Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Texas Conference for Women, 2016

Where to even start? I'm on my annual post-conference high right now, having just returned home after this year's Texas Conference for Women. I'm fortunate that it's in Austin, and that my company bought several tables for us. Every year I come home both inspired and more informed about women in the world -- both the amazing things they're doing and the terrible things they're facing.

This year was no different. The most memorable speakers during the morning keynotes (for me, obviously) were Annie Clark, and Abby Wombach. Annie's name didn't sound familiar, but after her introduction I realized I had heard her story before. Abby has been doing amazing things in the fight to end sexual assault on campus. Hearing the reactions of her school to her rape was unbelievable. Her courage to change the status quo by going up against one of the largest and most prestigious universities in the world were inspiring to say the least. That she managed to turn something awful into a positive is something not all of us have it in us to do.

Abby Wombach's story was more well-known to me, and I was encouraged to hear about her fight for equal pay for women in sports. She joked that she wasn't able to do whatever she wanted to do in her retirement unlike another male soccer player, due to their pay differences, but also noted their World Cup trophy differences. Funny but not funny, amirite? The best part about Abby's talk was that she veered off into politics. Many of the women at the conference today did go there, and they all kept it classy. Abby was a little different in her tack. She urged us all to have hard conversations with the physical people around us. She said that social media is destroying us by allowing us to isolate ourselves in self-affirming bubbles, which is I think something we can all agree with. I'm not sure I'm up for the hard conversations just yet.

The lunchtime keynotes were also inspiring. My two favorites from lunch were Diane von Furstenberg and (surprise surprise) Amal Clooney. I actually was surprised that Diane von Furstenberg was one of my favorites. I knew nothing about the woman -- only that she has her own fashion brand. Her story was more her family's story -- her mother held in a Nazi concentration camp for 18 months and left weighing 54 pounds. After her marriage, she was told to wait five years before having children, but didn't. Ms. von Fursetenberg joked that her mother's doctor's warning had come to pass -- she had had an abnormal child.

Her message was that we should explore opportunities presented to us, even if we we may see them as not worthwhile. We can never know where it may lead. She learned about fabrics thinking she was just working to pay the bills, but she was actually picking up valuable knowledge that helped launch her into where she is today.

Amal Clooney talked about the work she is doing to have ISIS leaders tried for their crimes against Yazidi women. The stories she told were horrific. I can only say that I am in awe of her courage in the face of such evil. Amal was then joined on stage by Carroll Bogert, another human rights activist (though I feel the word activist doesn't come close to describing the work these women are doing). My favorite thing that Ms. Bogert said was that people have this perception of human rights activism as women's work -- because it is largely done by women -- and that it is also somehow easy work; but that it is incredibly difficult work. The stunned silence and heaviness in the hall left no room for disagreement.

The two sessions that I went to outside the keynotes that really stood out were Living with Intent with Mallika Chopra (yep, Deepak Chopra's daughter), and Transform Your Norm with Lisa Nichols. This year I decided to steer clear of any technical or business-oriented talks, and go all-in for the "Self-Improvement" talks. Those tend to have the most dynamic speakers (although last year I didn't exactly love the message of the most dynamic speaker I saw).

Mallika reinforced things that I already knew about the benefits of meditation, but the thing I needed to hear was that you need to make sure you're having enough fun in your life. I think that's something I've neglected as I tried to pick up the slack during Chris's most challenging first years with his new path, and push myself further in my career. Another thing that really resonated with me was the joy she seemed to get from her group of girl friends. I've never had a big group of them, and my good ones mostly live far away (and in different cities). I'm not sure how to gather ladies together who are more swamped than I am -- but it's something I know I need to do.

Speaking of things I know I need to do, Lisa Nichols' talk was aimed at getting us inspired to do them. She was fantastic. In the final sentence of her introduction, we were told to "buckle up." She was fun, funny, charming, and did in fact make us all slightly uncomfortable. Her story of going from someone with $11, living on public assistance with an 8-month old son, to running a multi-million-dollar business was only the premise to her appeal. She had some great one-liners that she credited to her fabulous-sounding grandmother; my favorite being, "Your conviction and your comfort don't live on the same block." I decided I would buy her book and watch her Youtube videos.

I didn't have time to make it to the expo hall's book store, but in a stroke of luck (or fate?) she was the guest speaker at the technical women's networking event held at the end of the day. Along with my glass of wine, I picked up a book and got her to sign it. I told her it was the first time I'd purchased a book at a conference, so she signed my copy, "Proud to be your first." What a way to end my day.

