Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

On Privilege and Normalcy

14 December 2013

(Repost of something I wrote on LiveJournal in 2010)

A while ago, Jay Lake talked about his privilege in his cancer treatment, and it got me to thinking about my privilege in a number of contexts.

I’m white, and that comes with power in our culture, but it’s not that that makes my own set of privileges interesting, at least I don’t think so.

Without further ado:

  1. My parents, grandparents, and so forth, went to college. My mother has documented family members going to college as far back as the 1400s. My great-grandfather had three doctorates, one of them an M.D. So I never had to struggle with family to get a better education. It was expected.
  2. Not only did my father work in the sciences when I was born, so did my mother. Not only that, my mother appeared in a science textbook in the 1950s, as though that were perfectly normal. More to the point, I was raised thinking this were normal and common, and that is a very odd privilege indeed.

    My Mother in The World of Science, © 1958

  3. My parents worked at an atom smasher:

    Where My Parents Worked, late 1950s

    Later, my dad worked in aerospace. He worked on one of the Viking Lander projects (his specialty was mass specs, and the GCMS project was affectionately known as the “Green-colored Martian sniffer”). An early project where I worked for him was measuring the helium line of the sun. Later, he won a NASA prize for his work on the TOMS (ozone-mapping mass spec) project.

  4. While I certainly know people who know more decorated scientists than I’ve met personally, especially as an adult, the fact that I’d met any as a child is a form of privilege. (My father taught the Feynman course on physics as a grad student, just as one example, and was asked to write part of the handouts for it.)
  5. When I was a teenager, my father suggested I take a programming class. After I finished it, he asked me if I wanted to do programming — that’s how I got started on my career. He thought, correctly, that I would enjoy it, and his urging me to take classes like that was partly motivated by the fact that he didn’t enjoy programming that much but did have programming work that needed to be done. So it wasn’t just a class, it was the beginning of 35 years of work (so far) in the industry.

    It was a long, long time before I met another female software engineer; I’ve never worked on a team that was even majority female. In many cases, I’ve been the only woman with a group of a handful to more than 30 male software engineers.

  6. Even when I wanted to be a musician, both my parents were willing to support that choice if and only if I got adequate education for a plan B. I got lured in by the consistent money in programming and for quite a while resented that I’d gone that way, but later came to peace with it after a summer off busking in Ireland. It met enough of the music goal that I was able to move on with my life. This is not to say that I don’t burn out occasionally — I have.
  7. After my mom remarried, we always had a plane and a boat, and tended to travel places. I got to see a lot of places that other people just don’t. San Clemente Island while it was being shelled in a military exercise, for example.San Miguel Island, where a ton of stuff floating in from Japan landed on the long beach, and its odd caliche forest:

  8. I didn’t realize how odd my upbringing was until I was in college and we were asked to write about our mother’s cooking, and most people wrote about white kitchens and poultry. Here’s an excerpt from my piece:

By far my favorite sea dish was the one I usually got to prepare–abalone. Abalone clings very hard to rocks and has to be pried not only off the rock but out of its shell. Once out, it doesn’t have the decency to just sit there and behave. No, it has to crawl all over. Abalone is inherently tough, so I would pound it with a meat tenderizer as it crawled across the cutting board. I’d stop wailing on it with the metal tenderizer and watch it to see if it had stopped moving, but it would curl up its edges and slide away.
So it’s hard for me to remember that some people have to fight to attend even two-year college, hard for me to remember that some people fight with their family about careers in the sciences and so on. It’s just so normal for me.

Then again, I grew up thinking radioactive hazard signs were normal, too….

So, yeah, I’m the weird kid, but I come by it honestly.

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Basilisk and Bats

12 December 2013

We went to the Palo Verde National Park yesterday and saw a lot of wildlife.

The basilisk, aka the Jesus Christ lizard, runs quickly enough that it can run on the surface of water.


Long-nosed brown bats nesting on a tree trunk. It’s a slight overhang, which isn’t obvious in the photo.

