642 Things: A Houseplant Is Dying

A Houseplant is dying.
Tell it why it needs to live.

Dear Sonny the Plant,

When I brought you home in your lovingly decorated rose bowl terrarium, you were accompanied by Cher. Cher was a beautiful succulent with long flowing tendrils and you were her more shaggy-looking companion with long sideburns. Unfortunately, Cher lost the will to continue and was removed from the terrarium.

We'll always remember Cher the Plant, and it is in these memories that Cher continues to live. This is why you must continue to live. It is through your vibrancy that we will honor Cher. From whatever big white soil terrarium in the sky that Cher resides in now, I know she'd be proud of all that you've become.

Love,
Your Black-Thumbed Owner

P.S. = I promise not to drown you in the love of my spray bottle as I grieve for Cher.

The Real Issue with Hillary's Email

I don't usually write about politics but The Washington Post recently published an article about how Hillary Clinton reached out to Colin Powell to understand what he did to have access to email remotely. There's a scanned print-out of exactly what they discussed over email which I found fascinating!

When I read the exchange between Powell and Clinton, I could instantly relate. It seems that working at the State Department is a lot like working in financial services. And, quite honestly, it wasn't until I worked at a bank that I realized just how oppressive IT policy could be. Email on your personal phone is a relatively new concept at my current employer in the financial industry and even then, it is significantly locked down via a special app that doesn't let you navigate to links or download files to your phone.

In my opinion, the real root of the problem here is the risk-averse IT policies in place that often impede folks from getting shit done. I'm sure Hillary Clinton has no intention of inappropriately circulating classified material. However, is she trying to creatively work around a road block to efficiency? Probably. And this is why I have a feeling the FBI, who no doubt face similar organizational challenges in getting work done, did not push for prosecution.

For those still giving me the side eye on this, let me share an example with you. I work at a company that won't allow you to install any software on a machine unless it has been approved. There is no list of approved software hanging around so figuring out if I can install first requires a trip to the tech service desk. There, they tell me that the software I need to do my job is definitely not on their list — but if I can make a business case for it, I can email someone and they might approve it as an exception.

I email said person and get no response for a while. I follow up and then eventually get shuffled around amongst various folks being added to this email chain who have no idea what this software is. Eventually, I get a solid "no" because I think they are tired of dealing with me.

The software I was trying to install is called Balsamiq Mockups and is used a lot for rapid prototyping of user experiences; it costs all of $89 and even then, I was planning on using my personal license rather than go through the separate "getting funding" exercise once I had permission to install. Even with that, it was still definitely "no."

Then, one day, I was granted administrator access to install some other approved software. With a full 7 days of admin access, you better believe I installed all the non-approved software that I knew I needed to be efficient at my job! And every time I'm able to use that software in my day-to-day, I feel pretty damn good about my decision.

When it comes to IT policy in some industries (like government), the governance in place lags woefully behind what we are used to in other industries. Often you do have to take a detour and work around processes because attempting to go through them would be akin to trying to smash through a brick wall with your skull. Painful. Difficult. Unproductive. A waste of valuable time.

So, whatever your politics, to paraphrase Bernie Sanders, let's just lay off talking about the damn email already.

642 Things: What can Happen in a Second

What Happens in a Second

As I bring my hand towards my face, I can feel the cold black plastic against my skin. It's refreshing but warm and familiar. I close one eye and stare.

It's dim now as I stare, but that's part of the familiar appeal. I grip tighter as I focus my gaze. Through the glass, my world is very different. I move my body ever so slightly to accommodate the unforgiving fixed glass.

My hand is tightened but my forefinger remains calm and ready. Beams of sunshine meet my eye. I move my finger down and apply pressure until the world around me goes black. When I release, all the colors return yet the slate is wiped clean.

And then, in another second, I take my next photograph.

642 Things to Write About

If you hang out on this blog long enough, you'll see that I write about a bunch of different topics.