*Aahhhhh* And I needed this day.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

What the Death of Rdio Has Taught Me

Most people have never heard of Rdio, let alone  lament the fact that it no longer exists (save in the fond memories of its loyal ex-users). I briefly used Spotify years ago, until an infuriating run-around with their customer service over everyone's inability to use our American Express cards as forms of payment. Then, in the shiny Spotify forums, I saw the first mention of Rdio. And I jumped at an alternative to this terribly managed platform. And I never looked back. Until Pandora bought Rdio and shut it down almost immediately.

Why did I love Rdio over other music serivices? Because of the way I personally listen to music. I wonder if it is because I am a child of the Napster generation (and a literal child of parents who had a good vinyl collection). I collected music.

When I moved to Austin for college, I moved from dial-up, to a T1 line that ran to our dorm. I do not know how to explain to "youths" (said in my best Schmidt voice) today how big of a jump that is. I went from downloading a few songs overnight, to entire albums in minutes. And so, my music library grew.

Soon bands like Metallica started really cracking down on illegal music downloaders, iTunes came around, and I was well into my CS education. I realized I needed to pay for my music. Just because I couldn't see something (or be seen stealing it) didn't mean I shouldn't pay for it. Hard work went into music and software. People's lives went into music and software. And so, my music library *legally* grew.

By the end of college, I was accustomed to having a hefty hard drive full of music to call upon. My more ambitious friends had music servers. I carefully curated my music collection and burned new CDs to my library and imported them into iTunes. I eventually moved in with my now husband, who has turned into an Apple addict. We have an AppleTV, so I could easily stream my music to it from my laptop. He acquired a few AirPlay and Bluetooth speakers over his tenure at Apartment Therapy, so no matter where I was in our house, I could listen to *my* music.

By the 2010's music streaming was becoming the new norm. Data plans were cheap, and Spotify (which had launched in 2008) began to take over the music scene. I wanted to try it out, so I did, and was met with the experience I'd mentioned before, and quickly went to Rdio. Rdio worked okay (and let me use my AmEx card). Over the years, it got better and better, and I really loved its interface.

What I didn't realize is that Rdio also worked in the way that I was used to listening to music. I "favorited" particular albums, and they were now in my music library. I was essentially leasing them. Whenever I wanted to listen to a song, or an album, or an artist, I did just that. I could even, just as with my iTunes library shuffle everything I'd "favorited." I started favoring artists, so that any time a new album landed in Rdio, it was automatically in my favorites, and new music from my favorite artists would, much to my delight, appear in my rotation. If I didn't like an artist enough to favorite their entire body of work, I could favorite just one album. But mostly, I favorited artists.

I subscribe to satellite radio as well, so between friends, living in Austin, and my favorite XM channels (Jenny Eliscu, I love your show), I discovered new music and added it to my favorites. I could call up my music from anywhere, at any time. And from any computer I happened to be sitting at. It was pretty glorious (with a few minor pain points*).

Then, Rdio died (RIP). I tried all kinds of other things so I wouldn't have to switch to the company that had made me so angry those years ago. I begrudgingly signed up for Spotify's Premium service again (because, even though I hate giving them my money, I hate commercials more). I added all my favorites from Rdio to my Spotify account. Then I looked for the "Play library" feature, or something similar. Then I learned that with Spotify, you have to just shuffle an artist, or an album, or worse, play a playlist they've created for you. For those of you who don't know me well, I mostly loathe all new (new = post-1980) "popular" music. And what are playlists going to push? You guessed it. I want to listen to *my* music. Not just one band a time.

This may be fine for a lot of people, but I listen to music at work -- to boost my mood, to drown out the incredibly loud people around me, and to focus.  I don't want to listen to a playlist with a crappy song in it that I have to stop and skip STAT. (Yes, I like the Dixie Chicks and Willie Nelson, and one or two Taylor Swift songs, but I do NOT NOT NOT like almost all other country music.) I don't want to shuffle one artist for an hour, then think about which one I want to shuffle next. I just want to loop through all the music I already know I like and leave it on auto-pilot (aka shuffle) so that I can get some uninterrupted work done. Or jam out on my road trip when I'm just feeling like some old familiar music.

I'm now realizing that those years of paying for Rdio in which I leased music may have been better served by my buying a new album every month instead.  Since music has always played such a big part of my life, I'm feeling rather lost.

I've learned that, for the most part, the solution to my problem is to add all albums I'd like to listen to by favorite artists to my Library, then I can shuffle my library. This, in my opinion, is too much work to do something that Rdio made so simple. And it doesn't get new albums added.

I've actually cancelled my Spotify service and gone back to listening to my iTunes library. Hello Tool (and my angry adolescence)! I've missed you.

