Archive for the ‘Dear John Letters’ Category

Dear Meine Kleine Schwester,

Now that I’ve spent a few years testing out online dating, I just wanted to share a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the way, in hopes that you will learn from my mistakes.

1. Don’t give him your phone number before the third date.
I know that texting is the cool thing to do, but treat your phone number like something sacred. Email is easily ignored. Texts and calls are annoying when unwanted.

2. Don’t friend him on Facebook.
Because you will probably soon un-friend him. Most guys that you will want to date long-term will not ask on a first date for you to friend them. This is a warning sign that they are needy. Also, when you un-friend them, they will call you on it if you didn’t heed the first point.

3. Don’t tell him where your favorite bar is and on what night he can find you there.
I don’t mean to, but I start talking about things I do and I happen to mention quiz night. And then they start showing up, unannounced. Even when you aren’t there. And then your friends hate you just a little. Eventually, they will forgive you, but will bring it up to make you feel bad when you are trying to stiff them with the check.

4. Don’t let him walk you to your car, and meet him in a public place.
This is just a security concern. I’m not worried about you, and I didn’t have to learn this one the hard way. But I wanted to voice it for anyone else out there who doesn’t realize that this guy could be a crazy internet stalker. Take precautions.

5. Don’t tell him where you live.
Until you want him to show up at your door unannounced when you are coming home from another date to which he wasn’t invited, don’t let him pick you up at home. Don’t accept offers to help you paint the walls, or fix the plumbing, or to “walk your dog.” Until you are ready to actually start a relationship with him, keep him at a safe distance.

6. Don’t get excited about the first date, get excited about the third.
Be optimistic, but don’t expect every guy you meet to be The One. You will just be setting yourself up for disappointment.

7. Don’t settle.
My favorite poem by Robert Browning is My Last Duchess. In it is the line, “She had a heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad, too easily impressed.” Don’t be the girl who falls for every guy she meets. You have better standards than that.

8. Break up gently, but firmly.
Don’t leave them hanging. I’ve done this and just feel bad about it. Just send them a short note saying, “It was nice meeting you, but I don’t think we are compatible. Good luck in your search.”

9. Trust your instinct
If you aren’t feeling a connection, don’t force one. Listen to your heart. Your mind made the decision to go out the first time, let your heart decide if you should see him again.

10. Don’t despair.
Despite everything I’ve said, there is someone out there for you. You will give him your phone number, friend him on Facebook, invite him to your house, and eventually marry and reproduce. There is hope. I believe.

Geeks drive girls out of Computer Science

I’ve been a voyeur into a discussion between teachers about how geeks drive girls out of computer science. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject and how teachers, boys, and girls themselves, can all work to help fix this problem. Please leave comments! Are you a guy or girl in the industry? Then what is your experience? Are you a guy or girl who never even thought about computer science? Why?

Disclaimer, for seven years, I taught APCS in small, all-girls, private boarding schools, so all the kids in my classes were girls. I’ve worked in the industry as a Technical Writer, in Quality Assurance, and currently as a Software Engineer. So there are jobs in the industry for computer scientists (I have a BS and an MS) that don’t involve programming constantly in an office alone.

Dear Girls

  • Start thinking for yourself.

    I know it is hard to take a class that your friends think is stupid or geeky, but trust me, those friends you have in high school will be distant memories, saved in Facebook, in ten years. So where do you want to be in ten years? Bagging groceries in your hometown or having a job you can do in any coffee shop, any where in the world?

  • Try everything.

    You won’t know what you like until you try it. Have you ever tried programming? No? Well then how do you know you don’t like it?

  • Make a difference.

    Okay, okay, Computer Science is overrun with geeky boys. I won’t deny it. They are everywhere. But just a couple decades ago, a woman’s place was in the home. There were few women in any industry. So look at it this way, Computer Science is your way to help the feminist movement. Do your part!

  • Be different!

    You remember Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde”? I know the movie is a little old now, but the thing I like about her most is that she sticks out in the crowd and isn’t afraid to be herself. She is so confident. Be confident. Do what you want to do. Be you. And don’t be afraid to wear pink in a room of black!

  • We need you!