I really enjoy writing about technology from a woman's perspective as so much of technology coverage doesn't really speak to how products are (or in some cases are not!) designed with women in mind. To this end, I also enjoy writing about customer experiences in general. For me, user experiences are all around us waiting to be examined (i.e. Functional design).

However, I've also enjoyed writing creatively. I say this in the past tense because it's been a while since I've finished writing something creative. And, while I enjoy writing about the real world and what's going on in it, I'd love to get back to creative writing.

And… I think the universe is trying to tell me something.

For my birthday, I received a book called "642 Things to Write About." It wasn't something I'd heard about and it wasn't like I had this in my Amazon wish list. But it came at just the right time. That's what I mean by "the universe" — this book came to me by no action of my own exactly when it should.

So, I'll be taking on the 642 writing prompts in the book, one blog post at a time. I'll still blog about the stuff I always do, but the creative writing will take precedence here. I'll tag each post as "642 things" and "creative writing" so you can find them by tag if you are so inclined.

Hope you enjoy!

My Summer Fling

This summer I decided to have a fling — with long fingernails. It all started innocently enough, but I'll take it from the top.

My nails were so hot (pun intended).

My nails were so hot (pun intended).

Earlier this year, my nails were particularly brittle and I personally was feeling a bit run down. A couple of health professionals I saw recommended taking vitamins, which I started doing (of course, only the gummy kind would suffice). Being that I am interested in becoming pregnant in the next 5 years, they said it would be good to get into the habit of taking them.

Many women who take vitamins regularly report shiny hair and strong nails. I didn't have either. After chopping off my hair (I was due but my hair stylist decided to take off a little bit more than normal!), I did some research about my nails and came across a woman who recommended Read the rest of this entry »

Whatever happened to digital photo albums?

Anthony and I were in Montreal over the weekend. We had a blast and, unsurprisingly, spent a lot of time eating. During one of those moments, we happened to be in the Old Montreal area at a restaurant called Le Robin Square enjoying a leisurely lunch. We had VERY leisurely lunches. While the service at all the restaurants we visited was great, we noticed there's a bit of a slower pace of life in Montreal — especially when it comes to dining — that is pretty much unheard of in New York. Not a bad thing but just different!

This poutine did not stand a chance!

This poutine did not stand a chance!

While we were there for lunch, we happened to notice the restaurant had a TV screen with some digital ambiance playing on it. This consisted of a stock video of a vineyard and you could see the leaves gently swaying in the wind. This got me thinking about the idea of the "digital picture frame."

Remember when that was a thing?

For a hot second, it was something that everyone thought they needed…and then they didn't. The Wall Street Journal wrote about this last year but I think there's more to it than what they surmised as far as why they never went anywhere. At the time these products came out, they were severely underpowered. Also, perhaps the larger problem, at the time these really became big, there were very few cloud storage solutions for photo that were widespread. Today, everyone's stuff is stored in the cloud so, as long as the picture frame can connect to wifi, in theory, you can access your photos with very limited friction.

That said, given this new climate, you'd think these things would be more popular! Unfortunately, that's still not the case but I'd have to imagine that major players who have invested in the home-automation sector (like Google, Apple and maybe Amazon?) could have a major opportunity in looking into how to make this work. Given that Google, Apple and Amazon are storing a lot of photos, it would make sense for them to turn those banks of images into something that could make them money.

And, speaking of making money, I think Apple is uniquely suited to make this work given they have a great knack for making us fall in love with consumer products that we didn't know we needed. I can't live without my iPhone today but at one point in time it was something I held off on buying. The same is true of the iPad I'm writing this piece from. In short, with one well-timed ad, Apple can make us want to buy just about anything.

That said, making the digital picture frame work would require a renewed focus on the form factor and the user experience for configuring it. As you are probably aware, most of these digital picture frames resemble a small television monitor. In order to hang this on my wall or put it on my desk, I would want it to look less like another device and more like something analog. In this case, it needs to have more of that organic feel.

