Book Riot #ReadHarder Challenge 2016 Progress Post and Suggestions

My progress and suggestions
My progress and suggestions

I’m using this post to track my progress on the Book Riot Read Harder challenge. I’ll update this page as I finish books and write reviews, as well as using it to track what books I’m planning on reading for each of the categories. I found some suggestions from this article as well as the Goodreads group for the challenge.

I set forth a couple additional stipulations for myself, they were:

  • no double-dipping – I will not be using any books to fill more than one category.
  • no white cis-men – All of the books I read for the challenge will be by women and minorities. In the case of multiple authors, one must be a woman or minority.

Without further ado, here is the list of the books I’m planning on reading plus some alternates.

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Couch to 26.2

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One week ago I woke up at 6 a.m., ate a protein bar, got dressed, and ran 26.2 miles. I finished this, my first marathon, in 4:19:34. I ran my first 5k just over a year prior in 33:42 and was unable to run a mile without stopping at the time. I’m not sure how exactly it happened, but it seems that in the past year I have moved into the category of running people, a population which I had previously struggled to understand. I will try to outline my own crossover as clearly as possible, with tips for those who might want to try it themselves.

Equipment

One of the reasons running is such a popular and versatile form of exercise is that the only truly essential piece of equipment is a good pair of shoes. Don’t skimp on this aspect, and try going to a running store to get advice on the best shoes for your gait.

That said, you’ll probably want some other things as well. Some high-quality workout clothes with moisture-wicking fabric will definitely come in handy, especially if you’re going to be doing most of your runs outside instead of on the treadmill. Check out this article or the what to wear tool for guidance on what to wear in different weather conditions.

You’ll probably want something to keep track of your runs as well. I like the app Runkeeper as it allows for live tracking of runs via GPS as well as post-hoc input of treadmill runs. If you prefer not to bring your phone along (or drain your battery) you can use a GPS watch. I have this one, which I bought for about $85. You can pay more for bells and whistles like heart rate monitoring.

If you’re looking to listen to music or other content on your run (we’ll get to my suggestions on this), I’d recommend your phone or an iPod shuffle. Headphones that stay in your ears are also essential.

Training

A huge part of getting into running is just knowing where to start. When I ran my first 5k I didn’t follow any plan and I pretty much just tried to run a 5k on the treadmill every time I went to the gym. I probably would have benefitted from a more gradual approach. For the marathon and half-marathon, I have really enjoyed following Hal Higdon plans. There is also very popular Couch to 5k plan or the Zombies Run! 5k app (more on that later). These help take the guesswork out of determining your workouts and will help you ease into running as a habit.

Motivation

The key element to my motivation was always having a race to look forward to. First it was 5ks, then I signed up for my first half marathon. After I convinced myself I could do that, I signed up for the Richmond marathon.

Even if you don’t enjoy the actual running at first, try to turn running into a ritual that you enjoy. When I first started running, I was obsessed with the Zombies, Run! app, which I paired with deliciously trashy pop mashups from Bootie. I only listened to mashups on my runs, so it made for a fun treat. Find pre- and post-workout foods that you like and can look forward to. (These Luna bars and overnight oats are my current jam. I’ll probably do a whole post about overnight oats. They are my world.)

Tracking and gamifying are both really helpful to me, so I love tracking steps and calories burned with with my FitBit and logging my run times in Runkeeper.

So concludes my words of wisdom to new runners. As for me, I’m forging ahead and training for my next marathon in March.

Feel free to share your running tips in the comments.

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DIY standing desk for under $50

I’m a big fan of the standing desk, I’ve started using one more often in the past 6 months or so. It encourages me to move around a lot more, and I find that I work more productively when I’m standing.

I recently started a new job and wanted to set up a standing desk for myself. After looking into various options I decided to DIY it. I found this article with instructions to make a standing desk for $22 from Ikea parts, but as a city-dwelling millennial with no car and no Ikea within striking distance, I had to get a bit more creative. Since I don’t have a car, I was not eager to carry big parts around on public transit or carry them through the city. My Amazon Prime subscription was pretty key.

I first tried to find duplicates of the products in the original article, but I wasn’t able to find analogous things at Ikea prices from other merchants. I also wanted to avoid any power tools or intensive DIY, so grabbing raw materials from the hardware store was out.