    How many times have you used an application and something has gone horribly wrong and you blamed yourself? Well, it isn’t your fault. Applications should work seamlessly. They shouldn’t allow you to feel like you screwed up. Can you do better? Can you make an application so easy that your mother could use it? Do you think about details? Do you notice when pixels aren’t aligned properly? Do you think it is important for an application to look sexy and work as advertised? This is why we need you!

Dear Boys

  • Ask a girl to try APCS.

    Do you know a girl who would be really good at computer science? Have you asked her to try taking a class? She needs some convincing. She needs to know that you have her back if the geeks start picking on her. Ask her. Insist that she try it. She just needs some encouragement.

  • Get a makeover

    So part of that reason that the girls aren’t joining your class is that you might be a geek. Being a geek is cool, but it is even cooler to be a geek who dresses well. Girls like a smart guy who dresses smartly. Find a cool guy to give you some tips. Do something besides play video games. Music, sports, something to make you more well rounded. It will help you get some dates as well!

  • Learn about design

    Most programmers are just good at programming. Solving a problem. But they don’t care about how it looks. How do you feel while you are using an application? Does it make you happy? It is kind of like cars. You can drive a lamborghini or you can drive an old Ford Escort. Both will get you from point A to point B, but which one would you rather be seen driving? The same is true of computers. They should be functional, but should also be beautiful. Form & Function are both important. So learn about design. Learn about human-computer interaction. It will make you a better programmer.

Dear Teachers

  • Computer science is not just programming

    Although, you must be a programmer to be a computer scientist, a programmer does not have to know much about computer science. Programmers are often good at creating applications and scripts from a small set of (or one) languages. This is like building a house with only a hammer. A good computer scientist understands the concepts behind languages, the difference between language paradigms, why one language might be good to use to solve one kind of problem, and is able to quickly learn a new language when the language they need is not one already in their repertoire. One of my favorite classes in college was the study of different programming languages. To me, it is like learning a new human language without having to speak it. Computer Science is also about learning algorithms and data structures. It is about the application of those concepts in things like artificial intelligence, data mining, or networking. Programming is what you do to reinforce learning the concepts, syntax, and semantics of a language.

  • IT is also not Computer Science.

    And I have found the IT crowd to be much more sexist than the CS crowd. In college, I was never put down for being a woman. I was pointed out as the only girl in my Operating Systems Fundamentals class, but that just meant that everyone wanted me in their group. Whereas, when I was running a school computer system and called our service provider to get help with a denial of service attack, the guy who was supposed to help me blew me off and said it was just because I had too small an internet pipeline for a boarding school. It didn’t seem to help when I explained that it was 2 am. During spring break. I was the only one at school. That is the only time I’ve gotten so pissed off that I asked for a supervisor, who happened to be a woman. She immediately said, You are having a denial of service attack. And then she helped me configure my switches and made some changes on her end. In six years of being a software engineer, I have never had a sexist encounter.

  • You don’t need a degree to start being a successful programmer.

    Encourage your kids early on to start making shareware programs or iPhone apps. A number of my friends paid for college that way. Some of the most brilliant minds in the industry started as teenagers.

  • Teach vocabulary.

    Your girls are coming in cold. They have no words to talk about technology. One of the best things I could do was to spend a couple classes talking about how to buy a new computer. What is the difference between a Megabyte and a Gigabyte? What is a harddrive, ROM, RAM, motherboard? What is the difference between Windows, Mac OS, and Linux? What is the history of Unix? They don’t know these things. One of the most rewarding moments I had was after Christmas break when one girl came back and said she helped her grandparents buy a computer, another girl had a conversation with a stranger on the plane ride home about computers. Giving girls a vocabulary is one of the best things you can do for them. Boys won’t talk to them before they learn some basics, but once my girls learned a little, they came back from break and talked about how much they had learned from the boys they knew, now that they knew how to speak their language.

  • Remove consequences.

    I know this is a generalization (like everything I’ve written), but girls think about consequences, boys don’t. Every year, I would start class with the same question, “Have you ever opened your home computer and looked inside?”

    Every year, the answers were the same. No girl raised her hand. So then I asked a follow-up question. How many of you have watched as a brother, male cousin, father, have opened you home computer and done something to it.

