Category: Uncategorized

Back to Changing the World, NOT…

The old saying, “If I knew then what I know now”, echoes in my mind.

When I look back at this post, I see I still haven’t learned and how hard it is for Type A’s to learn. I thought after this post I had changed but in January of 2018, I started my own business to help small businesses with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice issues as there were very few consultants looking to help small businesses. I started off slow and only working with a few companies, non-profits, counties and cities but then there I was again taking on too much and pushing myself too hard. I came close to having three more concussions and so I sold my business and officially retired. I had to admit I had mental disabilities and had to go on disability. Every time I think about over doing it again, I read this blog and I hope it can help you as much as it helps me when I want to get too involved again.

I would have not gone to the Hackathon in LA back in 2013 and when my doctor said I must rest. I would have had my husband hide my cellphone, laptop and taken it easy.  Instead, for the next six months, I still went online on my phone doing emails and answering what I thought were crucial emails and calling colleagues on how to execute important projects.

Of-course looking back none of it was more crucial than my health, I wasn’t saving lives, things could have waited.  Others within Microsoft would’ve taken the slack.  However, my ego was hard to reign in.  I thought what I was doing was so critical and no one else had the expertise and needed my coaching for things to be completed exactly the way I thopught they needed to be done.

Many of us think we can just ‘tough it out’ and work through cold, illness, etc.  What ‘toughing it out’ did do was postpone my recovery. Failure to heed my body’s warning signs caused dizziness, migraines, memory loss, executive function and slowed my multi-tasking abilities.  I now had to do eye therapy and my ability to focus  (switching from looking close and away) diminished to the ability of an eight-year-old and required me to relearn my focus and get glasses for the first time in my life.

So, after six months of eye therapy, no driving (Five years later, I still lack the confidence to drive and am only slowly adding in daytime driving for short distances.  But last month I did do my first long 200 mile drive from Bend to Newport, Oregon ), no television, no computer, no reading, no alcohol, no caffeine, no high intensity exercise, constant migraine headaches, dizziness, nausea, word searching, memory loss, six more black out concussions and lack of balance.  Then one day I awoke with a clearing in my head I had not felt in 6 months.  I went to the neurologist, she did some tests and said I think you are okay to go back to work but you must take it slow!  Do not jump fully in and do not take too much on you have been resting your brain for 6 months you need a slow transition back to work.

I did not realize her definition of slow was very different from mine.  Compared to the way I used to work, 12-18 hour days, I was only working 10 now.  Instead of traveling 3 weeks a month, I started with just a few days a month.  But as the months drove on, I was feeling more and more like myself again.

There was so much work to be done in diversity in computer science, combating human trafficking, committees for the White House Office of Technology Policy on computer science education for underrepresented groups and technology implications of human trafficking, hackathons, hacks for good, conferences, keynotes, panels, guest lectures, publications, projects with UN Women, NCWIT, ABI, CRA-W, ACM-W and the making of Dream Big (movie featuring young women in computer science changing the world), that I started back to my 16 hour days, and my crazy travel of three weeks a month.

Rane moderating Big Dream Panel at the Napa Valley Film Festival

Taking on diversity and Computer Science efforts at top universities around the country heading to India, Korea, UK, Brazil, Singapore, and across the United States.  In a previous blog post, you saw our film was featured at the Napa Valley Film Festival and was being shown all over the world.  I was so excited about the progress!  Also, the fact that Microsoft and Microsoft Research’s efforts were highlighted in many of the top publications (i.e. Slate, NPR, Huffington Post), I couldn’t but help agreeing to serve on nonprofit boards needing our help and expertise, at one point I was on thirteen boards.  My hubris and type A drive which had carried me so far was a hindrance to my healing.

At every free moment, I was working on some project with one of the many non-profits (as you know I am a get shit done person and not just a sit and advise type person).  In my spare time, I was at home trying to transform my local community (Bend, Oregon) by supporting more STEM efforts, starting a scholarship for under-represented groups in computer science and engineering at OSU-Cascades, helping entrepreneurs, volunteering with the tech community and local youth, mentoring and teaching a course called ‘Ethics and Computer Science’ at OSU-Cascades. I could feel the exhaustion coming on but I thought to myself “just one more conference and then I will take two weeks off and be fine.”

I am here to tell you, we are not robots and you can continue to ignore the signs your body gives off but if you don’t listen it will force you to listen.  As Type A workaholics, passionate and ready to take on the world are bodies are resilient but not that resilient!  You cannot ‘tough it out’ you must pause when your body needs a pause even if it is just a mental health day from work.

So, on May 232015, while attending a conference on behalf of Microsoft I had just finished several sessions and presentations at Day one of the NCWIT Conference in Hilton Head.  I had a dinner meeting with Mayim Bialik (Big Bang Theory-that was so cool!) discussing our film and her possible support and how Microsoft could possibly support a new Girls in STEM TV series she was going to kick off.  We returned to the hotel and I saw several of the researchers I was working with on a number of projects at the bar talking asking me to come join them.

After discussing theories, projects, new opportunities and changing the world of computer science it was reaching midnight and time for me to head for bed.  I was tired and started to feel a pain in my side (later I would figure out that would be a sign that I would blackout soon) but I ignored it and kept on.  As I walked away from the bar area to the elevators, the next minute I know I awoke in someone’s arms, with so many people surrounding me, all dazed and confused as I try to get up.  There was shouting, “Rane don’t move you’re bleeding and bleeding a  lot.”

Suddenly, EMTs are walking briskly toward me as my eye sight slowly comes back from a fog of gray and blurs.  “Ma’am you blacked out and hit your head, you have a good side gash on your head, can you just lay back we are going to put you in a neck brace and start an IV?” said the nice EMT gentleman.  One of my research friends from Harvey Mudd University began telling the EMT what had happened and he had her and a staffer from NCWIT follow the ambulance to the Emergency Room (thanks Catherine & Colleen).

Rane in emergency room sending selfie to her husband to calm him down, trying to make it look not so bad.

I had thrown up a few times in the ambulance (sorry Mr. EMT guy- all over him) and still could not comprehend what was going on. While waiting for the doctor, my colleagues called my husband and tried not to scare him with me being in the emergency room again and blacking out after hitting my head.  Once they were done, then I was taken for MRI, CT Scan, stitches and forced to stay awake for a few hours to ensure I wasn’t going to go to sleep and never wake up again.  I finally got back to the hotel at 4AM looking like a semi-truck hit me, it took me an hour to wash all the coagulated blood out of my hair. I went to sleep and at 10am I awoke to call the airline and get a flight back to Bend, Oregon to go to my neurologist.  I flew out with frustration, here we go again.  With a horrible migraine, nausea and dizziness, I headed to the airport to what would be a multi leg eight-hour (the take offs and landings were excruciating with another concussion) flight before I finally got back to Bend and into the arms of my husband. It was also so humiliating for an extremely independent person to be whisked on and off the planes on a wheel chair as people looked at me like oh that poor young woman. Talk about a humbling experience.  I was beaten down.

This resulted in the next several years of trying to figure out why I was blacking out, thirteen more concussions resulting in me having traumatic brain injury and fighting the insurance company for my long-term disability.  Who would know the benefit you pay into hoping you will never have to use would be so difficult to obtain.  Once you need this benefit, how difficult it is to get it, even harder to keep it and then battling their doctors, lawyers, appeals and lawsuits to get the money and benefits you need, deserve and have earned. No one explains how you need to fill out all these forms and one little error can make your benefits never happen.  Having to go on unpaid medical leave due to this (I will have an entire blog dedicated to this subject later in my blog series to help those dealing with long-term and short-term disability claims, so you know what to do to get the benefits you deserve).  I would move from one doctor visit a year with my primary care for annual physical and flu shot to multiple visits a week with the following healthcare providers: Neurologist, Vasovagal Specialist, Optometrist, Vestibular Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Neurofeedback Psychologist, Psychologist, Acupuncturist and Chiropractor.

I didn’t realize how life threatening it could be for you if you tried to just push through the pain.  I plead with you if you have a concussion to please take the needed time off and screen time off! I learned the hard way and trust me you don’t want to go through this.  During this process, I had to get character letters from friends and colleagues about the Rane before and the Rane after all these concussions for the lawyers and it was painful to read the new person I had become.  As I researched what was wrong with me, I realized we still don’t know much about the brain and especially concussions. I read and listened to everything I could on TBI and concussions.   I will spare you with the peer review scholarly research publications (they are quite dry, interesting but will put you to sleep) but here are my top three books for you to read if you or a family member is dealing with this issue.  Next week, my blog will be on lessons learned on how Type A’s can rest your brain.

  1. Super Better by Jane McGonigal
  2. Mindstorms: The Complete Guide for Families Living with Traumatic Brain Injury by John W Cassidy
  3. Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: A Guide to Living with the Challenges Associated with Post Concussion Syndrome and Brain Trauma by Barbara Albers Hill and Diane Roberts Stoler

Traumatic Brain Injury Repost

As we have been traveling the country many people have asked I repost my story on Traumatic Brain Injury. There are so many workaholics who just ignore their body communications like I did, that they requested I share my story and push people to listen to their bodies and take more breaks. Maybe you even want to consider what Greg forced me to do, sell our home and hit the road and leave the working and volunteering world for an extended break. So the next 3 blogs will be about my TBI and how we got to become full-time Nomads. I will do a few revisions to make it more relevant to those on the road and how my life has changed since these posts were a few years ago. Then we will return to our road trip stories and pictures. We will post about how to pack most efficiently, great campgrounds in Montana and the amazing Beartooth Highway! Below, is from Greg and what it is like for a spouse living with a loved one with TBI who won’t accept their disability.