Bats on Tree]

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Corobici River Wildlife Day

10 December 2013

Today we went rafting down part of the river here in Costa Rica (part of it was the Corobici river, and part was a feeder river, both in the Guanacaste region). We saw monkeys–and even monkey families–in quite a few trees.

We saw three crocodiles. The first two were close up and about the length of my forearm, but the third was much larger. We only saw his nose, though, so difficult for me to estimate size.

We saw two emerald basilisks, one of which we scared off into the bushes.

Also spotted: Four male green iguanas, complete with orange spikes (one of which we scared off by accident), and one female, as well as one black iguana.

In the bird department, we saw: a magnificent frigatebird (where magnificent is part of the name, not my adjective), several boat-billed herons, a squirrel cuckoo in flight, several osprey, a beautiful green kingfisher, and a grey hawk nest (complete with birds).

The best find was a small long-nosed bat colony consisting of about twenty bats hanging (and asleep) on an angled ledge. One of the mothers had a little baby bat with her.

Sadly, no camera with me today as there were dire warnings of wetness. Turns out it would have been okay, but better not to risk expensive equipment.

Aside from that, my Keens are soaking wet and still have rocks in them. Just so you know.

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Costa Rica Vacations: Visiting Mount Arenal

06 December 2013

Mount Arenal, a common destination for Costa Rica Vacations] We were very lucky to visit Mount Arenal on our recent Costa Rica vacations. I didn’t get to see Mount Arenal on my first trip in 2012. On that trip, I only visited the Papagayo region in the northwestern Guanacaste Province.
Mount Arenal isn’t the most active of Costa Rica’s six active volcanoes, but it is one of the most accessible from Costa Rica’s capital of San José. For that reason, almost 70% of Costa Rica’s tourists visit here.
Our vantage point where I took this photo came after a drive through the Arenal Volcano National Park, where we saw white-faced capuchin monkeys and quite a few birds. We didn’t see coati in the park, but we did see some outside.
After our trip to see the volcano, we relaxed in the hot springs nearby, fed by the heat from Mount Arenal. There are many, many hot springs in Costa Rica. We happened to visit the Tabacón hot springs, which was an amazing experience with so many high-quality pools to visit!
We booked our Arenal Volcano day trip through Swiss Travel, Costa Rica’s oldest and most respected tour agency. (Currently, they’re updating their website, so I can’t link to a specific tour.)

My Forthcoming Book: Coffee & Canopy

I’m writing a book about our Costa Rica and Nicaragua vacations. My new book should be out in late spring 2015.

Want Some Ideas for Your Costa Rica Vacations?

I have blogged about some trip ideas for Costa Rica Vacations.

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How Airline Status Protects You

05 December 2013

We’re on a trip. Well, we should be. Aren’t yet. Last night, due to hard frost and no de-icing equipment in San Francisco, our flight was canceled.

When we first booked, I held the reservation for Rick and myself. Later, my mother decided to go on the trip, too, so we booked her a separate airline ticket.

Because we were paid first-class customers, we were re-booked in status order.

  1. I’m a Premier Platinum, the third of United’s status tiers. (Earnable tiers, lowest-to-highest: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K, and then there’s Global Services, which is an entirely different category.)
  2. Rick’s a Premier Silver.
  3. My mother, however, has no status.

Thus, when there were no more seats, guess who got rebooked into economy?

Yeah, so that happened.

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First Mondays Are Indie Book Mondays

04 December 2013

We all hate Mondays a little bit, right? It’s always like spring back Daylight Savings Time. Week after week after week.

Until now.

Once a month, on the first Monday of the month, I’ll post some of my comments on your indie published book. Well, someone’s book. Maybe yours. But only if I like it. Which means I have to know about it.