As others have said, the key measurements you’ll need are for the keyboard height and the monitor height. This calculator will give you an eye and keyboard height estimate based on your height. To figure out the monitor height based on the eye height, measured the height of my monitor from the desk to about 70% of the way to the top of the screen and subtracted that from the eye height.

Your standing desk will need two platforms, one for the keyboard and one for the monitor. I was building on top of an existing desk, so surfaces that were the right height for the monitor were easier to come by. My desk was 29″ high, so I needed something to raise my monitor by about 18″. As it turns out, this is about coffee table height. I also wanted a surface large enough for both my monitor and a laptop, so I opted for a longer coffee table instead of a square one.

The keyboard platform is a bit trickier, as I needed a platform about 12″ above my desk, and foot-tall coffee tables are not terribly popular. After some browsing, I found some closet, desk, and cabinet organizers that were about the right height.

Shopping list:

  • $29.00 Parsons Modern Coffee Table in Espresso (from Amazon)
  • $17.99 ClosetMaid White 31in Stacker Horizontal Organizer (from Ace, also available from Amazon in different colors)

Total: $46.99

Optional (but recommended)

  • An anti-fatigue mat (I got this one for $10.76)

Other options (untested)

For the keyboard tray:

For the monitor stand:

Mine has been in action for a few days now, and so far so good. Assembly was super easy, all I needed was a screwdriver to put the organizer together. There’s a picture up top of the finished product. Share your standing desk stories/tips in the comments.

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Review of No Exit: Struggling to Survive a Modern Gold Rush

No Exit: Struggling to Survive a Modern Gold RushNo Exit: Struggling to Survive a Modern Gold Rush by Gideon Lewis-Kraus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an interesting, quick read on the venture capital and entrepreneurship culture in San Francisco and the Valley. It followed two founders trying to obtain seed funding for their startup. As someone in the tech industry, I felt like the descriptions of the people and culture seemed a bit like caricatures, but there is truth to caricatures as well.

The writing was excellent, I’ve read other pieces my Lewis-Kraus and enjoyed them as well. And I enjoyed his perspective, if pessimistic, on the tech industry in this piece.

“The only thing they could count on was that they were going to be the generation that partook of the process by which all would be rendered irrevocably different. It didn’t seem to matter what the difference was, or whom it helped or hurt.”

View all my reviews

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AdaCamp Montreal Reflections

These past few days I’ve been in Montreal at AdaCamp, an unconference dedicated increasing women’s participation in open technology and culture. It’s been fabulous and it’s amazing to be surrounded by so many incredible women.

General conference thoughts: this is the second tech conference I’ve been to, the other was Google I/O. They were different in pretty much every way, from the number of attendees (by orders of magnitude) to the structure of the sessions. AdaCamp had only a generally time-blocked schedule, all of the sessions were proposed and scheduled on the first day by the participants.

There were tons of interesting sessions proposed and I wasn’t able to attend all of them, but below I’ll detail some of the highlights for me.

The Meta-Conference
Some of what the Ada Initiative does is help create codes of conduct and anti-harassment policies for conferences. One of the topics of discussion was how conferences can be better and more inclusive. AdaCamp, for its part, did its best to model good practices, such as color-coded lanyards for attendees to indicate their preferences for appearing in photographs (photographs OK, ask before photographing, don’t photograph). We talked about things that could be better. Some of the topics that came up were:

  • Alcohol at conferences. (Over)consumption is often normalized and there aren’t often great options for people who prefer not to consume.
  • Better ticket pricing, especially those with accessible options for students and self-funded attendees
  • Conference attire and what that means for people who don’t want to wear jeans and a t-shirt
  • Bathrooms — lines, accessibility, and gender binary assumptions
  • Dealing with people behaving badly at conferences
  • Child care and lack thereof

Further resources:
Code of Conduct 101 + FAQ (Ashe Dryden)
Code of Conduct Evaluations (Geek Feminism wiki)
HOWTO Design a Code of Conduct for Your Community (Ada Initiative)

Women in Tech
So this was kind of the whole thing, so there was not really a specific session on it. Some of the topics I heard talked about:

  • Women leaving the field and why
  • Bad behavior and toxic work environments
  • Burnout, why it happens, and how to deal with it
  • Additional expectations that are placed on women in the workplace, such as emotional labor
  • The imposter syndrome, what it is, how to recognize it, and addressing it