And, as much as the form factor is important, you can't discount the importance that the user experience holds in making something like this a success. I recall when I had one of these way back when and it required me throwing a bunch of files onto a filesystem. Not exactly the easiest user experience to figure out which files I wanted. Today, the process of loading from physical media could be replaced entirely by the cloud — or better yet, a companion app on your phone through which you can configure the device that's hanging on your wall as long as you are on the same wifi network.

Additionally, I think there are endless opportunities when it comes to curation. I've seen first hand that folks have seemingly end-less libraries of photos on their phones. When you have that many photos, how do you find the ones that matter? I would propose looking into some sort of machine learning whereby your images can get tagged or grouped thematically based on what the image consists of. Maybe you only want to see the pictures that have your kids present in them — or maybe you want to only pull up photos that don't contain any people in them. Or only black and white photos. Given so many folks don't print photos anymore, it's surprising that this hasn't come up as new product.

That said, if Yahoo had the money and was willing to partner with a hardware company, I would even say they could make this product category stand out. Yahoo is interestingly positioned, at least for now, because they own Flickr.com. Flickr has a wonderful community of photographers' work including many archives and images that are Creative Commons licensed. My hunch is that Google may be looking into these kinds of devices given their acquisition of Nest was more for the technology going into the devices (and how they could jump start their own connected home efforts).

Though, at this point, it may be that everyone is focused on fixing the terrible UI of the interior of the car (I will write about that another time!) and no longer focused on adding more internet connected devices for your home. Looking forward to seeing what Google (or should I say Alphabet?) and Apple have up their sleeves.

Luxury User Experiences: Chanel

If you know me, you know that I'm mildly obsessed with nail polish. I have a large box in my dresser containing various colors and styles – as well as nail art tools. Selecting a polish to wear can sometimes be really difficult (seriously, it's like choosing among children!) so I'll ask my dear husband to weigh in. Most recently, he selected one of my all-time favorite polishes, Essie's Chinchilly.

Chances are you are not like me and know the names of all your favorite nail polishes. However, Chinchilly is a legend so you've probably seen it without knowing you were looking for it. I've had women in the elevator stop me and ask me if the color they are admiring on my fingers is Chinchilly. It's a seriously "greige" color; a bit of neutral and grey and even lavender depending on the light.

Essie Chinchilly on a chilly day

Essie Chinchilly on a chilly day

When I decided to begin painting my nails with my bottle of Chinchilly, I discovered a dire situation — the bottle was past its prime and beyond repair. I have some nail polishes that get a bit gloopy (really thick and barely manageable because they are probably actually expired…) but they are still somewhat useable so I keep them around. But this time, most of the bottle had been used and what was left over was the nail polish equivalent of backwash.

I considered instantly re-buying it on Amazon but I held off because I thought that might be a bit excessive (and dear husband would've surely made fun of me!). Instead I bought a new bottle later at Rite-Aid. But that's not the point. The point is I thought about the experience of re-buying something that you absolutely love.

This reminded me of the Chanel.com web experience for buying nail polish. At one point in my past life, I had access to fashion beauty closets and happened to acquire a bottle of Chanel nail polish at a steep discount. I went to the Chanel online experience to understand how much I had saved when I discovered that they actually have a pretty neat shopping experience.

Auto-replenishment Screenshot

Auto-replenishment Screenshot

One thing that stuck out for me (and still does to this day) is their "auto-replenishment" program. Basically, this is an opportunity for you to buy the product in that moment but also forecast that you might want to re-buy this product in a few months or so (once it either expires or goes bad). You can auto-replenish their products every 1 to 6 months. After a quick Google search, it looks like many other luxe brands offer this service. I imagine they would incorporate this feature for a couple of key reasons:

1. Key Differentiator from Sephora
Yes, I can probably buy any number of Chanel products from Sephora (or Ulta or department stores, for that matter) but none of these companies is as invested in getting me to spend my money on the same thing every month, so they don't offer this functionality. As a result, if all things are equal and I know I will be a repeat customer, I might as well buy from the source which saves me the trouble of re-ordering every time I need a product "top-up."