What I've learned is that streaming music is a bad investment. Not even an investment. Artists are already complaining that they don't get paid enough from it.

I've also learned that good DJs are worth more than good algorithms.

The solution seems to be buying albums on iTunes (or Google Play) and letting Apple keep them safe for me. One can see similar issues arising should Apple ever kill iTunes as we know it.

Doing a little math for logic's sake, I currently have 90 favorite artists in Spotify. If I bought one album from each at $10, I'd be looking at $900. No bad, considering that I've probably already got at least one album from one of each of my favorites between the CDs in the closet and my iTunes library.

For the past three years of Rdio usage, I spent $10/month, which comes out to $360. If I could recoup that $360, would I plop it down in the Apple Music store? Is leasing music worth the convenience?

---

*Pain points: No Tool, among other bands. Also, a lot of the music I had on my computer was never going to end up on any streaming music service. For a long time, the Chieftans weren't online, IIRC.



Monday, December 28, 2015

The Wearable Dilemma

Everyone loves gadgets. This isn't a techie thing. Maybe I love gadgets a little more because I love to quantify things. I love graphs. And my Fitbit has introduced me to the world of the Quantified Self. I can never go back.

However, my Fitbit has, once again, fallen apart. This has prompted me to write yet another blog saga about finding the perfect wearable.

I ordered my very first Fitbit Flex in February of 2014 as part of my employer's health rebate program (which I do not love, but that's another story). The next two years have been a love-hate relationship with my Fitbit. Here's the bullet-point version of that:

  • Feb 2014: First Fitbit (Flex) 
  • May: Losing Flex because of stretched holes in band closure. Fitbit replaced band.
  • October: Rubber band separates from screen. Fitbit replaced band.
  • January 2015: No longer charges reliably. Fitbit replaced with new Flex (all components).
  • February: Sold new Flex, and instead bought Charge through work program.
  • April: Back comes unglued (despite screws). I Super Glue to fix.
  • May: Repeat above.
  • October: Rubber begins to peel at junction with screen.
  • November: Rubber beings to bubble under screen on top, and the glue continues to break down.
  • December: Top portion of bracelet's rubber is no longer glued to plastic band underneath. I finally email Fitbit and ask for a replacement.

So, the Dilemma:

I'm really tired of replacing & repairing Fitbits. I love that they keep sending me new ones, but the quality has started me looking at different devices. And once you start looking, you start seeing other things you like. And I'm also realizing how much I miss my pretty black ceramic Skagen watch. This Fitbit is ugly, and I can't wear it to a nice dinner. But I don't want to lose my steps! If you don't have a step tracking device, you have no idea how traumatic it is to lose steps.

I saw an add for the Misfit Shine 2, but as I said in my blog post about that, everyone is losing theirs. No way, Jose. Also, I later realized how much I love having, not just call notifications, but caller ID. I get a LOT of wrong numbers for some reason.

Last week while Christmas shopping, I ran across the Pebble Time Round. It seemed to fit all my requirements:
  • Pretty
  • Small & thin
  • Changeable bands (can work out using a non-leather one)
  • Caller ID
  • Text notifications
  • Tells time
  • Tracks steps & sleep
That's all I've decided I really want. A heartreate monitor would be nice, but, just a bonus.

The more I looked at the Pebble's OS, the more sad I was. It seems to be a really smart OS, but it looks like it's designed for toddlers.


I just can't.

There are other wearables out there that look amazing, though.

Why they won't work for me:

Samsung Gear S2
No iOS support. I'm not so in love with Apple as much as not really excited about being tied to a particular ecosystem.
And also, it's bigger than my wrist. I physically can't.

Moto 360
Out, because I currently have an iPhone and wouldn't pay that much for something I can't use all the features of.
Also, it's pretty huge. I want to say I would be okay with something that's the same height as my wrist since it's pretty, but it would just look silly. It's double the size of my little Skagen watch.

Withings Activité
Gorgeous app.
No call notifications.
$400 unless I want a black one.

Apple Watch
It's a rectangle. That's my big beef with this thing. It's small, which is a HUGE plus, but it's an ugly, ugly rectangle.
Also, vendor-lockin. But I already have an iPhone.
Also also, the bands are, of course, expensive.

A common negative among all these is that they're expensive. None of these is a watch that will last my lifetime. They're gadgets that will quickly go out of style -- so a hefty price-tag for features (like a multitude of apps, GPS,  fast processors, etc.) that I don't want just isn't worth it to me.

This post that I ran across while making sure I hadn't missed anything I would seriously consider gives me hope that an answer is coming in 2016.
http://www.wareable.com/wareable50/best-wearable-tech