Here’s the rules:

  1. You must have a web site. I don’t care if it’s for you as an author or the book (or the series of books).
  2. There must be an excerpt of your book on your web site. ~2 pages (500 words) is a good start.
  3. There must be a link that offers a downloadable sample (e.g., through iBooks). I’m sample girl. The book must be available somewhere in EPUB format. I don’t read on a Kindle or with the Kindle app, and I don’t read paper books any more.
  4. If it’s part of a series, I’m only interested in the first book.
  5. Your book must have been published for the first time within a year (to the nearest month), but must be available on the posting date. So for the Jan 6, 2014 edition, anything published between Jan 1, 2013 and Jan 6, 2014 is fine.
  6. It must be in a genre I read. (See below.)
  7. How to be considered:

    a. Email me: (spell carefully). Deadline is two weeks before the post date, so Dec 23.

    b. Make sure you list your web site, book, and its publication date.

    c. Note that I will actually look at your excerpt and, if I like that, your sample. And, if I like that, I’ll have a go at the rest of the book.

    d. Your book doesn’t get picked unless I like it.

    e. If you leave any of the necessary bits out, I will probably not approve your comment. (At this time, all comments are moderated unless you have a previously-approved comment.)

  8. Even if I don’t pick your book, if I find you have an interesting-sounding excerpt that isn’t quite my thing, I may give you a shout-out in the Indie Monday post.
  9. Women writers, writers of color, LGBT* writers are all encouraged to participate.
  10. If I don’t feel that I’ve found an indie published book via your submissions of your own work that I’d love to give a shout-out to that month, I’ll still post about an indie book, just not one that was submitted. This is a last resort, though.

Anything I didn’t cover? Feel free to ask questions below.

What I Like to Read

Science fiction, fantasy (except of the good vs. evil sort), paranormal romance, romance (any heat level), mystery, travel essay.

I like funny books and upbeat endings and complicated plots, but none of those elements are required.

What I Won’t Read

Horror of most kinds, lifestyle BDSM, Christian-themed books, tragedies, strenuously dramatic works, overly derivative works, and erotica that’s too out there for publishers like Samhain.

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It Wasn't Always This Red

03 December 2013

Because reasons, I started turning grey at age 16. Yes, in high school.

Early on in my software engineering career, this helped me because it made me look more experienced than I actually was.

A few years into my career, I was seriously dating a younger man, and it made him insecure because of my older appearance. He asked if I would consider coloring my hair. Note that it wasn’t a demand, just a request.

My natural hair color was a dark taupe, and I was never really happy with it. My skin color has a lot of red in it, and the lack of red in my natural hair color made it look odd. For a while, I tried to change my face color with makeup, but that looked even stranger to me. So I picked a random temporary dye color that I happened to like most. I didn’t think a lot about it, just grabbed a box.

He hated the color. Worse than the grey in his book. However, I happened to like it more because it went better with my coloring, and I’ve pretty much stuck with a similar hue ever since, though I do mix it up from time to time. Needless to say, the relationship didn’t last, though it wasn’t because of the hair color.

A few years ago, I decided to grow it out, then did a purple temporary color for a while. Here’s a picture of me after that had mostly washed out.


But here’s the look I prefer: deirdre-feb-2010

(I don’t always get to go to my favorite salon, Shear Perfection in Hollywood, but I did that time.)

Note: This is my reaction to one of Jenny Trout’s tweets.

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Geographical Trivia

03 December 2013

  1. All of Asia, except for Indonesia, is above the equator. (Some perspectives don’t count Indonesia as a part of Asia, though.)
  2. Wellington, New Zealand (41° 17′ 20″ S) is the world’s southernmost capital city. It’s at about the same latitude (different hemisphere, obviously) as Rome, Italy (41° 54′ 0″ N).
  3. The equator passes through the land or territorial waters of 14 countries. I have been to two of them: Colombia and Maldives.
  4. Venice, Italy, (45° 26′ 15″ N) is approximately as far north as the Vermont/New Hampshire border with Canada (45° N). Obviously, the vast majority of Europe is farther north than that.
  5. Melbourne, Australia (37° 48′ 49″ S) is about as far south as San Francisco (37° 47′ 0″ N) is north.
  6. Tokyo (35° 41′ 22.22″ N) is about halfway between, latitude-wise, as San Francisco and Los Angeles (34° 3′ 0″ N). This one invariably breaks my brain.
  7. Cape Town, South Africa (33° 55′ 31″ S) is approximately the same latitude as Los Angeles, albeit in the opposite hemisphere.
  8. Ushuaia, Argentina (54° 48′ 0″ S) is generally considered to be the southernmost city in the world. It’s closer to the equator than Copenhagen, Denmark (55° 40′ 34″ N) is.

