Why I write [[1]]

I write to make sense of the world when I feel so overwhelmed by the combination of information, analysis, and pure human emotion. It is the only way I can stop myself from feeling too overwhelmed to pick something to help out with where I can offer something. I write to make sense of my world, I build to do something worth remembering later.

All of this news from Baltimore makes me think about how parents talk to their children about right and wrong. How do we teach them about justice? I know it happened, but I cannot remember how my parents first introduced the concept of “just” and “unjust,” or even “fairness.”

How does one define or provide examples of justice today, while the news is scrolling through coverage from Baltimore and Ferguson and so many other communities in the United States that are sharing the stories that have been hidden for too long?

I mostly read twitter, and a handful of the articles, but there is a lot of editorializing and not enough data for me to follow and make sense of everything from here, at a distance.

All of it is, however, causing me to return to questions I’ve been returning to for the last few years.

I struggle with my understanding of “activism” and viewing myself as an “activist” in similar ways/language that my Catholic or formerly Catholic friends talk about their faith.

The difference, and what I envy them for, is that they can retreat to a church as a space of quiet reflection.

My temple is in loud gritty streets where I cannot ever turn off. Where a car horn at 4am is as natural to me as the sound of my roommate locking the door behind her when she leaves early in the morning. Never alone, never completely able to let go.

The only way I escape from losing my mind in over-defining and critiquing myself to death is to write about it. Either in the journals I keep or in poetry. The poetry is ideal because I can hide behind words and express more purely what the strain/breach of faith feels like. [Breach in both definitions: the breaking and rebuilding].

Maybe it will always be in conflict.

Could you walk away from your work?

In The Signal and the Noise: Why so many predictions fail — but some don’t, Nate Silver states that “one sign you have made a good forecast is that you are equally at peace with however things turn out — not all of which is in your immediate control.” [130]

I think this concept applies to far more than just predicting weather forecasts, stocks, or how well particular baseball players will perform over the course of their careers. This applies to decisions that we make and how well we do our work.

I know that I’ve done a good job with my research, or really, my work in general, when I am comfortable presenting it and leaving it there to speak for itself after I present the work. When I have truly done my best, I am comfortable walking away from the work. It can exist independently, without me.

The ideal for any organizer is that your program will continue running without you, even if you quietly disappeared. The ideal for any researcher is that the work has merit and value, even when you are not there to carefully re-explain it.

So that is what I strive for. When I complete work, am I at peace with it? Does it have the legs it needs to stand on its own. Am I able to grant the work its independence?

Yale Tech Conference: Yale Looks To Boost Entrepreneurial Community

Yesterday, Yale Tech kicked off its first New York City based conference. The first Yale Tech event was a sold out 200 person conference in San Francisco with attendees coming all the way from Shanghai for the event. Yesterday was another nearly sold out event with ~100 people. Not bad for a school known for investing heavily in arts and humanities… and struggling with some of its science programs/attracting students interested in the sciences. [I should add that Yale is making a concentrated effort to reach out to STEM students and improve its programs.]

The content throughout the day was very strong. The morning kicked off with speakers from Yale Entrepreneurial Institute and Yale’s Computer Science Department, urging alumni to be more involved with some of the great projects happening on campus. One of the speakers pointed out that students (and alumni, myself included) frequently complain that Yale does not offer many programs that focus on “real world applications.” I know, at least for me, this was an issue when I was working through proposal for my thesis and looking for faculty support/editors to advise my work.

What started with HackYale‘s efforts to improve access to hard skills for our student body is now happening on a larger university level (we hope). HackYale started in 2012 as an effort by students (Will Gaybrick YLS’12, Bay Gross YC’13 and Miles Grimshaw YC’13) to introduce a programming curriculum into Yale’s offerings. The students working in the program originally taught programming skills to their classmates for free, but as the program grew, Yale started to pay student teachers for their time. Yesterday at Yale Tech, Gaybrick was speaking on a panel about investing (he is now a partner at Thrive Capital) and he added that more students had signed up for HackYale in the first two weeks than had graduated from the Computer Science Department in several years. In 2015, Yale and it’s alumni have decided to step in and make further improvements.