    Everyone would raise their hand. They were all curious as to what was inside, but every one of them was afraid of the consequences of doing it on her own. What if it didn’t work after she opened it?

    So I gave them computers that didn’t work, and I had them tear them apart. We talked about all the parts. They saw how everything was connected. And they didn’t have to worry about putting them back together because I recycled them.

    Then I gave them computers and had them insert RAM and ethernet cards. I told them about electrostatic shock and gave them instructions on how to avoid it. Every computer worked afterwards.

    Then we started programming. And I took away consequences there by telling them there was no way they could do something that I wouldn’t be able to fix just by erasing the hard drive and reinstalling. So they weren’t afraid.

  • Form & Function are important!
    • Take a class in Human Computer Interaction

      Computer Scientists are notoriously good a solving problems, but bad at design. For a good example, look at a couple different websites and think about which ones you like and which ones you just tolerate. What are the differences between MySpace and Facebook? Between WordPress and Blogger? Dell and Apple? Design matters because it is humans that are using computers. Do you stress that in your class? Are the final applications so easy to use that my grandmother could understand how to use it?

    • Get a makeover.

      Okay, maybe you already are cool, but odds are against it, since you teach APCS. I should know. I’m still not totally stylish, but I try. This is a good time to find a cool, fashionable coworker, or your wife, to take you shopping. A couple well-fitted button-up shirts without stains on them. Pants that are tailored to the proper length and not worn two inches above your belly button, is a good start. High school is still a popularity contest. Become popular.

    • Your classroom style is important too!

      It isn’t just you, it is your classroom. Is it inviting for girls? Is it clean and organized? Inviting? The kind of place where girls want to hang out? If not, get a group of cool girls to redecorate it for you.

    • Be involved in the school in other ways.

      Coach a sport, lead a club. Do something where the students see that you are human! If you get good exposure, you will meet more kids that you can encourage to join your class.

    • Do cool stuff.

      One of the things that my kids liked was that we took field trips. Of course those field trips were things like the GE Computer Science Competition. I used it as a practice exam for the APCS exam, so I took my entire class of 10 girls. They were rock stars! Not because they would win, but because they were the only girls there. The girls loved it!

      Do stuff in your class that will benefit the school. I can’t remember what we did, but in one class, we made an application that I then loaded onto all the computers so that the kids not in APCS could use it and think about joining.

  • Don’t think that questions about quilting are going to get the girls interested.

    Girls use computers to work or socialize, not usually for games. When I had my girls pick projects, they were often related to something they were doing in another class, or personal to them. For example, one class was really stressing about learning the periodic table in Chemistry, so we wrote an application that would read in a file I constructed, insert the elements into objects or a data structure, use arrays to store each element, and then write searching and sorting algorithms to get information back out. They all used the program to study for their Chemistry tests. Another class was interested in building an address book, which uses the same concepts as the periodic table application.

  • Just because there aren’t girls in a field is not a good reason to think they just don’t want to be there.

    These are kids. They don’t know they like writing or history, or math, or science until they try it. They may try it and not like it, but they may love it. We are missing many girls in Computer Science solely because they don’t know anything about it and aren’t trying programming on their own like some of the boys are.

  • Teach kids the social part of computer science.

    What is the social part of computer science? Well, truth is, in industry, you probably aren’t working on an application entirely by yourself. You probably only are responsible for one little piece of the program, but it has to work with everyone else’s little piece of the program. So design an application and break it up into a couple pieces. Make each kid responsible for their piece and that it works with everyone else’s piece. This is a good end of the year project after the exam. Everyone will be focusing on something different, but they all have to work together to get the whole application to work. They have to explain to other students the objects they are providing, what methods are public, what the inputs and expected output are, and how they can be used. And it is good practice for the guys in your class to learn they aren’t working in a bubble either.

  • Talk about ethics.

    Having interesting debates about what makes downloading music illegal. Ask them how they would like it if they wrote a program and asked for money but no one paid for it and downloaded it from a file sharing site. These kinds of discussions get girls interested in the class.

  • Girls need encouragement.