2. Aspirational Quality
I think we all have an image of a Chanel woman in our heads. She's Parisian chic, well coiffed and smells amazing. Auto-replenishment dovetails nicely with this idea as we can imagine that the secret to her effortless beauty is her monthly supply of Chanel. Having the same products you use over and over again also speaks to the idea of having a very well defined "personal style" and really knowing what works for you versus following trends.

In short, it's the same as Amazon's Subscribe and Save but takes it to a whole new level!

A Small Omission: Gran Turismo Sport and Female Gamers

The other day, my husband decided to share a trailer for the latest Gran Turismo game that was unveiled for the Playstation console at the latest E3 events. I remember playing Gran Turismo games with my little brother way back when on the original first Playstation! I also really enjoy, now as an adult with a driver's license, having the opportunity to drive high performance cars from time to time; though, most of the time, I'm rolling around in a compact car with good fuel economy thanks to Zipcar. All that said, we watched the trailer together and were in awe of the beautiful graphics that made sleek sports cars look even sleeker.

However, while the game graphics look fantastic, I noticed a small omission in the trailer I watched. Let me explain.

At about 45 seconds into the video, multiple world flags appear circling the globe with some text overlayed that says "Driving is for Everyone." I thought that was cute and chuckled softly to myself. Yes, driving should be for everyone because, personally, I find it fun and convenient for getting across this giant country we live in.

By about 2 and a half minutes in, they start presenting images about live tournaments they'll be running regularly. I think to myself, "How the hell are they going to manage that?" but I'm sure they've figured out some way to automate it so that people can play in these tournaments online and it works fairly seamlessly.

At 3 minutes in, the screen now reads "Open to all ages, anyone can enjoy" but all the faces I see feverishly playing the new game are men. Eight seconds later and I think I've spotted ONE woman deep in the background at this tournament event they are showing footage from. Another six seconds go by and I see a crowd of people clapping for the game, not sure if they are fans or journalists but it is fairly clear that they are also ALL men. By 3 minutes and 38 seconds into the video, it is still a sausage fest with a group of male victors celebrating.

By 3 minutes and 50 seconds, I finally see a woman in the foreground and she is congratulating a winner, who is of course male.

Not sure if you followed my drift (see what I did there?!) but what I noticed is that, despite all the inclusionary language, the video footage itself was not incredibly diverse from a gender perspective. And I'm sure, if you asked the creators of this video their intent, they were not intending on specifically leaving us out. They just made a small omission. They just forgot (i.e. our bad!).

While I don't necessarily believe that anyone is going out of their way to be sexist, I think it is important to acknowledge that unconscious bias is still bias. And, though relatively harmless here in this context, a video like this is a microcosm for a much larger issue.

Some may call that being "sensitive" but I completely disagree. Because by that standard, it would be inappropriate for me to be appalled by the lack of gender diversity across the technology industry. Essentially, we need advocates (both women and men) to push the envelope and stand up and say, "Hey, why aren't there more women here? Have we made an effort to include people of all genders?" Because, in practice, I know lots of ladies who are into video games and there are certainly a number of car enthusiasts who also happen to be female.

Candidates for a Work Appropriate Laptop bag

I work at a company that loves email. You might work at one, too! I spend a good part of my work day simply triaging and responding to email. And, because the little red circles next to applications on my iPhone keep me up at night, I cannot stand for an Inbox that has double or triple-digit unread messages.

On a particularly tough work day, I discovered a really cool thing that Outlook does. When I receive messages, even if I haven't read them, everything about that message has been downloaded (included attachments). For NYC area commuters with limited wifi access, this means you can spend your commuting time managing your inbox (provided you get a seat). I turned a colleague onto this who commutes via MetroNorth (the above ground railroad that leads to points north of the city) and she proclaimed it a godsend. Hooray for productivity!

Of course, after I discovered this, I started toting my laptop home with me more often. On the ride to work, I could clean up whatever was in my inbox that I didn't get to the previous day and start my day fresh! Or maybe I could work on a document during that time. Either way, stealing moments to catch up on work during particularly busy stretches helped immensely.