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Feeling Excluded: Edition

02 December 2013

Update, April 2014: Box has revised the page.
I’ve had a chance to look at a lot of company “About Us” pages of late, and many of these for smaller companies show team photos or action shots. has a page with a URL of “why-box” and a page title of “Working at Box.”
Here’s all the photos of women on that page:
box-com-photo] Does that photo make me feel like I’ll be respected there? No. It does not.
Not only is the woman sitting passively while the men are in more standing and active positions, she’s sitting next to a stuffie. I have no idea how Box thought this was at all welcoming to female engineers. I mean, yeah, it’s possibly actually her stuffie, but this is the sole representation of women on a page that’s talking about why you should work for the company.
As such, it’s a fail if you’re a woman who doesn’t want to sit on the floor while the men stand. Or if you want to be more active. Or if you want to be taken seriously.
box-com-photo-set] Sure, there are better pictures of women elsewhere on the site, though not all of those are unsucky. But if you’re gonna have a page about why someone should work for your company, maybe showing that you respect 51% of the population should be part of your design goals.
p>Though, in the props department, so many tech companies have zero representation of black people, and they at least do better here, though it might be nice if he were the more active person in the scene.

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Pronoun Power

30 November 2013

Context, for those who missed it:

  1. Node.js maintainer (note: I’m unclear on who did the original deed and not gonna go look through all the commits) commits with “he” instead of a gender-neutral pronoun.
  2. Alex Gaynor adds a pull request to fix that.
  3. Maintainer Ben Noordhuis closes pull request with comment, “Sorry, not interested in trivial changes like that.” (same URL, further down page)
  4. Project Lead Isaac Schlueter accepted the pronoun fix.
  5. Ben tried to revert Isaac’s commit, which would re-add the sexist pronoun.
  6. Joyent employee Bryan Cantrill writes blog post about how this is unacceptable and also added a contributor guideline.

    But just so you heard it from us: if this were the act of a Joyent employee, we would—to deliberately use a gender-neutral pronoun—fire them.

  7. Ben wrote a clarifying comment. I want to say this: props to Ben for volunteering in a mentorship program to help get women into the field. That’s important stuff, and shouldn’t be lost in context. Hat tip to @goodwillbits for alerting me.

I have a few short comments.

  1. I worked sixteen years in the field before I worked on a team with another female software engineer. Please try to imagine that everyone of your sex that’s your peer vanishes for sixteen years and what your professional life would look like. ‘Cause that’s what mine did.
  2. The highest percentage of female software engineers I’ve ever worked with is a large team that had, at its peak, about 1/3 females, but, over time, it bounced back down to 25%.
  3. The largest team on which I was the sole female software engineer consisted of 38 people, of which 33 were software engineers. There were two other women on the team: a tech writer and a technical support staffer.
  4. More typically, I’ve worked on engineering teams where there were about 10% female software engineers.

It’s an incredibly tough business to be in and stay in as a woman. Thank you to all the people who spoke up about this issue pointing out how important it is.

Words matter.

Especially pronouns.


Kent Brewster points out that a better way to have solved the problem would be restructuring the sentences entirely. It’s not always possible to avoid pronouns, though Kent’s right about this case.

I kept the scope of my own post deliberately narrow. While I have always enjoyed working with men, sometimes it’s not obvious to them how they push women out of the field. Many women really do need to feel welcome in order to participate, and what may seem like a little thing to you may not seem like a little thing to them.

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