Hi folks, you may have been wondering where I’ve been the last few years since I’ve fallen off the map and social media world.  Unfortunately, at the NCWIT Conference in May 2015, I had a Vasovagal Syncope episode (My husband will describe this later) which resulted in a concussion and an ambulance ride to the ER in Hilton Head, North Carolina.  I’d like to thank all the thoughtful researchers, professors and NCWIT staff who helped me at the Emergency Room and back at the hotel.  This was my 7th concussion since February 2013 and my body was telling me to slow down in a not so gentle way.  The slow down required me to go on medical leave to the present and my future blogs will describe the 13 concussions and resulting Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and the fight to move from a ‘Type A’, left brained person trying to change the world to someone who needs to slow down, become more right-brained and focus on selfcare.  The blogs I hope will illustrate our frustration with the lack of understanding regarding concussions and TBI by medical professionals and insurance companies.  How the recovery process works for workaholic, outgoing, overachievers.  As well as the hardship for spouses who have to try and take care of a TBI loved one.  I’ll also try to include some words of advice so this doesn’t happen to others, but let’s start at the beginning… 

My husband Greg helps in describing the events from February 2013 that led to my current health conditions that I have been struggling with for the last four years.  Greg describes what he encountered: 

I woke up at about 2am to the sound of a large thud/crash.  I was startled and immediately thought that an intruder had kicked in our sliding door downstairs.  I leaned over to tell Rane that someone was breaking in and that I was going to check on it.  I was shocked she wasn’t there and my heart sank.  I knew something was wrong.  I hurried downstairs and found a large pool of blood next to the refrigerator and no Rane.  I freaked out and started to look for her, I found her in a daze trying to clean herself up in the bathroom.  She had hit her head and had a laceration on her chin where she had fallen on the floor.  We cleaned up the blood and tried to get Rane settled down back in bed after she insisted she didn’t need to go to the hospital right away (Even though she had a headache, blurred vision, was feeling nauseous and vomited, which we later learned are all signs of a concussion.)  In hindsight, I still feel regret for listening to her and not taking her immediately to the hospital.   

All I could think of was that she should not go back to sleep because a concussion could lead to complications, like going to sleep and not waking up-ever.  I had little to no experience in my life with concussions and did not know what to do next.  I seemed to recall that if someone hit their head and is that they should not go to sleep, I helped Rane into the shower.  I had her shower, sit up in bed and not go to sleep for a few hours until she seemed somewhat stable before I let her finally go to sleep.  This was the start of our experience with concussions and the complications from this little understood medical condition. 

It was a Sunday morning, a few hours after her fall, when I took Rane to the Bend Memorial Clinic Emergency Room in Bend, Oregon.  For some background, we had just moved from Seattle about 2 weeks prior to the incident.  We were just getting used to our new home.  The doctor we saw gave Rane some stitches and asked her some medical questions.  He said she probably had a concussion and she should be wary of the onset of concussion symptoms.  He suggested she go home and rest but Rane asked the doctor if she could fly later that morning for a Hackathon she was leading in Los Angeles, CA for work.   

For those of you who don’t know, Rane was a Principal Researcher for Microsoft who was leading Diversity Outreach and growing the next generation of computer scientists–especially women and underrepresented groups—at the time her concussions began.  It was to be the first International Women’s Hackathon* focused on hacking for good and helping non-profits with applications to uniquely help their causes.  Rane, as the leader, was worried.  She was expected to be there leading around 800 women from the world over who were counting on her.  Additionally, this event was her chance to bring the topic of Women in Tech and Women in Computer Science strongly into the media forefront.  Interviews were set up with the New York Times, LA Times, Huffington Post and NPR.  

The ER doctor gave her ‘permission’ to go on that Microsoft business trip and was rather nonchalant about the incident.  He did however tell her if she had a particular list of symptoms, to go to the emergency room.  Rane being the driven and dependable person she was ignored them all.   In hindsight, this decision for Rane to ‘tough it out’ and push through the concussion symptoms was a mistake. I wish I had forced her to stay home and take care of the concussion.   As it turns out this decision likely worsened her condition and greatly extended the duration and severity of its symptoms.  Her issues had a medical name we were later to find out from her Neurologist.  It is called Post-Concussion Syndrome. 

Some small consolation was the good Rane was able to do while on her work trip in LA.  The Hackathon reached women from seven countries and nearly 800 students from colleges and universities.  If you read her blog from February 2013, you will remember her focus was to help victims of human trafficking and work with the top NGOs in the United States to tackle this complex and horrendous issue. They focused on solving the following questions: given that internet technology is being used for exploitation and trafficking, how might the tools and opportunities of the internet also be used for the protection and defense of victims? How might a victim of trafficking be able to access the Internet to find her freedom?   

The home base for the Hackathon was University of Southern California (USC), with in-person and Skyped-in participants facilitating connection with women from eight countries around the world.  The Hackathon was able to show women they may only be small in number at their university but there are many of them around the world and they can collaborate and support each other.  The young women brought up how this was so different from other hackathons where they were mostly surrounded by men and most of the time ignored, not able to program but were instead relegated to project management or the final presentation.  There was fierce competition but everyone was supportive in giving suggestions, helping debug issues and wanting each other to be successful in helping the NGOs.  Several women discussed the fact that it was so cool to go on Skype and talk to women from countries outside of the United States like Columbia in South America and Australia.  It was exciting to discuss their applications and approaches.  The best quote Rane brought up to me was “It’s like competing locally but collaborating globally, it’s awesome to see I’m not so all alone and there are many women like me around the world!”   

After the hackathon, Rane was headed to Redmond for business meetings and her quarterly business review presentation.  I was surprised to hear from Rane that she was coming home early and needed to go to the hospital and get a MRI and CT Scan.  She had blacked-out and fell again at work, she had migraines and was very dizzy and nauseous.  I picked her up at the airport and I have never seen her so pale and suffering from a lack of energy.  She told me that she had been dizzy, nauseous and vomited several times during the hackathon.  I was so mad to hear she stayed up 38 hours straight and helped the ladies with their applications. Thank goodness, she was staying with a good Microsoft friend Kristin Tolle whose husband is a doctor.  After Rane was feeling weak and fell into Kristin’s arms, her husband told Rane she needed to go home immediately and see a neurologist.    

Rane had made an appointment while at Microsoft, and we went straight to the neurologist.  After a number of tests, we were lucky Rane did not appear to have any major brain issues besides post concussive syndrome and was ordered to take two weeks with no screen time and complete bed rest.  The doctor then let us know she should not have done the hackathon or worked.  Hindsight is 20/20.  As Rane’s supporters and friends you know she did not consider her cellphone as screen time and continued to answer emails and take calls.  This we would later find postponed her recovery.  Her eyesight and focusing abilities diminished to that of an eight-year-old, that after having 20/20 vision all her life prior to the head injuries.  Rane had to get glasses and go to eye therapy with an ophthalmologist to train her eyes to help her brain so she could finally get back to work.   

Rane continued to experience a lot of nausea, migraines, inability to focus, word searching, memory issues and continued to get worse and not better.  After two weeks off, she went back to work and traveled to Michigan to be a keynote speaker at the Women In Computing Conference.  While on the plane she got very sick and had to call the conference organizer to ask them to pick her up from the airport as she could not drive.  The organizer was very nice and picked Rane up and had her stay the weekend at her home.  Of course, she did her keynote and additional talks and meetings at the University.   

When she got home, she was an absolute disaster.  She was then forced to take 6 months off by her doctor and that’s when we first encountered the challenges with insurance companies and concussions.  Instead of granting Rane her short-term disability after four doctors had said she cannot work, the Insurance Company doctors said she was fine and did not have enough cognitive impairment to warrant short term disability.  She was forced to take unpaid medical leave.  It was a very stressful situation and did not help in Rane’s recovery.  We had no idea how bad concussions were and as soon as Rane felt almost 100% she hurried back to work.  She continued her crazy schedule and was off to Universities and Conferences around the world.  Never slowing down.   

If I knew then what I know now, I would have hidden her computers and cellphone and not let her return to work so quickly and especially fly all over the world.  

So, this leads Rane and I to describe what we’ve learned going through this process and hopefully some of the lessons that may help other people in similar situations.  This has been a five-year ordeal.  Here are three actions spouse’s supporting concussion/TBI survivors should consider: 

  1. For many caregivers, the hardest thing is finding some time and space to take care of their own health and needs. You will feel you can never leave your spouse alone and always worried about what if… It is okay to get away!  At first it may only be 30 minutes, then half a day, then you’ll feel okay finding a friend to stay with your spouse so you can get away for a few days and clear your head, you need this for your sanity!  If you are not healthy, you can’t take care of your loved one. 
  2. It is hard to get use to the emotional rollercoaster your spouse will have—one minute they are happy, the next easily hurt and upset, the next angry and ready to explode.  It will be hard, the anger will be overwhelming at times.  You will want to yell back, “What did I do this time?  You are really over reacting!”  Trust me that doesn’t help.  Learn to walk away, let it go and go meditate for 15 minutes.  BREATHE.  Remember, their brain can no longer control their emotions.
  3. Possessiveness and controlling behavior becomes instinct as you are caring for your spouse, it is hard to let go as they are getting better you are worried the worse can happen.  In the beginning this is a must, your spouse will get frustrated and mad at you often but don’t stop.  There will become a time in the healing process when you do need to let go.  Ultimately, you must trust they know their body and allow them to be the adult they are and make decisions on their own.   

This is the first of 3 part series, keep coming back to learn how to manage life with TBI or what not to do so you don’t get TBI. 