However, what didn't help was the fact that my laptop got a little hefty after a while with all its accessories. I decided to stop bringing the charger home which definitely helps lessen the load (I keep one charger at the office, and another at home). That said, I discovered a good bag to tote it home in would be necessary. Right now, I have a leather bag designed for 15 inch laptops which is far too big; especially on the subway where I feel like a bull in a china cabinet. And I tried to search for this type of information (i.e. "best laptop bags") but the ideas that turn up are usually centered on men's bags or bags that can exclusively hold a laptop, but not much else.

My ideal bag doesn't look like it has a laptop in it. Perhaps that's the New Yorker in me but I would like to walk down the street and not feel like someone might target me because of what they know exists in my bag. Also, my ideal bag consolidates a lot of different bags. On many days, I carry a gym bag so I'd like to avoid having 2 additional bags (purse + laptop bag) on top of that.

I did a lot of soul searching and I'm mostly decided but here are some of the bags I'm looking at. Consider this a highly curated list of the "best work appropriate bags for ladies who like large (and organized) laptop bags that look as good as they function." That's not a mouthful!

Hex Supply Tote
1. Hex – Supply Laptop Tote ($75)
One of my male colleagues turned me onto this brand. Apparently, he'd been eyeing one of the other Hex bags for a while and opted to order it and wasn't disappointed. Personally, I like the size of this bag, as well as the wealth of compartments both inside and out. I also think the outside canvas material (while not leather, my personal favorite) still looks pretty high-end given the straightforward design. And because of the sturdy, but low cost, materials, the price is very fair.

Lo & Sons bag
2. Lo & Sons – The Seville ($398+)
Lo & Sons makes some pretty interesting bags. I first heard about them when their OG weekender bag started popping up in my social media sphere (long weekend bags may be another post for another day). What really makes the Seville unique is the idea that you can swap out the shell on the outside of the bag for a different look. Personally, I think this is great as it gives you the benefit of swapping your bag without the chore of emptying one bag and repacking everything in another. I also like that the bags are leather and they have three different types of leather options (including the wipe-able, durable dreamboat that is Saffiano leather)!

Julia over at Gal meets Glam wrote a full review of the Seville and she definitely makes a convincing argument for considering it! However, the price tag is a bit steep if you are budget conscious — especially factoring in that you will likely want to buy a shell (or four) at some point in time or if you opt for the size for a 15" laptop.

Daame Midi Tote
3. Daame – Midi Laptop Tote ($395+)
When I was searching for a good laptop bag that still looks professional to carry into an office where I'm surrounded by women who look at that sort of thing (not that they are looking at me specifically, but I enjoy compliments), I happened upon Daame. Not only do they made fine leather goods (did I mention I'm a sucker for high quality leather?) but they also donate part of the proceeds of their sales to causes that further the education of young women (did I mention I'm also a sucker for a good cause?).

I love that they have three really sophisticated color options (black, a chestnut brown color and finally a dove gray) and options for both 13" and 15" laptops (for 15" machines, take a look at their Everest line). I also like that the bags have sleeves and compartments on the inside to accommodate most of things we carry (laptops, tablets, phones, etc). The only tricky part about these is the high price tag; although, it's not so bad as most quality leather bags of this size will cost about this much.

Which one will I choose?

Right now I'm leaning towards the Daame bag as I love their mission and the way their bags look less like laptop bags and more regular leather bags, but stay tuned as I'll probably write a review about the one I do select.

Career Day

The word "career" is loaded with so many expectations.

Over the past year and half, I've really wrestled with the significance of this word. I started my career knowing that I definitely wanted to learn and grow as a developer of technology. I was always striving to learn how to develop in a new language or learn a new facet of how the sausage gets made, so to speak. To that end, I spent a good ten years dedicated to developing web-based experiences. I was pretty confident that I could do this — and more — and so I embarked on a new phase of my career.