Yale’s Computer Science Department is also underfunded and staffed compared to many of the other schools within our network. Luckily, the university is making some efforts to grow this department and offer more immediately applicable programming courses for students. Alumni support for this move appeared during the conference under #YaleTech.

The conference hosted a series of industry leaders, including Henry Blodget [CEO and Co-Founder of Business Insider], Jennifer Fleiss [CEO, Rent-The-Runway], Kevin Delaney [Editor-in-Chief, Quartz] and Eddie Hartman [Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer, LegalZoom]. I have to applaud the content and conference director, Victor Wong, for getting nearly 50/50 male to female speakers for the event. I know from my own work at TED and formerly at TEDxYale that this is hard to do. [For many reasons, as June Cohen explained at TEDGlobal 2013]. The speakers were all very candid and shared valuable insight from their respective industries. During the course of the day, we covered everything from data driven sizing recommendations for high end women’s fashion to war stories from investing and mergers and acquisitions.

It was good to see the conversations go beyond technology and programming into other fields, like journalism, legal support, and finance. I think the conference staff did a wonderful job presenting many different projects coming out of the Entrepreneurial Community at Yale, which is not an easy task. The audience was equally diverse — I spent time talking to alumni now working in local and city government, architects, engineers, developers, professors, digital designers, teachers, and writers. It is promising to see alumni from so many different backgrounds coming together to support Yale Tech’s efforts. Overall, the conference sends an important message to current students about other options out there beyond the jobs and recruiters that actively chase recent grads. The alumni encouraged students to be creative and look for new opportunities. As we all know, I think this is a really important message to share with students.

I’ll be following Yale Tech’s growth in NYC and abroad… can’t wait for more.

Cyber Security and Privacy: Can You Buy Your Name Back?

Imagine opening up a webpage and seeing a carbon copy of you [your name, SSN, location, photos, friends, etc. on a social media site (like Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn… even craigslist or Yelp)] that you didn’t create. It wasn’t a hack by your friends. It wasn’t set up by a parent or your career advisor… but by someone who has never met or even talked to you.

It might be really really difficult to recover and/or remove what was posted “by you” through that imposing webpage. Your friends and colleagues might not believe you when you explain that you did not post that unsavory blogpost or poorly worded and inaccurate tweet.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been reading intensively about Cyber Security and organized crime. Originally, it was so I would be prepared to respond to a panel for a conference I attended at MIT last weekend. But it extends much deeper than that now. I am much more conscious of aspects of my online presence and vulnerabilities in passwords/access than I was previously. [Not to mention the real concerns I had earlier this week when a glitch in one of the plugins I used for a wordpress platform shut down the site until someone from IT could login and fix it from the back. I assumed the website had been hacked.]

In Marc Goodman‘s “Future Crime: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It” he offers the example of Innovative Marketing as an organized criminal operation that made millions offering “Security software” while exposing computers to further malware and data mining operations through virus downloads. The firm grew rapidly and presented a professional front — employees were on LinkedIn, they were paid well, major companies were using the software… but it was not what it appeared to be. Employees who knew what they were building claimed it was, just a job, it paid well, etc. etc. [Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?]

The Pew Research Center published an article recently presenting their claims that Americans have not changed their online behavior/data sharing despite increased discussions about cyber security and the ways that companies like Facebook package and sell their data. Meanwhile, I’m wondering how much it will cost to buy back my privacy one day, and whether or not the case in the EU against Google will one day mean better privacy options for the US. Do we have the “right to be forgotten?”

In these discussions, we realize how vulnerable we are. The motives for hackers are sometimes as basic as “I was bored” and sometimes as complicated as “I was protecting justice.” What does justice mean, when the internet is a neutral zone, ungoverned by the laws we abide as physical citizens? Who decides those rules? I was asked recently if I thought it was “tyrannical” for organizations like Anonymous and other “online vigilante groups” to police the DarkNet. I think the question in itself exposes how out of our legal most policy researchers and makers are. Does “Tyranny” within a space as vast and diverse as the internet make any sense as a concept?