*Hackathon definition from Google- an event, typically lasting several days, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming. 

Winnebago Boldt BL Review

Overall the Boldt has been a good vehicle after a few fixes!  At first, we thought the BL may stand for bad logic but it has grown on us to become better life!  You know what they say about don’t buy the first model year of a car?  Oh well, when life gives you lemons… make lemonade!  For starters, this review is going to skip items that you can find from other reviewers that cover other items.  I recommend reviews from Ultramobility and the FitRV about the Boldt (we hyperlinked the videos for you to review if interested).  Keep in mind we are not receiving any consideration from Winnebago for this review, which should be self-evident once you see it.

First off, the Mercedes chassis.  Looks good, we like the styling, get lots of compliments on the Cobalt Blue stealthy color, so far the auto dim headlights work awesome.  I love the cruise control that adjusts based on traffic speed.  Although, it will become disabled if it gets dirty or covered with ice.  It’s fairly easy to park and change lanes with the vehicle’s sensors.  I love that you don’t have to break and turn off cruise control when someone cuts you off or slows down in front of you, it automatically does that for you.  

Cons, the Hey Mercedes ‘hands free’ navigation system must be either deaf or based on tech from 20 years ago.  It seems to never ‘hear’ or understand your voice commands.  My hunch is that the cabin is too noisy when driving??? We still haven’t figured out how to input geo coordinates even after reading the manual and searching Google.  We asked a Mercedes Dealer in Reno, NV about it and got no help so far.  We found out after our fourth visit to Mercedes we needed  a system software update and the GPS works.  You do need to be exact with your coordinate input what is West, what is East you can’t just put the negative digital coordinates.  

The mileage on our 4×4 diesel version is about 14 mpg after 6,000 miles of driving.  By comparison, I hear that the 2-wheel version is averaging around 17 mpg.  The automatic sliding door works great until it doesn’t.  Our 2-month-old van door stopped working as I was trying to exit the van with my dog Bode (he can only easily exit that way) at 5 am when it was 19 degrees.  It opened about 6 inches then gave up.  Some people in the users groups have said that this may be a low battery issue, the Mercedes rep I spoke to said it’s a known issue with no work around and that we are only supposed to open the door when the engine is running.  So, there’s got to be some fix for this or customer education on proper uses.  We have had times parked on an angle when with the engine on it still won’t shut you either need to shut it manually or have someone on the outside help push it shut as it is closing.  

One of my other pet peeves is that in order to disengage the instrument panel after turning off the engine you must open and close the driver door otherwise everything on the chassis will stay on- draining the battery until the system reaches low battery mode and automatically shuts itself down.  We have also learned from the Boldt forum that you can also turn the engine off if you remove the key from the holder and push the lock button on the key fob.  Also, because of emission controls you are not supposed to idle the diesel engine, which defeats the effectiveness of using the alternator to charge the Volta system.  

The house part of the Boldt designed by Winnebago also has some good stuff and some poorly thought through stuff.  We would think after years of building the Travato they would have fixed items on their high-end Boldt, but these beasts are very complicated and so far Winnebago has fixed all our issues via the warranty at no cost to us but time and days off the road.  So I guess we can’t complain.

Let’s look at the good: We’re cooking and eating nearly every meal in the RV so the dinette comes in handy and is useful.  I’m going to revisit the fold out single bed that’s under the dinette in the bad section, but could be good if you have a younger more agile dog that can jump to use as a bed or a smaller child.  The toilet/shower combo is good if you are skinny and not too large.  Keep in mind I’m just under 6 feet tall and 160 pounds and Rane is 5 feet 4 inches and 112 pounds, it would be comedy genius (or horror show) to see the average (large) size American in the bathroom, but it’s working ok for us, it sure reminds you the importance of staying flexible and fit.  The beds are okay and can be made from side by side full to a little bigger than Queen size.  We have slept both ways and find it very comfortable to do twins in the Summer and the queen in Winter!  We have added twin bed covers with additional padding which has made the beds more comfortable.   I like the smart design of the pull-down racks above the sleeping quarters.  We like the cassette style blinds-especially now that we had the Winnebago factory service center remove them and put a foam gasket around the edges to prevent light bleeding through, added insulation and reduce rattling.

The kitchenette is serviceable, would have been nice to have a convection microwave like on the KL.  I would have preferred a kitchen faucet with a removable spray wand and more of a U shape for easier hand and dish washing.  But its great to be able to have your refrigerator always running,  be able to grind coffee with the grinder, run the espresso machine on the induction cooktop and microwave all at the same time while your boondocking! 

Battery life, we arrived at Eagle Lake at about 2pm with full Volta lithium battery capacity.  We dry camped 2 nights with warm sunny days (63 degrees) and cool nights (25 degrees) and cooked all our meals in the van.  We ran the Truma heating system on gas only mode at about 60 (and 68 or so when we woke up) degrees setting during the night.  We ran the tank heaters both nights.  Using all these amenities with 2 people and a dog we were left with about 10% percent Volta state of charge by the second morning.  No alternator was used and my guess is that the solar adds about 5 to 10 percent capacity per day.  Oh, I also tested the Truma water heater on the EL2 Hot setting to test out the outside shower after a bike ride.  That alone burned 5-10 of the battery and my shower was luke warm after waiting 10 minutes for it to heat up.  I should have waited 20 minutes but lost patience.  After boondocking a bunch we have learned to use the propane mode to heat the water if we aren’t going to do a big drive, keep the inverter off and only turn it on when you need to cook.  The JBL sound bar is awesome and sounds great!  We like to boondock and stay off the grid and find  having to turn on the inverter and use power for the sound bar and TV is a waste of electricity.  We have decided to take the TV down and leave it at home to not waste battery and just use a Fire Tablet since most of our viewing is Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube and we have a USB chargeable outdoor speaker we use for our music and video viewing pleasure that works great and takes significantly less power.  This way we can charge on the USB and our 90 pound doodle has a lot more room to lay down and not hit his head on the TV.  

Tank capacities:

  • Fresh water 21
  • Gray sink 10
  • Gray Shower 26
  • Black: 24 gallons
  • Propane: 16 gallons

So far, we are on day four after dumping and filling up our fresh water tanks on Sunday.  The black tank is at 1/3 full, the sink tank is over 2/3 full and + shower tank is still empty.  We still have about half a tank of fresh water but we opportunity filled with the gravity method about 6 gallons at the Lava Beds National Monument campsite.  We do appreciate that the GVRW is 1973lbs allowing you to add a lot of cargo. The side and rear Rolef screens are a great addition and we’ve already used them this winter.

So, the limiting factor for us seems to be the kitchen sink tank and then fresh water.  Winnebago are you listening… We need a bigger fresh and sink tank, sacrifice some of the shower tank if needed or possible just switch the tanks.

Oh, I forgot, the other trouble that we have had with the van started on about day 3 after picking up the van in Forest City, Iowa.  Our sink gray tank macerator pump stopped working, which means you can no longer use your sink?!  Lame!  So for 2 weeks we washed our hands and dishes inside of our Instapot. Back then we were still asking Lichtsinn for service advice and their only idea was to stop at the nearest authorized service center. 

They didn’t mention the trouble shooting tips I later found deep within the owner’s manual.  Anyway, La Mesa RV Tuscon was sort of on our way, so we made an appointment and spent half a day waiting around for them to decide that the pump was bad(which ended up being an incorrect diagnosis).  They didn’t have one in stock, so we soldiered on towards our house in Oregon to try and resolve it there.  Then we went to our local shop in Bend, All Seasons RV spent the whole day on the pump issue that turned out to be a bad fuse.  Well, long story long, turns out Winnebago poorly designed the fuse panel and the tank heaters and pump to the gray tank were on the same 12-volt fuse.  This apparently was a design flaw and the fuse was overloaded.  So apparently, it’s thanks to our product testing that the Boldt will now have a service campaign to correct that issue, but it was quite a headache for us and ended with a week’s worth of fixes at the factory service center.  In the end, we also got them to add a bypass value so if the pump goes out we can still manually empty the sink tank.   

We find the black tank size is fine we have gone five days without needing to dump.  We find ourselves needing to dump because of the sink grey tank being full and the black tank is still at ½.  One thing is Winnebago puts in a very simple sewer house that you must hold that doesn’t lock or have an elbow.  We found a more durable one on Amazon that has  a clear elbow, which really helps in knowing when you are done and not having to hold it in place and step in the sewer dump area.

Truma is great, but control knob not wasn’t installed correctly.  It is a tiny screw and if the installer drops it, Truma says many times they just take another screw and use it.  If it isn’t the flat head screw then it won’t work properly, which is what happened to us.  Truma sent us a new screw and we are back in business.  So if yours isn’t working this is your issue.  

Locking cabinets perform well and a good amount of storage for the items you need to live in the van for the size of the van. Con, cabinets veneer is paper thin and not durable be careful ladies that your nails don’t scratch them .  Expect more for the money.  Also, the sharp end of the cabinet above the driver side bed, get ready to have your shin banged and scratched several times.  We have suggested to Winnebago in the next edition to make it a more curved corner.  

The fold out bed under dinette is a waste of space.  We’re considering removing it and opting for more storage-if possible.  It could fit a child that is under 5 foot well or a younger dog but no one else.  It also slips and slides and needs Velcro to keep the cushions it in place.  We added Velcro and now it works well, Bode has slept on it once but its too high for him to jump now that he is 12 years old, he likes to sleep onto of Rane instead.  

