pot of oil to 375 degrees F. Fry the dough, still wrapped around the tubes, for about one minute. Use a skewer to remove the form from the hot oil. Let the cannoli cool on paper towels. Once cool, slide out the metal tubes. Fill shells immediately before serving – pipe filling into center and top with chopped pistachios, hazelnuts, or chocolate.

Honey Ricotta Filling:

  • 15 ounce whole milk ricotta, drained and squeezed dry
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream, whipped to stiff peaks

Whip the heavy cream in the bowl of a stand mixer to stiff peaks and then set aside in the refrigerator.

Combine the ricotta cheese, honey, powdered sugar, and the scraped seeds of the vanilla bean.  Fold in the whipped cream. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Chocolate Mascarpone Filling:

  • 3/4 cup whole milk ricotta, drained and squeezed dry
  • 3/4 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips, plus more for decoration

Beat ricotta, mascarpone, confectioners sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt together until smooth. Fold in mini chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Corn Bread

Finally stashing my cornbread recipe somewhere because I can never find it. Scott wanted to make corn dogs this week – which is essentially coating sausage / veggie sausage and then dropping it in hot oil.

Ingredients:

· 1 cup all-purpose flour
· 1 cup cornmeal
· 2-3 tablespoons honey
· 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
· 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
· 1/2 teaspoon salt
· 1 egg, lightly beaten
· 1 cup sour cream
· 1/3 cup milk
· 1/4 cup butter, melted

Method:

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Combine the egg, sour cream, milk and butter; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened.

2. Pour into a greased 8-in. square baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Serve warm.