    Ask a girl to try the class. You have to do this personally. And if you don’t think she will respond to you, find a teacher she will respond positively to, and have them ask her to try it. Girls are much more likely to try something if someone else encourages them to do it. I once sat in a group of female heads (principals) of boarding schools. Each woman talked about how it was that she decided to go after the Head of School job. Out of 8 Heads of School, only one of them admitted that she had wanted the job and pursued it. The other seven all talked about having a friend, coworker, or administrator who encouraged them to apply for the job. And every one of them was more than qualified for the position, but was timid about seeking it without some encouragement.

Dear Matt Damon

Did you lose a bet? Did George Clooney put you up to this? Was this your Theron Moment? Is this the new right of passage? You must be secure in your sex appeal, because that movie is putting a cramp in any fantasies I was expecting to have.

Maybe I should have watched a trailer, or read up about The Informant! before I went to see it. I went into the theatre thinking I was going to see an action packed Jason Bourne-esque thriller. What I saw was a guy who had put on a lot of weight, looked like he was straight from the 70’s, and I almost spit out my soda when you adjusted your ‘hair piece’.

Dude, Ben Affleck’s got nothing on you!

Oh, and if you or Clooney ever find yourselves single, give me a call, k?

Dear Dr. Alex

I just read your article, Why The Smartest People Have The Toughest Time Dating and I think you have me pegged.

It is true that dating gets a back seat to work. I like to think that if I were in an actual relationship that the previous statement wouldn’t be true, but history proves that wrong.

I also think that I’m entitled to love because of my achievements. I joke that my kitchen remodel is so I can attract a man when really it is just another achievement to prove I can do anything.

However, I believe I do fine at attracting partners. (You did write, “in which case you’re both smart AND pretty and everyone hates you except for me — call me, like, immediately”. Are you single?), and some people even think I have a sense of humor. I’ve even tried to help other geeks out with things like Sex with a Scientist Day and my occasional dating tips.

But I fall for your fourth point in that ‘I am talented at getting in the way of my own romantic success‘ (but really, I’m not sure where he’d been and I really didn’t want to catch anything—std or that expensive pregnancy thing).

And yes, I am down to looking at 1% of the population as a possible dating pool. I can’t lower my standards because I only have one. I need a spark. I don’t care what shape, size, color, or age it comes in, but I need butterflies in my stomach. I’m not looking for “the one”. I met two guys this week who at first glance had potential. I made eye contact, smiled, flirted, did all the things that come natural in attracting a guy that I find attractive. Then I did the ring check.


Is there hope for me?

Dear Seth MacFarlane

Saw your Hulu commercial tonight. Actually, I Tivoed past your commercial. I didn’t know who you were. But there was something about you that made me rewind and watch the commercial. And no, it wasn’t the thing that protruded from your stomach. Something in your eyes. Your smile. That je ne sais quoi.

You have potential.

So, if you happen to be single and straight, and are looking for a geeky, girl-next-door type who only knows who you are because she read your wikipedia and imdb pages tonight, then send me an email. I’d go on at least one date with you. As long as you don’t expect me to have watched all your shows and it isn’t to a Star Trek convention.

~ K

Dear Comcast

Your DVR sucks.

I was at a friend's house for an election party. We were watching CNN. There was a countdown to the west coast polls closing. Excitement was in the air. Great anticipation was building for the announcement that history was being made. We were counting down as if it were the New Years Eve ball in Times Square.



Your knockoff DVR flashed a window as it changed channels without asking permission. By the time we switched back to CNN, the announcement had been made and we were watching crouds cheering.

We missed history.

You are lucky it was just a reporter that we probably missed. If we had missed a line like the ones from landing on the moon, Kennedy being shot, or part of the I Have a Dream speech, I would have found your headquarters and requested an audience with your CEO so he could personally reenact what I had missed when the DVR changed channels.

Considering how much people pay monthly for your service can you not afford to hire a decent programmer?

Please fix this bug asap.

K, proud owner of a Tivo and an HD antenna

Update: Before I could even get to work, I received a lovely email from someone in Comcast’s customer operations. I won’t reprint the email because I hate it when people do that. But I can tell you that I am impressed with their quick response and interest in resolving the problem. And with their politeness considering the inflammatory nature of my post (Mostly written for humor sake and to hone my writing skills. You have no idea how hard it is to write something that I think is engaging enough that you, the reader, will read in its entirety instead of just skimming. Or how the first 140 characters are now the most important of every post. But I digress). I was actually planning on writing a much more polite email to Comcast’s customer service to let them know about the bug, but they beat me to it.

