Thursday, September 7, 2017

Why New England is not all that great in the fall

A local friend of mine with whom I share several personal and professional interests, Inci Kaya, and I recently discussed my blog. She mentioned that she'd like to try her hand at blogging. I am happy to introduce the second in a series of guest articles penned by Inci! 

Why New England is not all that great in the fall


Come the beloved fall foliage season of New England, its agricultural bounty atrophies rapidly, dwindling to 1) apples, 2) pears and 3) root vegetables. And all that cheering for beets you hear, yeah, it's actually crickets.

Just think how much more joyous (!) the task of packing school lunches for kids is about to become - especially if you have a kid or two who routinely return their lunchboxes untouched. What is the one thing that you try to put in those lunchboxes all the time? A piece of fruit, right? Well come fall guess which fruit I have to choose from? This kind of apple or that type of apple or umm the other freaking kind of apple. 

Before Halloween rolls around I've already had it with the various varieties of apples that I can never remember to distinguish - (same with potatoes, by the way). Was it the Cortland that was good? No, maybe Empire... Or the Macintosh - oh wait, those absolutely sucked and should only be used as puréed baby food for some innocent one who doesn't know any different... are those Granny Smiths going to be overly tart? And Why are the Honeycrisp apples so expensive? Should I get organic, or will my kids survive eating the regular kind?

Of course my kids are asking why they can't have mangos and pineapples as part of school lunch instead. Ugh, do I have to go into explaining the carbon footprint those delightful fruits bring with them at the crack of 7:00 am in the morning...? Also, is my name Martha Stewart? Please don't even....

Here's the thing: my bathing suit has barely dried from summer and I'm just nowhere ready for fall. I will complain and deny the fondness New Englanders have for autumn viewing and apple picking until some kind New Englander out there takes mercy on me and points me to a delightful New England bounty I have been missing (roasted carrots and turnips don't count). Please tell me and help put an end to my autumnal complain fest as the leaves turn color (which means my husband will want to go rake, wasting many a precious weekend time better spent doing other things); and as shopkeepers are wringing their hands with the anticipation of the snowy-star-lit-street holiday season. (Halloween is so last July, puhlease). 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to fill a couple of lunch boxes with a child and mom accepted fruit or vegetable that does not come from tropical places, but is also not in the apple or root vegetable family. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Hold your sexist tongue

A local friend of mine with whom I share several personal and professional interests, Inci Kaya, and I recently discussed my blog. She mentioned that she'd like to try her hand at blogging. I am happy to introduce the first in a series of guest articles penned by Inci! Welcome to Inci, and without further ado:

Hold Your Sexist Tongue

by Inci Kaya

During a recent conference call with several colleagues regarding trends in the workplace that allow workers to work remotely, one of the highly knowledgeable, educated males on the call uttered that this technology "could be good for women who are at home with children”. I blinked for a moment with disbelief and surprise and jumped in "or for men...".

My reaction came partially from the fact that I live in a very progressive, almost utopic neighborhood where it is not uncommon to see men carrying babies in those wearable baby carriers; and those men do not feel emasculated. Oh, and partially because it’s 2016.

So, which neighborhood or decade was this guy from exactly?

This co-worker’s (let’s call him Mike) remarks, though inadvertent, were fifty plus years old, and did not belong in today’s workplace. Or did they? Was I just overreacting? I looked up the US Bureau of Labor Statistics site for statistics on women in the workplace; and found ample proof that I was not overreacting:

  • In 50% of households, both parents work outside the home 
  • In 30% of households, women outearn their husbands 
  • In 20% of households, only husbands are employed
  • In married households, %70 of women and 81% of men work (ages 25 to 54 years)
Not convinced? No problem. There’s more where that came from:
87% of men who are married with children under 18 work but when men are separated or divorced or widowed that share drops to 73%.

While the reasons for the 14% gap are not listed in the statistics, as an analyst, and as somebody with common sense, I’d say that the presence of a woman remaining at home is what enables men to go to work.

Let’s stay on the topic of those women for a moment longer: Let’s try outsourcing the tasks that a woman typically does inside the home (for free) to third-party service providers. Between services like Task Rabbit, center-based daycare or a nanny, food delivery services, concierge, cleaning and driving services, the value of that woman doing all these errands would be around $150,000 or so a year (happy to give you the breakdown of that). What a deal men get! I want that deal too.

One more statistic, this time for the single men out there:

The percentage of single men that work full time is under 50%. So, dear men, if you want to improve your chances of full-time employment I suggest that you hold your sexist mouth shut for starters; you just might get lucky and find a woman who will agree to marry you and help boost your chances of full-time employment.

After my study, I realized three things:

  1. I had enough ammunition to put Mike to shame for our next conference call.
  2. I made sure that I wasn’t being an insane crazy bitch, and that I was using my rational mind to present irrefutable facts and a cool and calm manner.
  3. I believed that aware Mike's words were completely unintentional; and that he didn't mean anything bad by it. His slip of the tongue was not uncommon to hear, even from women.