I decided to transition away from the familiar world of entertainment and execution into strategy and an industry I've never worked in before. While I've enjoyed the fact that my technology background has allowed me to dip my toe into various industries, it's been truly eye-opening working in the financial services industry. The amount of regulation we are subject to (and that I must now be aware of in my day-to-day work) and the volume of outsourcing (across all kinds of functions) is pretty staggering. I've also come to find that I miss the good ole days when I knew what I was doing from one day to the next. Being in a more strategic role means that as strategies change, so does what you are doing; there's definitely less exposure to that volatility at the developer level (or at least, maybe you don't feel the ambiguity as ultimately someone is always telling you what to build).

That said, I recently created a small web application and I felt like I was back in my element. I created the app for my husband to be able to update his podcast feed on his own; there are definitely services that do this but since we have the means, I figured I would build this myself. It's nice to have a compact finished product; this reminds me of a previous job I held where I did get to make a lot of decisions on product direction but I was also directly involved in building the interface to support those decisions. Today, it takes a village to get anything done at work. This is great when it works but frustrating when it doesn't. It can definitely trigger a feeling of impotence when you go to work day in and day out but have little output to show for it.

I'm not sure if those feelings are a product of the company I work for currently or a reaction to not being in control of everything. Either way, feelings of dissatisfaction at work made it sort of challenging to me when my high school alma mater reached out to solicit me to attend their Career Day presentation this year. While I wasn't feeling particularly accomplished at the time, I decided to attend Career Day because above all, I think it is important to give back.

I went to a very very small private Catholic school in a pretty residential neighborhood in the Bronx. I went to high school on a full scholarship thus my inclination to want to give back when I have the opportunity to do so (either with my wallet or my time — I get that they are both valuable in different ways). I remember, however, that our school was always handicapped having been so small. While so many of the kids I went to college with had been able to take AP Computer Science in high school, we didn't even have that as an option. And that's just scratching the surface, there were a number of clubs or activities that were not feasible for the organization to do well, so they just never happened. Yes We Code, Code.org, Girls Who Code, and other such organizations didn't exist yet.

And so, despite all the odds, I ended up going to New York University and graduating with a degree in Computer Science. What I realized, in thinking about Career Day, is that no one can take that accomplishment away from me. And while my day-to-day role is different, I'm still a facilitator for technology — and that's something I'm still passionate about. Now, I'm not limited by the extent to which I can build something; I can lead teams to build extraordinary things that I would've never been able to do on my own. Maybe I'm not doing those particularly extraordinary things just yet, but feel good about my prospects to get there one day.

All that said, I started thinking about why I still want to work in the tech arena, given some of my current frustrations with the tech industry practices in general, and what I was going to impart to the young women I would be speaking to at Career Day. I ended up sharing all the different industries I've worked in and the different experiences I've been exposed to by virtue of working at those companies. I also highlighted the fact that technology is ever-changing. This means that there is always something new to learn so, perhaps to their chagrin, the learning doesn't simply stop after high school and college. I've always enjoyed the fact that things are evolving because it does allow for some really interesting things to happen (or unnecessary things like co-watching commitment rings…).

The last thing I emphasized for the young ladies I met with was the dire need for them in the technology industry, and also so many positions of power in this and other industries. Women's issues will never be addressed by large organizations in their product design and other decisions they make if women do not have seats at the tables where these decisions are made! This is probably the biggest reason why I decided it was important for me to be at Career Day. I'm hopeful that the world they enter when they graduate will be a little more welcoming to them in their careers.

After all my talk and heavy thoughts around how to convey my career interests when I'm not necessarily the happiest at my job, many of the sophomores at career day probably couldn't wait to get out of there and go the movies or hang out with their boyfriends or whatever activity they had planned after half a day of school activity. That said, for the ones that were engaged, they seemed to want to know how I knew. And how they would know what's good for them. I ended up telling them, and essentially telling myself, that they need to pick a direction and go. You make a decision to head in a direction and you devote yourself to it and exhaust it as much as you can. When you feel there's nothing more to do, you can move on and pick a different direction. Definitely going to take my own advice and try to exhaust as much as I can out where I can professionally while I figure out what I think the future holds for me.