We don’t like the fact that you have to turn on a pump to suck out the water from the shower drain and it’s got to be cleaned after every shower. Only tiny fingers can do this- poor Rane is designated to this ‘fun’ job.  We have found after 10 showers you then have to open up the cabinet under the driver bed and clean out the screen in the pump.  Another fun job for poor Rane.  We have done a video on this and you can find it on our YouTube Channel, be careful not to wrench on the pump to hard in taking off the screen. Another reason to opt for the KL shower which simply uses a gravity drain.  Also, the BL had no toilet paper holder, we had one (Dometic) installed at the factory service center.  Check the height of the shower wand-the installed height for ours was installed below factory specifications and had to be relocated higher.  Once done it is a good height for those 6 feet tall.

Bed storage access is poorly thought out.  If my 5-foot-tall 112-pound wife can accidentally rip off the aluminum leg that props up the bed, Winnebago needs to revisit their durability testing.  The Service Center put a new one on and added a new Velcro to hold it in place.  I still think there could be a better design like a notch in the wood but it works now.

Nova Kool Fridge- works decent except for the door fell off day three after we picked up the van.  We called the manufacturer and they sent us new door hinges.  It’s been 2 months and it seems that the hinges are going to be a constant source of failure and poor design.  The bolt that holds the door on only is designed with a 1/16 of an inch of thread. I’ve had to fix it already on our current trip and we are only on day four. We finally had them add locktight and now we haven’t had any issues.  We do like the refrigerator size and we go grocery shopping about once every 7-10 days.  We have a full level for sparkling water and beer, one level for all the veggies and one level for cheese, meats, eggs, tofu, etc.  Condiments, yogurt, butter, half and half fit well in the door.

It would have been nice to have one Master control panel instead of 6 different gauges and systems.  Multiplex wiring and touchpad controls would eliminate the need for so many controllers and are commonly found on vans at much lower price points like the Coachmen Beyond, Pleasureway Ascent, etc.

As you have probably read on your research, Winnebago isn’t known for their quality control or warranty protection.  Unfortunately, our rig was finished on Friday the 13th, so the team must have been anxious to leave the factory.  Not only did we have the issues above, our counter wasn’t installed properly and there was a large gap against the wall and trim where a lot of food and debris could fall down and looked very cheaply done.  Also, there was no backsplash so it allowed food to fall behind the counter.

We were happy that at the factory service center they added one for us.  It looks really nice and no food debris behind our kitchen to attract rodents.  The Rolef screen was installed improperly and had a significant hole in the corner where mosquitoes and flies could easily fly in.  The bathroom shower had the hot and cold flipped, resulting in 5 super cold showers for us, until we figured it out not to mention the fact that the shower drain screen was installed backwards.  The shower was installed 1.5 inches below specification, making it difficult to use for a 6 foot man. The outlet next to the sink was poorly aligned and didn’t sit flush.  A couple of our drawers weren’t installed properly and had to be reinstalled.

In the end, the VP of Winnebago called us and made it right and had all our issues fixed (at that time, we now have a few more), taking a full week at the factory service center in Junction City, Oregon.  We are going back to have the next set of items fixed.  We highly recommend if you have issues with your Boldt take it there- the team is professional, knowledgeable and detailed oriented.   He also sent a product engineer from Winnebago, Chris Bienert, out to meet with us(you may recognize Chris from several FitRV videos) and for us to share the items that need to be fixed for the next models that get built.  We enjoy our BL now, but it should have been this way when we purchased it and hope people who purchase it no longer have all of these production issues.  If we had to do it over again, we probably would have purchased the KL.  Live and learn.  😊  We are really enjoying full-time living and surprisingly comfortable for two people and a large doodle.  

Manzanar Virtual Tour and boondocking in Alabama Hills & Death Valley

As you head to Death Valley from Alabama Hills Recreation Area you will drive past Manzanar National Historic Site on highway 395 in California.  First off, you must stop by Alabama Hills it is an outdoors person and rock climbers dream!  So many amazing rock formations, places to climb and hike and all for free.  The best boondocking ever!  We can also recommend free camping at WildRose in Death Valley.  It is a very long drive to this campground, skinny road and very windy (we would not recommend any rigs bigger than 30 feet to attempt) that only has picnic tables, fire rings, a vault toilet and potable water but it is on your way to seeing the WildRose Charcoal Kilns, (the road is gravel and pretty rough) which are pretty cool and a nice hike to Wildrose Peak that is about 8 miles roundtrip.  We went in winter time/early spring so it was quite cool (temperature that is). If you can get in, we’d rather recommend staying at Texas Spring Campground it is a good central location, much warmer, prettier and better facilities but costs $16/night.  Now back to Manzanar…

Being an Asian American, I had to stop and visit the WW2 relocation center and I highly recommend stopping for a self-guided tour.  It is very well done and reminds us of the atrocities we faced in this country during fears of war and people who looked different and had a different cultural background.  In 1942, the United States government ordered more than 100,000 men, women, and children to leave their homes and detained them in remote, military-style camps like the Manzanar War Relocation Center which was one of ten camps where Japanese American citizens were incarcerated during World War II.  People of Japanese decent who were US citizens from across this country lost all their possessions, dignity and were forced into these Relocation Centers. 

A little history course for folks who may not be aware.  Relocation isn’t new in the history of Manzanar and the Owens Valley. We can’t forget that the Paiute and early settlers as well as Japanese Americans all were uprooted from their homes. American Indians began utilizing the valley almost 10,000 years ago. About 1,500 years ago the Owens Valley Paiute established settlements here. They hunted, fished, collected pine nuts, and practiced a form of irrigated agriculture.  Miners and ranchers moved into the valley in the early 1860s and homesteaded Paiute lands raising cattle, sheep, fruit, wheat, and other crops. The military were called in and forcibly relocated nearly 1,000 Owens Valley Paiute to Fort Tejon in 1863. Many Paiute returned to the Owens valley and worked on the local ranches.

The town of Manzanar—the Spanish word for “apple orchard”—developed as an agricultural settlement beginning in 1910. Farmers grew apples, pears, peaches, potatoes, and alfalfa on several thousand acres surrounding the town. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began acquiring water rights in the valley in 1905 and completed the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913. Land buyouts continued in the 1920s, and by 1929 Los Angeles owned all of Manzanar’s land and water rights. Within five years, the town was abandoned. In the 1930s local residents pinned their economic hopes on tourism. With the onset of World War II tourism diminished.  Then in 1942 the U.S. Army leased 6,200 acres at Manzanar from Los Angeles to hold Japanese Americans during World War II. Though some valley residents opposed the construction of the internment camp, others helped build it and worked there.

First, we walked through the mini museum that is very well done and tells the stories of the families that lived here during the WW2 internment.  There is a 3.2-mile self-guided auto tour where you can see the original sentry posts, Block 14 buildings, mess hall, women’s latrine and barracks, the cemetery monument, remnants of the administrative complex, rock gardens, parks, orchards, the hospital grounds, the uncovered foundations of the Children’s Village  which was the only orphanage of the ten War Relocation Centers in the US.  In the museum, you will find images Ansel Adams took in late 1943 where he acknowledges the prejudices and fears that led the U.S. government to confine American citizens and legal immigrants of Japanese ethnicity behind barbed wire.

From the website, I wanted to provide you more details on what is still on the property and what you will encounter in the video.

Mess Hall: The US Army constructed this mess hall at Bishop Air Base in 1942. The National Park Service moved it to Manzanar in 2002 and eventually restored it. It is identical to the 36 mess halls that together produced over 28 million meals here from 1942 to 1945. Walk through the kitchen, sit at the picnic benches, and learn about the logistics and politics of food in Manzanar.

Women’s Latrine: The women’s latrine was reconstructed in 2017. The communal shower and rows of toilets depict some of the harsh realities of living at Manzanar. Overcrowding led to long lines, unpleasant odors, and an extreme lack of privacy.

Barracks Buildings: The two barracks buildings were rebuilt in 2015 with exhibits being added in the following years. The four barracks exhibits will tell you about arrival to Manzanar, the importance of the Block Manager’s Office, the loyalty questionnaire, school at Manzanar, and more.

Cemetery: In 1943 the people in Manzanar decided to erect a monument to honor their dead and skilled stonemason Ryozo Kado was recruited to supervise the work. The cemetery serves as a poignant reminder that some of the 10,000 Japanese Americans incarcerated at Manzanar never saw freedom again. Over 145 Japanese Americans died while confined in Manzanar during World War II. Many were cremated, in the Buddhist tradition, and some were sent to their home towns for burial. Fifteen people were buried in a small plot of land just outside the camp’s security fence. When Manzanar War Relocation Center closed, the families of nine of the deceased removed the remains of their loved ones for reburial elsewhere. In 1999, NPS archeologists confirmed that five burials remain at the site. The three characters on the front (east side) of the cemetery monument literally translate as “soul consoling tower” ( I REI TO ). The inscriptions were written by a Manzanar Buddhist priest, Shinjo Nagatomi.

Merritt Park: The people incarcerated at Manzanar left a lasting legacy by creating more than 100 Japanese gardens. The largest of the gardens was Merritt Park, named for the camp director, Ralph P. Merritt. Merritt Park served as community refuge from the hardships of camp. After Manzanar closed in 1945, many of the gardens disappeared as debris from demolished barracks, sand, and vegetation covered them. Recent archeological excavations have uncovered and stabilized some of these gardens including Merritt Park. Today you can view what’s left of this symbol of beauty and the resilience of the human spirit.

Japanese Garden Tour: Private and community gardens covered much of the Manzanar landscape. For many people, these rock gardens and pools served as a source of peace and an escape from their incarceration experience. Today, eleven of the over 100 Japanese gardens have been uncovered and stabilized.

