I voted!

I voted today!

My husband and I went together, and we voted.

No one harassed us, or tried to stop us. No one made it harder for us to vote. No one changed the rules at the last minute so we couldn’t vote. I’d like to say that’s because we live in America, but it’s just because we live in a small town and our volunteers were kindly.

No one looked at me and said “You don’t look American. Come with me.” Because even though I was born in another country, no one questions my nationality. I’d like to say that’s because we live in America, but it’s because I’m white (and people confuse heritage and nationality a lot). You should see me dance.

There were no stickers, but also no wait.

It was a win for democracy.

Don’t tell me what I can’t do

Edited to add: I’m not a programmer or coder. I know a little coding, but don’t think of myself as a fully-professional coder/programmer. I work with HTML (not yet HTML5), CSS and PHP daily.

Take a moment to read this: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2012/05/please-dont-learn-to-code.html.

The author, Jeff Atwood, makes some excellent points: determine what your problem is; solve your problem; don’t jump into something that won’t resolve your root problem.

I can understand where he’s coming from and I respect his right to put it out there. But I don’t agree. For whatever it might be worth, I don’t particularly advocate Code Year – although I really like the idea behind it. I just don’t have a firm opinion either way on it.

His main point, that people are learning code to get high-paying jobs or otherwise not learning code for the right reasons, is somewhat overshadowed by his assertion that no one should learn any code (because of those reasons). I don’t think that the author is particularly elitist, but if I had to characterize the post in one word, that’s the word I think I would finally settle on. Reading the post, what stands out to me are his arguments that learning code for the sake of learning to code is somehow bad or wrong, intrinsically, because most users will never reach professional status and it’s not a life skill (like reading comprehension, writing, or basic math).

There’s something on an elemental level here that rubs me the wrong way. Atwood makes a great argument in general – it’s a specialized field and most people just don’t need to code and because it is a serious, technical field, a lot of people honestly won’t get it right. But suggesting that some people should not and may not learn coding and about coding because they don’t meet some criteria (which I’m not clear about) makes me uncomfortable. It’s difficult to determine if he means only people who expect to begin coding in order to rake in the cashmoney should be put a stop to, or if he means even weekend tinkerers.

I suppose it’s about on par with designers complaining about non-designers who have PhotoShop or InDesign. It is eye-rollingly annoying to see a crummy poster or other designed piece, but I don’t think that’s an argument for people to never learn how to get it right.

He contends that instead of learning code, the focus should be on fixing how to get around on the Internet, then learning about things around you and communicating effectively. I think that’s super and I agree. I don’t understand how it supersedes or replaces the desire someone may have to learn coding, however.

Perhaps I’m misconstruing, and I apologize if I am, but I think that there’s enough Internet out there that if non-professionals want to try coding and learning how to do it, that’s fine. I think that the people who are good at it, the true professionals, don’t have anything to fear from these people – they’re not going to “steal” their jobs. At least not any job that a professional would want to undertake. They are not going to make coding any less of a valuable skill.

I agree with him that coding is not an essential life skill. I don’t follow that because it is not, it shouldn’t be learned by just anyone. I remember a comic (forgive me for my inability to remember who) who was talking about “Twister” (when I was writing this, I wrote “Tornado” and then had to look it up, because it didn’t look correct – rightly so), and how it was basically a struggle between those money-grubbing scientists and the scientists who were pure because they were chasing tornadoes for the love of science. But, unlike the movies, there isn’t some sharp delineation between the people who only do things for the money and the people who do things because they are answering a higher calling. Some people are just curious. And perhaps his argument doesn’t intend to touch on the people who want to learn but don’t want to “pass” as a coder or developer, in which case I think I would agree with him.

He does specifically say his argument is not against learning essential life skills like reading and writing, but the first thing that sprang to mind when I read this was this old boss I had. In the year between undergrad and grad school, I worked three jobs simultaneously (pity me! Send me your tears!) because that’s the way it worked. I was in Ithaca, NY, and I worked at American Eagle at Pyramid Mall, Collegetown Bagels at East Hill Plaza, and Jason’s Grocery & Deli on College Ave. Incidentally, I lived on Stewart Ave, practically next door to The Chapter House. Those were the good old days… But I digress. So I worked from like 9PM to 1AM at Jason’s, which was nice because I could walk there. This is not to be confused with the national chain, Jason’s Deli – I worked with Jason himself. So Jason was (is still, I’d suppose) middle-aged and basically illiterate. He ran and operated a successful grocery/deli just fine. He knew who to employ (like a bookkeeper) to make sure his business was healthy – he just couldn’t write and his reading skills were very poor. He was severely dyslexic. We’d talk about this because I’m also dyslexic, but to a much more minor degree. So the when I read the “don’t learn to code, regular people” article, one of the reasons I think it got under my skin is because I think that Jason came from a time when people would have advised he never attempt to run a business because he was so learning-disabled. I think people would have laughed at the idea, actually. And yet, he defied expectation. So my argument, I suppose, is that we shouldn’t recommend that people not learn something, because we don’t know when they’ll rise to the occasion and surprise us.