When I asked my accountant about how banks handle identity theft… the recovery process is clearly very complicated and really, you might be on your own with that one. In some ways, the internet feels like the wild west. For those of us who have been lucky to live in societies where social “rules” are generally followed and behavior is somewhat predictable, this can be as scary as the dramatized concept of the “Wild West.” For those who grew up in Chaos… this probably feels familiar.

I am thinking a lot about privacy as a commodity right now. Whether or not we will be able to “buy it back.” What “identity” means on the internet, especially hiring programs encourage entry level employees and recent college grads to build clear brands for themselves online. It’s an interesting question.

If nothing else, I am convinced that I need to spend more time working with Python than I have been in the last few weeks. It seems we are now obligated to be at least semi-literate in code to know what software programs are realistic, which ones are scams, and which ones are downright dangerous.

Why Women Worry About Street Harassment (And Other Language Faux-Pas)

When I was a sophomore in college, I remember walking back from the library at 2am in the dark, clutching my laptop and scurrying as fast as possible back to my dorm.

I didn’t like walking alone in the dark.

This was all made worse when I heard loud clanging sounds and male voices chanting in unison:

“MY NAME IS JACK

I’M A NECROPHELIAC

I FUCK DEAD WOMEN

AND FILL THEM WITH MY SEMEN.”

I started running until I got to the gates of my college, with the door firmly shut behind me, I paused and felt my blood pounding in my ears.

I’m 5’6”. There isn’t a whole lot I can do if an entire mob of football players decides they want to chase me down. This was a reality I was well aware of while I was standing there taking in my surroundings.

I run through a list every single time I stand at my door about to leave my apartment:

  • Do I have my house keys?
  • Is my phone charged enough to last me a few hours if I need to make any emergency calls/find my way home?
  • Do I have my wallet?
  • Do I have enough cash for a cab if I need to get home and something happens?
  • Is my dress too short, am I drawing too much unwanted attention to myself?
  • Where am I going? How will I get there? How will I get home?
  • Who should I tell where I am going in case something happens to me?
  • Is it ok for me to go to [This Location] totally alone? Should I call someone?
  • If I need to run, could I run for a while in this pair of shoes?

If I was still working in Mexico or on site in some of the places I study, this list gets a lot longer. Before I leave in the morning, I assess what risks I could encounter that day and try to build a list of options for myself to make sure I am prepared to meet my challenges for that day. Because if the going gets really rough, my options might end up being fairly limited.

That night I listened to a group of men, many of them much larger than me, chanting:

“NO MEANS YES

AND YES MEANS ANAL.”

As part of an initiation routine for their frat, meaning, freshman boys were encouraged to chant about abusing dead women, felt like what I would have labeled “a worst-case scenario” in my morning planning.

Separately, the song is completely vile in every possible way. Who comes up with this garbage?

——————————————————

I wrote this post because a number of my male friends through the years have asked me why programs like Hollaback are relevant. Why women don’t like to be cat called. Why we get offended sometimes. They mean well, I know they do, so I often explain this experience of constantly wondering how you are going to get home and if someone has been watching you for too long. How we think through our options to escape and how making a single wrong decision could end very badly for us.

For me, this night in New Haven was one of many in my life where we remember that societal expectations and “manners” are abstract concepts that people opt into. They are not enforced by nature, but by communities. Without mutual respect inside of a community, they cease to exist and I am expected to compete for my own survival.

When I explain it in these terms, my male friends are often the first ones to respond with “not cool” to the guy who yells something at me when I walk by. They start to understand where I am coming from when I talk through my morning checklist and what I worry about when I am weighing my options in risky situations.

I think it would be amazing if I could walk down streets in major cities and know that I was not going to hear someone lean out the window of a car and offer me a list of “dirty things I’d like to do to you” or comment on my ass when I walk by. So, maybe it starts with you.

Check out what Hollaback is up to in your city. It’s an issue with deep roots, but it’s a worthwhile one.