The location was beautiful but also a sad reminder about how we treated fellow Americans.  It makes you sad to see how people were forced to live and were ripped from all their loved ones and their belongings because of a war.   How our fears caused us to overlook people who were citizens and part of our community and treated them like they were enemies because of their former homeland that they had left for a new life in the USA.  Perhaps, it is a reminder about how we can do better in the present and future generations of immigrant people.  We hope you enjoy watching our virtual tour.   

The Joy of Art, Music, Crafting and Gifting to Heal the Type A Brain

After my seventh concussion and being diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury, as stated in my last two blogs, I began to take my injury more seriously and knew I needed to make a change in my life.  My emotions were on a roller coaster ride.  One minute I would be happy, then next my husband would say something and I was ready to pummel him in rage and then the next I would be crying hysterically like a toddler having a temper tantrum. Not only were my emotions wreaking havoc in my life but my memory, word searching, attention span, reasoning and problem-solving skills were like a child.

Since I had been told by my neurologist to not read, go online or watch TV, I needed to do something to occupy my time and get healthy.  To go from having 15 hours scheduled by the minute to no schedule was utter maddening.  You can only spend so much of your day meditating, doing yoga, going for hikes/walks and cooking. I was still struggling to occupy my days and I wasn’t ready to see very many people other than my closest of friends.  My godfather and mother came over for a visit and she taught me to knit. I became a knitting fool.  Making scarves, hats, shawls for everyone I knew.

My sister-in-law gave me a nail art kit for my birthday and soon I was making everyone wood nail art deer, owls, ravens and landscape pieces.  I also thought it was time to do something with the bags and bags of wine corks I had collected and made these wooden and cork hot pot holders for dining room tables and cork boards. That Christmas everyone got a Rane original creation!  I was becoming a crafting aficionado and enjoying the smiles on people’s faces as they got something made by me.  I was getting a little over zealous with my knitting and I think I made everyone I knew something, that my husband suggested isn’t there other art therapies or maybe even music therapies I could try?

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One of the many shawls I created for friends.

I then remembered with the work I was doing before I went on medical leave from Microsoft regarding helping military veterans reskill and get jobs in technology. There was research on art and music therapy helping military veterans with traumatic brain injury.  I thought if it could work for them, it may possibly work for me.  I couldn’t read the research reports to understand the details and unfortunately scholarly reviewed publications are not on digital audio yet, (perhaps, someone should really look into that.)  So, I went to my psychologist and asked what types of art and music therapy I should try. This would occupy more of my day, give my monkey mind a part-time job and hopefully start helping my cognitive impairments. He suggested I start first with the adult coloring books and listening to classical music.

Once, I was able to read again I began to learn what art and music therapy can really do for you.  In the last ten years, there has been significant progress in the study of TBI and art/music therapies.” Biomedical researchers have found that music is a highly structured auditory language involving complex perception, cognition, and motor control in the brain, and thus it can effectively be used to retrain and reeducate the injured brain.”

I also learned that listening to “polyphonic music has shown to engage neural circuits underlying multiple forms of working memory, attention, semantic processing, target detection, and motor imagery, in turn indicating that music listening engages brain areas that are involved in general functions rather than music-specific areas.”  A good example of polyphonic music is this old Sting classic, I love this YouTube rendition.

In addition to listening to music, I took it a step further and have been teaching myself to play the acoustic guitar. Through other books, I learned the importance of dancing and singing every day to my favorite song and how that help grow the strength in my vagus nerve (As my earlier blog stated, I learned my vagus nerve was having issues and was the reason for my blacking out and causing all my concussions and traumatic brain injury).

My poor husband would have to listen to me belt out at the top of my lungs ‘Dancing Queen’ by ABBA or ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’ by U2 or ‘Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison and the list goes on and on.  I started rubbing off on my friends and they would text me their dance out song of the day.  You should try it; your whole body get a rush of endorphins and total jubilation once your done with a grin a mile long and your spouse laughing hysterically at you.

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My first set of paintings on display at Chow Restaurant in Bend, Oregon.

I was starting to get bored with my adult coloring books from Costco.  When I was at the Newport Visual Arts Center, looking at the latest show there was a bunch of people painting with watercolors on the second floor.  As I walked in, I found out they had received a grant that allowed them to give free art classes every day for the community and I was invited in to try.  So for the rest of the Summer, every week I attended the water color class, pottery class, pastel class, coloring pencil class, and acrylic painting class. Soon, I was able to read again, I learned through Psychology Today that art therapists, “McGuinness and Schnur worked with TBI patients and they explain the salient roles of art therapy in addressing various parts of the brain with clients in a user-friendly way.”

They also state that, “art therapy can help with organization, problem solving, and memory when the frontal lobes have been affected by TBI.”  I then started concentrating on acrylic painting as my favorite form of painting.  And thanks to my friends Lisa and Amy, who one day said, “Hey Rane, you are actually getting good- you should sell your art!”  To my utter amazement, a local restaurant wanted me to show my art and by January 2018 I had sold 12 pieces.

Filling my days with painting, listening and playing music my energy, emotions and memory were improving. The hardest part of my TBI has been moving from a super positive always happy demeanor that rarely ever got mad to this uncontrollable rage that pops up from just a little comment could set me off.  If anything can calm this new emotion, I am happy to do it.  I am lucky my husband is understanding and can deal with these moments that happen several times a month.  My days are now packed with art, music, yoga, mediation and the outdoors. I highly encourage everyone, even those who may not have traumatic brain injury the power of adding more art, music or crafting in your life.  A lot of the research highlights how it can help slow and possibly stop Alzheimer.  Here are a few of my favorite beginner Youtube videos to get you started with music, art and knitting, I hope you try-  I promise you will have fun!

 

Innovating for the future: second annual International Women’s Hackathon

Well, here it is: I am pleased to announce that our second annual International Women’s Hackathon will take place on university campuses around the globe from April 24 to 27, 2014. Last year’s event spanned 14 campuses in seven countries, with more than 600 university women participating. We’re anticipating even bigger numbers this year!

Women in computing matters—International Women's Hackathon

We launched the International Women’s Hackathon to encourage, support, and retain women pursuing the computer sciences at the university level. This event, largely promoted by word-of-mouth, empowers young women to become leaders in computer science, informatics, and electrical engineering. By providing a fun and safe environment in which to explore computing, the hackathon encourages and supports young university women around the world, preparing them to create technology innovations that will help meet worldwide challenges in such areas as improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and upgrading manufacturing.
The presence of women in technology is essential to innovation. When confronted with a problem, we each encode our perspectives and then apply our particular heuristics to explore new and better resolutions. Diverse teams often outperform homogeneous teams (even those composed of high-achieving individuals), because diversity of perspective and problem-solving approach trumps individual ability. Research has identified the diversity of work teams as one of the key influences in the innovation process—and without question, a diverse team needs women.
As I travel around campuses, I hear the same concerns repeatedly from women in computer science courses:

  • Male classmates underestimate their technical abilities and relegate them to project management roles in group projects.
  • There is a lack of women on the computer science faculty, which leaves them feeling that they have no good role models.
  • They question whether they can fulfill their desire to solve big challenges by working in a field that seems to discount their talents.

This is why the International Women’s Hackathon is so important. It provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches. To ensure that this year’s hackathon meets the needs of university women, we have enlisted the help of recent winners of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing. These gifted young women have helped us organize the challenges, reassess the rules and regulations, and upgrade the toolkit. So here’s a big thank you to the leads and planning committee members:
Leads:

  • Halie Murray-Davis, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering
  • Jinisha Patel, New Jersey Institute of Technology
  • Safia Abdalla, Northside College Preparatory High School

Committee members:

  • Ashika Ganesh, West Windsor Plainsboro High School North
  • Aishwarya Borkar, San Jose State University
  • Diem-Nhi Tran, University of Texas at Dallas
  • Heather Huynh, University of Georgia
  • Kylie Moden, Trinity University
  • Nishtha Oberai, University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Veronica Wharton, Rochester Institute of Technology

The hackathon provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches. The hackathon provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches.

We are excited to have this year’s challenges sponsored by the following nonprofits: UN Women, Hindsight Group, Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, and Teens Against Distracted Driving. Hackathon participants will design a software application that meets one of two challenges: (1) increase women’s participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors, or (2) put a halt to texting while driving.
I am also pleased to announce our partnership with the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. We will be front and center during the festival, with women students from local universities hacking live on stage while we connect via Skype to the hackathon events taking place on university campuses all over the world.
I will announce more information about the hackathon in January, including details on special speakers and unique events, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I hope that many of you will take advantage of this opportunity: you can organize teams and register for the event now.
Rane Johnson-Stempson, Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections
Learn more

World Kindness Day- Practice Random Acts of Kindness This Week

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelo

Today is World Kindness Day.   It was introduced in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement, a group of nation kindness NGOs.   Many countries like Canada, Japan, Australia, Nigeria, UK, India, Italy, United Arab Emirates and Singapore officially observe the day.   On this day, there are many events celebrated like: THE BIG HUG, handing out Kindness Cards, Global Flashmob, which was coordinated by Orly Wahba from USA which was held in 15 countries and 33 cities with its images of the event making the big screens in New York City.  Even though we don’t officially observe the day in the United States, I wanted to take the time for us to pause and think about kindness.