On a side note, I just want to explain that the reason I don’t have Comcast is because I am cheap and never home. I didn’t see the sense in paying for channels I didn’t have the time to watch. I get enough content over the air with my antenna for free. It had nothing to do with Comcast’s service or support.

But I do think they could use a little more polish on their DVR software. I do much prefer Tivo. But then again, you all know I have pretty high standards when it comes to software. ;-)

Dear Miguel from Holland

You have just succeeded at something that I doubt you were trying to do. You made me cry.

I don’t actually blame you. I read your comment on the “I love my life” post. I do feel lucky to have seen the rythmicana concert. That is definitely one of those once-in-a-lifetime kinds of experiences.

You questioned why I write about my personal life for millions of people to read. There are a few reasons. The first is that I don’t want to write about work, so I write about everything else. The second is that the more personal stuff I’ve written, the more I’ve learned about my friends and family. My posts have triggered conversations that I never would have had if I hadn’t been honest and open. I have learned more about my grandmother that other family members don’t know about. I’ve had conversations with my uncle and aunt about love and loss. I feel closer to my parents now, even though they are three thousand miles away. It lets them all know what I’m doing out here in California. And the more secrets I tell, the more secrets my friends share with me. Things that they’ve never told anyone, but now that they know I’ve had the same feelings or thoughts or experiences, they open up and share theirs.

But that still isn’t what made me cry.

What made me cry was the post that you chose to write the comment in. It wasn’t the post about the rythmicana concert. It was a simple post about how much I love my life. I didn’t write about anything too exciting that day, just the small things that reminded me how good I have it and how uncomplicated the world can be.

And as I read that post, I burst into tears because I realized that the night I wrote that post is the night that my uncle shot himself. While I was blissfully living life, he was simultaneously ending his. When I went to bed dreaming of what a wonderful weekend I had in store, I had no idea that in the morning, my father would call me and the world I was expecting to see would be turned completely upside down.

I have no idea if you purposely pointed me to that post or not, but I just wanted to say thank you. I probably would never have thought to re-read the events of that day. It was bitter sweet to read, but I’m glad to have read it again. It reminds me how quickly the world can change and how little we know about some of the people in our lives.

Thank you,
~ K


Dear Fake Steve,

I finally get it.

I know how much you think I hate your book, but now I don't. I'm on a flight to Dallas (I hate Texas, although I have no justification for it), sitting in first class, sipping my second rum and coke after the warm towel and dinner, and I finally get the humor.

I've tried to explain to you that I didn't like it because I'm too close to it. I see these people in every day life. I get caught up on some of the "facts" being wrong. And I forget that this is fiction. It is written from the view point of what the valley and the people look like from the perspective of a stranger. And I forget that I'm a stranger in this world myself.

I'm a girl from Maine who dressed up, put on makeup, did her hair, and is sitting in first class pretending that she belongs. Giggling appropriately when the steward flirts with me, trying unsuccessfully to keep up with the drinkers, making small talk with the businessman beside me about his Sony Reader. I told him I like to read my books old school. He doesn't find me charming and entertaining. I get better results in coach.

The point is I made the mistake that many engineers in the valley make. I think that I'm part of it. Just like republican farmers who think they too will be rich some day, I think that just because I see some of these people at lunch, or run into them in the lobby that I am magically part of their world. I'm not. I'm as much of a poser in the valley as I am on this flight. I may have been Cinderella while living in CT, but I'm nobody here.

I see the humor now. I see how ridiculous their lives seem. I see how you make them larger than life, bringing them close to the borders of reality just long enough to suck me back into the absurd. I'm not meant to like the characters. I'm not supposed to be able to relate to them at all. I'm just supposed to laugh at how over-the-top you depict them.

I'm laughing now reading it. Probably the only smile in first class. It just took getting away from the valley to be able to see the forest for the trees.

I hope you accept my apology for my previous harsh criticism.