Further resources:
Women in Tech and Empathy Work (Lauren Bacon)
How Our Engineering Environments are Killing Diversity (Kate Heddleston)
Reasons You Were Not Promoted that Are Totally Unrelated to Gender (McSweeney’s)
Imposter Syndrome Training (Ada Initiative)
Avoiding Burnout, and Other Essentials of Open Source Self-Care (Kathleen Danielson)

Linguistics
This one is, I imagine, more personal for me. I studied linguistics back in the day (it was my emphasis within my cognitive science major) and Gretchen McCulloch led an excellent session on linguistics which made me miss college. I’d also like to spend more time discussing the framing of language we use to discuss women in tech (see: the ubiquity of the word “girl”).

Further resources:
Lexicon Valley Blog (Slate)
Text of Gretchen’s Lightning Talk (All Things Linguistic)

Other tidbits

  • The Twitter hashtag, for all the things I missed.
  • Jessamyn Smith’s excellently-named open source menstrual tracker, Egg Timer.
  • Crowdfunding campaign for a fallen laptop.
  • Katherine Presner’s resources for preparing to speak at conferences.
  • There was a designated quiet room for sitting, reading, checking emails, napping, etc.
  • I got myself a review copy of Sky Croeser’s book, Global Justice and the Politics of Information, so keep your eyes peeled for a review of that.
  • Every session seemed to contain at least one person who was knitting. I dig it.
  • I’m super jealous of the people who went to the robotics session.
  • Kendra Albert led a great discussion on “legal stuff” during which I learned a lot I didn’t know about licenses.
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Math is a basic skill

As a Woman In Tech™, I catch wind of various stories about how the tech world is such a good/bad/mediocre place for women. This is the first of my posts that addresses the subject, but first I wish to offer a minor disclaimer. In discussions of the lack of women in STEM fields, people often cite a pipeline problem—that not enough women have the education to get into these fields in the first place. Others cite issues with attrition due to company culture, family status, or other issues. As a developer near the beginning of my career, I feel more equipped to talk about the pipeline problem than other issues, which is not a means of saying that I don’t think the other issues exist or are not important, only that I am not the best person to speak to them.

With that out of the way, I want to address an attitude that is not specific to women, but that I think affects women disproportionately in their primary and secondary education in math.

“Math just isn’t my thing.”
“I’ve never been good with numbers.”
“Math is too hard.”

I’m willing to guess that most of us have heard, or perhaps even said, something along the lines of the above statements at one point or another. How did the person to whom the statement was addressed respond? Perhaps with a shrug or a reassurance that they felt the same way. Now imagine the same interaction, but instead of math, the original statement is about reading or literacy. What is the reaction? I’m guessing it’s not a shrug.

This is not to say that math and literacy are not difficult things to master. Both can be challenging. Some people will find one more enjoyable than the other. However, while literacy is generally thought of as a pretty non-negotiable skill to acquire in the course of your education, math is not seen in the same way. With pushes to stop teaching algebra and the generally accepted attitude that math just “isn’t your thing,” people duck out of their math education before establishing the basic competencies necessary to go into STEM fields.

This excellent article goes over some pervasive misconceptions on the subject of math education, but basically, high school math education should be within everyone’s reach, and we, as students, parents, mentors, and teachers, should not so easily allow ourselves to abandon that goal. Math is hard, and it can be frustrating, and it doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people, but none of these are reasons to stop learning it. Just because something does not initially come easily to us does not mean it is outside of our ability to learn, and I feel that the aversion to failure can block us not only from career opportunities, but from meaningful learning experiences. (This sentiment, by the way, applies far beyond math education, but that is what we will continue to focus on here.) People coming into college without at least a knowledge of pre-calculus or preferably calculus itself, will be facing an uphill battle to enter majors and eventually careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. And with all the other challenges that women face in this regard, why let this be another one?

I mention this in the context of women in technology, since I’ve observed that women tend to be more likely to bow out of math education earlier, probably partly due to difficulty and not engaging with the material and partly due to other societal or gender related biases. So encourage the children in your life to keep pushing through math. Try to find material to engage their interests if their school curriculum isn’t (I’ll try and compile a post of links for resources, if you have any please post them in the comments).

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