Maya Angelo has my favorite quote that I usually kick off every presentation I do  and daily I try to make sure every person I come in to contact with feels valued, important, cared about and their opinion matters.   Sometimes the grind of everyday life we forget the importance so slowing down and saying hello to our neighbor, our cubical mate next door or how the last conversation made the person you were interacting with feel. With all you hear on the news is the world today is full of dysfunction, conflict, and disasters its hard to stay positive or think there is any kindness left.  But what we can count on is inherently we are kind people and there is a lot of kindness in the world.  The Giving USA 2013 report was released in July. The good news is that the total contributions in 2012 increased to $316.23 billion. According to the report, the specific increases are:

  • 3.5% increase in total estimated U.S. charitable giving
  • 3.9% increase in giving by individuals
  • 4.4% increase in giving by foundations
  • 12.2% increase in giving by corporations

As a country we are one of the most giving people when it comes to people’s time, talent and money.  I was honored to participate in our Microsoft Annual Giving Campaign where employees supported over 18,000 organizations and raised over $94 million and by the end of the calendar year should reach $108 million.  Kindness is not just about giving money and time to organizations but its also about how we make each other feel.  Research has shown that if you feel appreciated, valued, kindness from your boss and fellow peers you will be more productive and happy.  Check out this great Ted Talk by Shawn Achor- http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html to get you in the mood to be more kind today.

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You can still have a virtual hug!  Continue to be kind.

Working for a technology company,  having the ability to work remotely and taking advantage of the latest gadgets is fantastic.  But it also requires us to think about our personal in-person interactions even more, since they are so few.  Today, we are constantly online and engaged in virtual conversations. We tend to feel more comfortable sending an email than walking down the corridor to talk to a colleague or pick up the phone. I don’t know how many times I have been in a restaurant and seeing couples and children with their parents texting each other than talking.  As wonderful as Facebook, Skype and Twitter keep us in touch and up to date on the latest happenings in life, they also take away from that personal engagement and that feeling of appreciation and love we have for each other.  Nothing beats a conversation with an old friend that you haven’t talked to in a longtime or when you meet a person for the first time in a coffee shop and strike up a great conversation and feel that instant connection.

One of the things I love to do each week is just one random act of kindness like buying a cup of coffee for the next person in line, getting a meal for a homeless person, or volunteering to help grade papers for a teacher at the local school.  Too many times we over think and make doing something nice too much work to include in our busy lives.  One of the website I love that can give you great ideas: http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/. Check it out and try something.  Also, another  great Ted Talk to get you in the mood today and this week: http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_zittrain_the_web_is_a_random_act_of_kindness.html.

Lastly, I want to leave you with 10 things you can do today to participate in World Kindness Day:

  • Show someone you know gratitude- send him/her a quick email to thank him/her or pick up the phone and call him/her or better yet get him/her a coffee and tell him/her why you are grateful to know him/her
  • Replace judgment, no one likes to be judged
  • Walk in someone else’s shoes and try to understand where they are coming from
  • Hold back criticism and try encouragement
  • Recall how someone made you feel really good and what can you do in return
  • Surprise someone you know with a kind note
  • Turn off your devices tonight and have a conversation with your significant other or children
  • Write down 10 things you are thankful about and if you listed any person, let him/her know
  • Do one random act of kindness for someone you don’t know today
  • Give yourself a break and be kinder to yourself, we are our worse critic.  Appreciate the great work you do.

Have a wonderful World Kindness Day and Pay it Forward!

Hopeful for the Future for Women in Computing

Sitting on a plane heading back to the Pacific Northwest, I’m reflecting on the week I just spent in Minneapolis—a week of inspiration and impact at the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing. I’m thinking about the pertinence of this year’s GHC theme, “Think Big, Drive Forward,” and how our 260-strong contingent of Microsoft employees carried that message forward. Wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the word “Innovator,” my fellow Softies and I strove to support and inspire the next generation of women computer scientists.

Aspirations in Computing Dinner Celebration at Grace Hopper. Aspirations in Computing Dinner Celebration at Grace Hopper.

It was invigorating to hear from Microsoft leaders Julie Larson-Green and Jacky Wright, as they, along with Maria Klawe, a Microsoft board member and president of Harvey Mudd College, informed conference attendees about career paths, technical leadership, and the future of women at Microsoft. Seeing young professionals’ eyes light up upon hearing that women comprise 29 percent of our senior leadership team, I could sense a renewed interest in careers at Microsoft.

Microsoft’s senior technical women and executives also held closed-door sessions for the company’s GHC attendees, encouraging them to drive their careers forward and be the new spirit of our company. This message took on even greater resonance, among both the Microsoft and general attendees, when it was announced that Microsoft had just been named the most inspiring American company by Forbes magazine.

While such accolades are great, we know that for our company to continue to lead technological innovations and succeed in our transformative vision of “One Microsoft,” we will need more gender diversity on our research teams. Moreover, we can build those diverse teams only if the female talent is available, which means that we need to increase the number of women who are pursuing advanced degrees in computer science. We need to take direct action, like that of my fellow researchers—A. J. Brush, Jaeyeon Jung, Jaime Teevan, and Kathryn McKinley—who spent the conference helping PhD attendees prepare their poster presentations, find their dream jobs, publish their research, and pursue career opportunities.

But attracting more women to computing is an enormous task, one that is beyond the capabilities of any one company alone. Fortunately, the country’s top computer science institutions have banned together in the National Center for Women & Information Technology Academic Alliance (NCWIT AA), a broad partnership that includes academic, nonprofit, government, and industry members. These institutions will help us truly grow the pipeline of women innovators, which is why Microsoft Research is pleased to offer them project start-up assistance through the MSR NCWIT AA Seed Fund. The seed funds are designated for initiatives that recruit and retain women in computing and IT.

My favorite part of the conference is spending time with the winners of the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Award. This award recognizes female high school students who have the potential to become amazing computer scientists. These young women run summer camps to excite middle school girls about computer science through Aspire IT. We were excited to support this year’s camp leaders with Surface devices and Kodu Touch, which exposed young women to game development. On Wednesday we hosted a special session with past winners and Microsoft executives, and on Friday night we honored 60 winners across the United States at meet-up sessions in 12 of our Microsoft retail stores.

Pictured from left to right: Kinect aspiration winner Rochelle Willard from USC, Rane Johnson and Rico Malvar from Microsoft Research.Pictured from left to right: Kinect aspiration winner Rochelle Willard from USC with Rane Johnson-Stempson and Rico Malvar from Microsoft Research.

On Saturday, we ended the conference by challenging attendees to “think big and drive forward” change in disaster response during the Grace Hopper Open Source Day. Free and open source software (FOSS) usage is becoming widespread, but learning how to contribute to an existing FOSS project or to release a new open source application can be daunting. Open Source Day enabled participants to spend time coding for an existing FOSS project or to get help starting their own community-developed software project. Our Microsoft Disaster Response Team led a group of young women working to create open source applications for disaster response.

This year’s GHC inspired not only me, but 4,600 other attendees, exciting us all to change the future of technology and women in computing. If every attendee would encourage and mentor just one budding female computer scientist, we could almost double the number women studying computer science today at US universities. I am extremely optimistic we will make a difference, and I can’t wait to see the technology innovations that women will drive.

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

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Hopping to Minneapolis to celebrate women in computing

impact    Going to a major conference is always fun. It’s an opportunity to see old friends and make new ones, to network with experts, and to be exposed to fresh ideas and trends. All those benefits hold true for the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) for Women in Computing, the Anita Borg Institute’s annual conference on women’s roles in computing. But for me, GHC is meaningful for another reason: it’s an opportunity for Microsoft in general—and Microsoft Research in particular—to focus on growing and retaining women in computer science and engineering. That’s why I am so pleased that more than 260 of my fellow “Softies”—including 9 executives and 22 women who will speak or lead at conference events—are joining me at GHC. This strong presence enables us to reach out to women at every stage of their technology career development, from students through established professionals, and to demonstrate Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and innovation in computing.

And make no mistake: such commitment is sorely needed. Women’s share of US computer occupations declined to 27 percent in 2011 after reaching a high of 34 percent in 1990. The US Department of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2018 there will be 1.4 million open technology jobs in the United States. At the current rate of students graduating with degrees in computer science, only 61 percent of those openings will be filled—and only 29 percent of applicants will be women.

The need is all the more critical when you consider that the latest advances in improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and upgrading manufacturing have come from technological innovations. At Microsoft Research, we recognize that such technology breakthroughs require teams that are sufficiently diverse to anticipate, respond to, and serve the needs of a changing world.

To bolster women’s participation in computing, we believe in a multipronged approach based on broad industry and academic partnerships. This approach builds exposure to computer science at an early age and supports women during undergraduate and graduate studies in computer science. Equally important, it promotes collaborations with the top women researchers and rising stars, such as the work I’m presently doing with Constance Steinkuehler of the University Wisconsin-Madison and Tiffany Barnes of North Carolina State University. We are researching the impact of exposing female middle school and high school students to computer science through an online community that teaches computational thinking via game design. In addition, Microsoft Research collaborates closely with Ruthe Farmer at the National Center for Women in Technology in the Aspirations in Computing and the Aspire IT programs. Constance, Tiffany, and Ruthe will speak in greater detail about these projects during my session on Innovative Solutions in Attracting More Women in Computing at GHC.

As part of our industry sponsorship, Microsoft is supporting 35 GHC scholarships. In addition, Julie Larson-Green, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Devices and Studios division, will be a mentor at the Senior Women’s Networking Lunch, and Jacky Wright, vice president of Microsoft Strategic Enterprise Services, will be speaking at and sponsoring the Women of Color Luncheon.

airstream

At the Microsoft Research booth—an Airstream trailer—GHC participants can check out the latest devices and learn about opportunities at Microsoft. If you’re attending Grace Hopper, whatever your professional affiliation or career stage, please stop by our booth (an Airstream trailer decked out with the latest devices) to learn about opportunities at Microsoft. Be sure to take part in our scavenger hunt—which offers Xbox and Kinect prizes—and the Dance-Off Challenge at the closing party we co-sponsor with Google each year. Through partnerships with businesses, organizations, and individuals, we hope to grow the next generation of women in computing. Let’s bridge the gap to future innovation together, through diversity and creativity!

—Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director for Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

 

Concussion puts making a difference on pause

Hi folks, it has been a longtime since I have posted a blog and been online due to a concussion I had on February 23, 2013. I would like to take the time to help people understand concussions better and they are not something to ignore!

As the typical Rane, who thinks she is a robot that is indestructible, I got up from the 2 foot diameter puddle of blood on my hardwood floor and begun to tell my husband everything is just fine at 2 in the morning, as he thought someone was breaking into our home and kicking down our back door from the loud boom of me hitting the floor.  He cleaned me up (thank you Greg) and as I ran to the toilet to hurl a few times, I tried to convince him I was fine and we should just go to bed.  After keeping me a wake for a long while and ensuring I was not going to go to sleep and never wake up.   (for those who do not know, if you go to sleep after a concussion you have a good chance of not waking up again, so don’t do it!) He finally let me go back to sleep and head to the emergency room in the morning.   In the morning, I was ready to ignore the hospital idea and  jump on another plane and fly off to go change the world and grow women computer scientists.  My husband forced me to slow down, head to the emergency room and ensure everything was okay before I take on my next activity.  There, I found out I needed 9 stitches and that I had a concussion and should stay home and not do anything for the next few days.   I did not realize the sensitivity of your brain and continued on as business as usual, ignoring the doctor.  DO NOT DO THIS FOLKS!!!  I ended up making myself worse and could have healed a lot faster if I would have listened to him in the first place.

 Women Hack to solve Human Trafficking issuesI raced to the airport and headed to our first ever International Women’s Hackathon being launched in 7 countries and 14 locations around the world.  (Thanks to my husband driving me, later I would find out that I would not be able to drive for five months due to my lack of balance, memory and vision.)   It was a fantastic hackathon with over 600 young women all over the world programming to make a difference in proactively helping victims of human trafficking.  I on the other hand was not doing well with blurred vision, massive migraine headache and coming close to blacking out a few times.  I continued to move forward and then head to the Michigan Women in Computing Conference where I was the keynote speaker.  When I got about half way across the United States, my brain felt like it was going to explode and about 100 knives were being stabbed in my head.  I arrived in not too good shape but was taken good care of by the Michigan State University Team (thanks Laurie Dillon).  I gave the keynote and then flew back to Bend, OR to go get a CT Scan and MRI.  I then found out I had post-concussive syndrome (PCS) and if you don’t listen to your body you can’t try to solve the world’s greatest problems in computing because you have to focus on your health.  I knew nothing about PCS.

Post-concussive syndrome (PCS) is a set of symptoms that continues for weeks, months or even a year or more post a concussion.  It is a mild form of traumatic brain injury resulting in migraine headaches, difficulty concentrating, chemical imbalances in the brain, vision challenges, emotional and behavioral issues.  There is no treatment for PCS symptoms can only be treated  by medications, physical, vision and behavioral therapy and time.  In my appointment with the doctor, I could not balance on one foot, I failed memory tests and I was in the most excruciating pain from a migraine headache.  I learned I would now need to stop working, no more television, no more smartphone, no more computer, no more reading, I couldn’t drive, no more wine, no more caffeine and that I MUST REST– no ands ifs or buts.  For the first week, I could do nothing but lay in bed and then the next five months would result in only walks with my dog, listening to books on CD and knitting.  I spent the next four months with a migraine headache 24 hours a day 7 days a week.   My vision tracking dropped to a level of an 8-year-old.   If I had listened to the doctor in the first place it could have resulted in only a few weeks of recovery instead of five months.  DO NOT IGNORE doctor’s advice when you have a concussion it is serious!

I then got to spent the next four months spending time with three different doctors to try and get back to normal.  Learn to mediate, relax and calm the mind- an impossible endeavor for a Type A person.  I was surprised to learn there is still so much we don’t know about concussions and a lot of it is still a guessing game.  It also made me realize how illogical we humans are when it comes to our brain.  When we break an arm and leg we know we must rest it, not use it and give it recovery time, but with our brains we don’t ever rest it.  When you hurt your brain it needs to rest.  Resting your brain means no visual stimulation, no mental stimulation, plenty of sleep and rest, meditation is critical and necessary to heal.  Learning to slow down was very difficult but critical for me to finally heal and be able to go back to work.  Once I could read again, a few interesting books and research I read that may be interest to you, to help you through the siiutation if you get a concussion:

So now that it is all said and done and I am back to work, what I am I doing to ensure I don’t re-injure myself or what have I learned from this experience that may help other TYPE As or folks who have a concussion?

  • When your body needs to rest, if you won’t rest, it will force you to rest.
  • Life is too short to ignore your health and if you’re not healthy you can’t solve all the world’s greatest problems.
  • Your brain needs the same respect, rest and support you give any body part you sprain or break.
  • You can’t ignore the importance of work-life balance.
  • Don’t put work, volunteerism before family because in the end all you have is your family! (Thank you Greg, Pam, Gordon, Anne and Claudia for helping me through the last 5 months!)
  • Your not as important as you think you are, the world will move on, work will get accomplished and people will get things to work even when you aren’t around.  (Thank you to my amazing co-workers who stepped up and took so much of my work on!)
  • What you think must get done yesterday, can wait till tomorrow, even a few months.
  • Sometimes working slow is much better than multi-tasking and working fast!  (READ THE SLOW FIX!)
  • Lastly, I have a three-legged stool.  One represents global impact, one represents local impact and the last my family and self.  They must be in balance or I will fall off the stool.  If projects, opportunities & relationships don’t keep the three legs in balance then I must learn to say NO when one leg begins to become too long.  You can’t have a leg too long or you will fall off your chair.  It’s okay to say no, sometimes it is even expected!

I am truly happy to be back and I hope you look forward to the many blogs to come this year as I continue my passion to grow more women in computing!  At the same time I hope this blog helps you to take time to stop and smell the roses and take care of yourselves as you go on and take on so many challenges in your lives.

Innovators Wanted-Help The President!

I WANT YOU…. Anyone who grew up in the United States, as I did, is familiar with the famous World War II recruiting poster of Uncle Sam exhorting young Americans to enlist in the armed forces. (No, I wasn’t alive then, but the poster is an icon.)

I WANT YOU Uncle Sam Poster

 

Well, Uncle Sam is calling again, not for men and women under arms, but for recent graduates, top researchers, and great innovators—in short, for creative young people who want to be agents of change in the digital world. On February 5, the White House announced round 2 of the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program, a unique effort that brings incredibly talented go-getters from the private sector to work for 6 to 12 months with top government innovators to solve challenges of national importance. PIF projects are selected based on their potential to save lives, save taxpayer money, and fuel job growth.

Presidential Innovation Fellows

I am pleased to be working with the Office of Science and Technology Policy Team (OSTP) in helping to announce this second round of Presidential Innovation Fellowships, especially since the program complements my passion—familiar to regular readers of this blog—to grow the number of women and minorities in computing. The inaugural round of 18 Presidential Innovation Fellows worked on five projects and did a fantastic job, but, astonishingly, the group lacked diversity, even though the United States is renowned as a “melting pot” of cultural and ethnic diversity. For round 2, the OSTP wants to do a better job of reaching a diverse audience.

This second round of the PIF program include nine projects:

Disaster Response and Recovery: Collaboratively building and “pre-positioning” needed tech tools ahead of future emergencies or natural disasters, in order to mitigate economic damage and save lives.

MyUSA: Simplifying the process of finding and accessing information and government services that are right for you. Helping US businesses access the information and services that will help them grow, hire US workers, and export to foreign markets.

RFP-EZ and Innovative Contracting Tools: Making it easier for the US government to do business with small, high-growth tech companies, and enabling the government to buy better, lower-cost tech solutions from the full range of US businesses.

Cyber-Physical Systems: Working with government and industry to create standards for a new generation of interoperable, dynamic, and efficient “smart systems”—an “industrial Internet”—that combines distributed sensing, control, and data analytics to help grow new high-value US jobs and the economy.

Open Data Initiatives: Accelerating and expanding efforts to make government information resources more publicly accessible in “computer-readable” form and spurring the use of those data by entrepreneurs as fuel for the creation of new products, services, and jobs.

MyData Initiatives: Empowering the people of the United States with secure access to their own personal health, energy, and education data.

Innovation Toolkit: Developing an innovation toolkit that empowers the US federal workforce to respond to national priorities more quickly and more efficiently.

21st Century Financial Systems: Moving financial accounting systems of US federal agencies out of the era of unwieldy agency-specific implementations to one that favors more nimble, modular, scalable, and cost-effective approaches.

Development Innovation Ventures: Enabling the US government to identify, test, and scale breakthrough solutions to the world’s toughest problems.

If you are looking for an opportunity to make a difference, here is a chance to influence millions of lives by thinking outside of the box and building truly innovative solutions. Presidential Innovation Fellows have a unique chance to serve their country and influence change on a truly massive scale. The White House will be accepting applications from February 5 through March 17, looking to put together dynamic, diverse, and innovative project teams that will produce tremendous results for the residents of the United States.

PIF applicants need not have deep technical programming skills; rather, they require an ability to think creatively, be an agent for change, and to recognize opportunities where technology can solve problems. I am asking all of you in the academic community to reach out to recent graduates and alumni that you believe can influence positive change and envision innovative solutions. And don’t count yourself out, as this could be the sabbatical of a lifetime. If you are interested in learning more and applying, please visit Presidential Innovation Fellows.