For better or worse, I gradually climbed down off of my soapbox, and put my boxing gloves down. I decided that instead of shaming Mike over a phone line, that I should put the word out to a broader audience. Because I know there are so many well-intentioned Mikes out there, and they – we – all just need to remember to hold our sexist tongues sometimes.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Hour of Code 2016

This week, I had the pleasure of spending 2 days at my daughter's Boston public school, the Philbrick Elementary School. I was helping the school's fantastic science teacher Erin Flynn to teach the Hour of Code for Computer Science Education Week, celebrated on Grace Hopper's birthday.

Erin and Charis

This was my fourth year teaching the Hour of Code, which coincides with the program's existence. Here are my 2014 and 2015 recaps, which detail the drag-and-drop program Skitch. You can view all of the code-based games on the Hour of Code's website. Thanks to my employer RueLaLa for making this opportunity happen with their volunteer days program!

Every year, I am astounded by the students' boundless energy and impressed by the teaching staff who keeps them engaged on a daily basis. This year, we worked on the students' ability to solve difficult problems, and talked about the determination and perseverance required to end up at the correct solution.

Although it's exhausting to teach programming to 170 students in just 2 days, the Hour of Code is a rewarding experience every time and I am so grateful to be a part of it. This year was especially gratifying when my daughter came home after day 1 and we spent 2 hours coding on a Monster High platform from before I finally convinced her it was bedtime. I am so proud of my little coder and all of the wonderful students at the Philbrick. It's really special to be able to have lunch and attend recess with my daughter two days in a row, and a great side benefit to this volunteer experience!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Field Trip to the Boston Nature Center

Last week, I had the pleasure of taking Mr. Berg's 2nd grade Philbrick Elementary School class to the Boston Nature Center (BNC).

Ms. Maciunas and Ms. Brown assisted us on the walk over to the BNC, about a quarter mile from the school. The students did well maintaining a safe, straight line.

Once we arrived, Andrew and Chelsea from the BNC greeted us and went over the day's planned activities, including collecting bugs in the meadow and harvesting the community garden.

We broke into 2 groups and headed toward the garden. On the way, we spotted bees pollenating a flower and passed several beehives.

In the garden, Andrew showed the class how to harvest green zebra sausage tomatoes.

The tomatoes were delicious!

Next Andrew asked the class to identify the parts of the plant.

Then it was time to switch groups. Off to the meadow we went to sweep for insects!

Before long, it was lunchtime, a picnic enjoyed outdoors. Afterward, the children viewed the insects they'd gathered and illustrated and labeled a drawing and wrote about them.

Finally, it was time to work together as a class to build a structure. Although the scene was a bit reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, everyone successfully collaborated to build a huge fort.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Girls Who Code Visit Microsoft NERD Center for Mentoring Event

For the second year in a row, Microsoft is hosting 20 girls this summer at the Microsoft Cambridge campus to teach coding in partnership with the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program. The girls apply for this competitive program and spend 7 weeks learning Python and other programming languages, as well as building their business and networking skills. When I participated in a speed mentoring session at the NERD office on July 11th, I had the chance to speak these 20 remarkable young women. They mostly live in Massachusetts, but some attend Girls Who Code from as far away as Virginia. Over 25 women Microsoft employees participated from both sales, marketing, R&D, data science and machine learning, as well as from our intern program.

We started the event with lunch and informal mingling.

The Microsoft mentors and students shared stories about ... (read more)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Contribute to Women’s Health Outcomes Via New Data Science Competition

Check out the latest competition I just launched at work!

According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report released in 2011, about 820,000 women and men aged 15-24 were newly infected with HIV in developing countries. Over 60% of these were women. Among so many other challenges, developing countries are plagued with serious reproductive health illnesses such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unintended pregnancies, and complications from childbirth. A key priority for policymakers, researchers, and health care providers working in developing nations is to emphasize prevention and distribution of information about STIs and other reproductive tract infections (RTIs). This report on Improving Reproductive Health in Developing Countries from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences contains additional information on the topic.

To achieve the goal of improving women’s reproductive health outcomes in underdeveloped regions, Microsoft has created a competition calling for optimized machine learning solutions to allow a patient to be accurately categorized into different health risk segments and subgroups. Based on the categories that a patient falls in, healthcare providers can offer an appropriate education and training program to patients. Such customized programs have a better chance to help reduce the reproductive health risk of patients.

Read more ...

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Game On! Introducing Cortana Intelligence Competitions

Cross-posting an interesting project I spent this winter and spring working on.

Machine Learning algorithms powered by intelligent applications serve useful functions in our daily lives in ways we may not even be aware of. For instance, predictive analytics allow businesses to retain key customers, help assembly lines and buildings to run more efficiently, and help us find movies that we are likely to find intriguing. The ML field has gained tremendous traction and respect over the last decade, prompting Harvard Business Review to name the Data Scientist the sexiest job of the 21st century.

To encourage new ML applications and foster a vibrant online community, we are thrilled to launch Cortana Intelligence Competitions, a gamification feature of Cortana Intelligence Suite, as well as our first competition Decoding Brain Signals. This platform provides an intuitive and fun environment to hone users’ data science and analytics expertise, and our first competition will allow you to have the chance to contribute to the important field of neuroscience to win prizes and recognition.

Read more ...