I could write a whole post about working at Jason’s, incidentally. The place was a gold mine for stories.

“Pittsburgh”

I’m dyslexic. I had it rough before I got diagnosed as a little kid, but then I went to therapy and got a lot of tricks to help me read and write. Now I only have problems if I’m really tired. Or if I read very quickly, sometimes I can tell I’m reading the words out of order, but it still makes sense. Anyway, I am a terrible speller. I’m just not that good at it. A lot of words I just had to memorize when I was little, because I can’t remember how they go, organically. I’m sure that’s true of a lot of people. However, some words always look completely wrong to me. Like “Pittsburgh.” Every time I see that guy I think, “That can’t be right.” Yet it invariably is.

Foreign is another one that looks wrong. And I always spell it the wrong way, first (and did here, and then went and looked it up).

English is a tricky language. In Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States (which my husband calls The Great Big Book of American Whatever), Bill Bryson discusses a bit how we have a lot of words that have inconsistent spellings, like Pittsburgh and Gettysburg, and the myriad towns that end in “-berg.” And let’s not forget icebergs! He dives in a bit more than I will here about how these inconsistencies arise. We have such a mishmash language with bits taken from so many different languages and dialects. And, of course, when America was first getting settled, there was limited communication between some areas, so different spellings arose.

Anyway, my bad spelling has made me a pro at looking words up. Which actually has a wonderful consequence; it gives me a stronger grasp of the original meaning of the word, so that I can use it more correctly. It’s lovely to know the right word for a given scenario. And sometimes I get the thesaurus involved and I can lose 20 or 30 minutes chasing down interesting words. It’s not truly lost time, I suppose, since I learn something and enjoy myself.

Mommy Brain – it’s just an excuse

Edited: Updated with link to a study by the APA about how brain size INCREASES in new mothers. That follows here: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2010/10/mommy-brain.aspx. Brain size increases in the areas linked to behavior and motivation. A very small study, but take note.

First, a confession – I have used the excuse “mommy brain” because I forgot something or did something inexplicably boneheaded.

However, I vow to stop. It’s a stupid excuse. It doesn’t exactly portray women and mothers in a positive light, and the last thing we need is something else that devalues us.

For those of you not in the know, “mommy brain” is an alleged phenomenon that occurs once a woman becomes pregnant. She becomes more forgetful and sort of dreamy. I remember reading somewhere once that some organization did a study on the so-called “mommy brain” phenomenon, and they found absolutely no evidence of changes in the brain of pregnant women or new mothers. Please excuse my lack of details; I read it quite some time ago. I’m sure you can run a Google search on it, if you feel so inclined.

Here is the truth: priorities shift when you start growing people inside your body. Additionally, your brain is probably taxed, just as your whole body is, when you begin nourishing a little person or two. It’s really hard work, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And lest we forget, newborns don’t allow for much sleep. One of the first things that gets de-prioritized is holding everything in your brain simultaneously. I write more notes to myself now. Another thing that gets de-prioritized is multi-tasking. Let’s face it – you were never that good at it, anyway. Much better to execute task A then task B rather than try to mingle them and ending up fixing both later.

Interestingly, I’m much better at some things now that I’ve dropped the “mommy brain” excuse. As mentioned above, I write more notes to myself; I actually forget less than I did before, because I write things down now. I complete four or five tasks excellently every day rather than 10 or 12 shoddily. I am more productive overall. When I had resigned myself to the “mommy brain” excuse, I had no motivation to improve. It’s mommy brain! Can’t be helped! Once I determined to refuse that excuse, I had the freedom to improve. I still screw up now and again, but it’s because I’m human, not because I’ve become a poorer human by having children. On the whole, I am improving incrementally daily.

Let’s close by circling back to something I mentioned in the beginning. I think that the stereotypical slightly batty mother who wears “mom jeans” and is kind of clueless is – like all stereotypes – incredibly damaging. I’ve also not yet met this stereotypical mother. There’s no way to categorize all mothers, just like there’s no way to categorize all women or all men. I do know that I’ve met a lot of wonderfully strong women who are mothers, who are stylish and put-together, smart and well-educated, quick with a quip and comfort equally. Let us not be devalued or degraded by going along with this daft notion that we are somehow slower or dumber for having grown the next generation.