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Education and Scholarly Communication Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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Women across the world Hack to help victims of Human Trafficking

According to the Department of Justice, 40 percent of all human trafficking incidents opened for investigation between January 2008 and June 2010 were for sexual trafficking of a child. The majority of these children who are bought and sold for sex are girls between the ages of 12 and 14. Eighty-three percent of victims in confirmed sex trafficking incidents were identified as U.S. citizens.

The Internet is playing a central role in the rising numbers of American children sold for sex. With the Internet, the trafficker and the buyer have full anonymity and discretion in their sale and purchase of the child.

Given that Internet technology is being used for exploitation and trafficking, how might the tools and opportunities of the Internet also be used for the protection and defense of victims? How might a victim of trafficking be able to access the Internet to find her freedom?

This is one of four questions that students at university campuses around the world—including University of Washington, University of Southern California, University of Texas at Austin, Iowa State University, Colorado School of Mines, University of Sindh in Pakistan, University of Melbourne in Australia and universities in Colombia, Brazil, and Kenya—will have an opportunity to answer when they participate in the first-ever, international women-only hackathon this weekend, February 22–24.

Sponsored by Microsoft Research Connections, Microsoft Imagine Cup, the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), the Association for Computing Machinery Committee on Women in Computing (ACM-W), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Women in Engineering (IEEE-W) and Skype, the International Women’s Hackathon is a crowdsourcing event aimed at helping young women feel confident about their computer science capabilities and excited by opportunities to solve global problems. Young women will have the opportunity to create mobile, web, and social media applications as well as games to help support social issues related to women. Young women will be able to be the innovators to support three great nonprofit organizations: FAIR Girls, HumanRights4Girls and the Hindsight Group.

Bridge the Gap Video

As the Principal Research Director in Microsoft Research Connections, I focus on how we grow more women and under-represented groups in computing. For Microsoft to be the most innovative company driving technology innovations for the next 10 years and into the future, we must have diverse teams solving the world’s greatest problems by using computing. When I look back to my college experience as a mechanical engineering student taking courses in electrical and computer science engineering, I remember looking for opportunities that would enable me to make bigger impact in the world. I remember myself and my fellow women engineers looking for research opportunities that would enable us to solve more global problems and problems that also related to social issues. That is why I got involved in robotics and mechanical limbs research.

Now, 15 years later, I see the same themes as I visit campuses in the United States, Korea, and various European countries. As I Skype with young women from the Middle East, India, Latin America, and Australia, I routinely hear, “I want to make an impact and solve big world problems. Can I really do that in computer science?” In addition, I hear these young women questioning their capabilities and expressing a lack of confidence in entering hackathons and computing competitions. This is why we are launching this International Women’s Hackathon: to help young women build their confidence, their capabilities, and their networks and to help them see that they can have a significant impact in the world through computing. That they can build solutions to help victims of human trafficking get out of exploitative situations and help ensure that younger girls do not fall prey to the same exploitation.

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Hacking to build diverse teams of technological innovators

Technology can play a key role in finding solutions to big problems. First, we have to build diverse teams of innovators to lead the way. Hackathons provide a great opportunity for anyone to experience coding and see how technology can be used to address serious issues. As I contemplate my New Year’s resolutions, I hope to do all that I can to encourage everyone who has an interest in computing to participate in a hackathon—as either a hacker or a sponsor.

Microsoft Research was pleased to be a sponsor and supporter of Americas Datafest, a hackathon that took place in November 2013. The hackathon was organized by Teresa Bouza, Deputy Bureau Chief of EFE and Knight Fellow at Stanford University. Teresa believes that the rapid spread of mobile broadband has the potential to help us address the challenges facing society in a data-driven manner. To explore this potential, she brought together programmers, engineers, journalists, NGOs, data scientists, and others for a weekend of intense, multi-city collaboration to address important issues related to migration in the Americas.

The hackathon demonstrated that technology experts, working in partnership with subject matter experts, could generate creative and promising ideas that can make a difference. We know that events like these not only help grow the next generation of diverse computer scientists and innovators, but also communicate the message that technology can help solve the world’s greatest problems.

I’d like to hand this over to Teresa to discuss the event in more detail.

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

 

Before I begin, I would like to say a few words about the issue we wanted to address with Americas Datafest. While immigration to the United States may be the most visible aspect of migration in the Americas, human flows throughout the region are complex and evolving. For example, Mexico is becoming a destination country, thanks to its growing economy and there are significant patterns of population movement within Latin America.

The idea behind the hackathon was to inspire contestants to build apps that make public and crowd-sourced data accessible and useful for migrants. We also wanted to create tools that facilitate outreach and data collection by NGOs and researchers. Ultimately, such efforts can provide evidence to inform immigration policies across the region. I invited subject matter experts from the United Nations, the World Bank, and NGOs in the United States and Latin America to submit challenge topics, which our participants then used as a basis for brainstorming project ideas.

The event was held simultaneously in 20 cities across 11 countries and each location nominated two top teams for our global awards. Their projects covered a diverse range of ideas. Harvard students focused on facilitating immigrants’ integration. Other students from the United States, Venezuela, Mexico, and Brazil built tools that can help migrants in general, whether they move domestically or abroad.

Health was another prominent subject. The team at Fusion, the new joint venture between ABC News and Univision, created a project that will allow the TV network’s audience to gather their personal data to improve their understanding of their own health; the aggregate data can be used to examine the major health issues within the demographic. Like this project, many of the projects can be adapted for other parts of the world.

The winning projects were:

¿Dónde estás?: A measurement and mapping tool to search for Central American migrants in Mexico

Health24: An application that helps migrants receive basic diagnoses and correctly identify and use over-the-counter drugs

Invio: A secure and easy-to-use mobile application that gives immigrants control over how and to whom their remittances are distributed

Migratio: A safety-focused database of migrants that includes tracking and geomapping features

Salvaviajes: An SMS/web communication platform for crowdsourcing alerts on migration-related issues within Central America and southern North America.

Teresa Bouza, Deputy Bureau Chief at EFE, and Knight Fellow, Stanford University

 

Readers may be interested to note that the Microsoft Research International Women’s Hackathon 2014 is scheduled to take place April 25 to 27, 2014, on university campuses around the world and live at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. At this year’s event, participating women students have the opportunity to design a software application to address one of the following challenges: (1) increase women’s participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors, or (2) put a halt to texting while driving. For more information or get involved, visit International Women’s Hackathon 2014.

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Creating Buzz for Computer Science

Here’s a sobering fact: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2018 there will be 1.4 million open technology jobs in the United States and, at the current rate of students graduating with degrees in computer science, we will fill only 61 percent of those openings. These predictions are all the more dispiriting when you realize that the latest advances in improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and upgrading manufacturing have come from technological innovations. I believe that no other field offers as much opportunity for students and society as computer science does.   This is why Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek)—the week of computer pioneer Grace Hopper’s birthday (December 9)—is so important: it’s our chance to inspire as many students as possible to pursue this field. CSEdWeek recognizes the critical role of computing in today’s society and the imperative to bolster computer science education at all levels.

Rane Johnson-Stempson helps high-school students understand rapid prototyping with .NET Gadgeteer from Microsoft Research.

In a way, it’s surprising that more young people aren’t going into computer science. As I travel the world and meet with students in middle school, high school, and college, I encounter a reoccurring theme: these students want a career where they can make an impact. They want to take on social issues, world issues, and be part of something bigger. This is where I explain to them that computer science is the field they want to pursue. Innovations in combating HIV, understanding the human genome, protecting the environment—these, I tell them, are just some of the urgent global needs that are being addressed with technology. It’s imperative that bright young people see the enormous potential for doing good through computing.

University of Washington Women in Informatics senior Kathyrn Kuan teaches students how to program their .NET Gadgeteer prototypes.  This is why, in conjunction with CSEdWeek, representatives from Microsoft Research and the newly formed University of Washington Women in Informatics headed to the Kent Technology Academy (a middle school) and Kent Meridian Technology Academy (a high school), to share with students what can be accomplished in the fields of computer and information sciences. We demonstrated how technology can help students understand the universe (with WorldWide Telescope); bridge the gap between science and the humanities (with ChronoZoom); develop games (with Kodu); and create mobile applications (with TouchDevelop) and rapid prototypes (with .NET Gadgeteer). We showed how social media can help us better understand human emotions and behaviors, which can lead to better healthcare, and, above all, we strove to convey the excitement and fulfillment that comes from engineering innovations and making tools that are used by millions across the world.

University of Washington Women in Informatics freshman Courtney Dutton helps students debug their code.I came away with a renewed respect for the teachers, as we hustled through six 55-minute sessions with only a short, 30-minute break for lunch. Typically, the teachers hurry through their meal and then grade papers during this short timeout, but they broke with their normal routine to talk with us about their students, their curricula, and the challenges and opportunities offered by computer science. It was heartening to hear their optimism about their pupils and the future of technology, and extremely humbling to be thanked for our participation in their efforts. I think Susan Whitehall, the principal at Kent Meridian Technology Academy (KMTA), said it best:

At KMTA, our goal is technology integration. Our teachers involve students in projects that are not necessarily about technology itself, but use technology to expedite, enhance, and expand all areas of learning. The partnership with Microsoft allows students to see what can happen when knowledge, technological expertise, and creativity all come together. Our students get to work with excellent role models and engage in high-interest, hands-on activities. Most importantly, this partnership helps remind students that they themselves are amazing human beings with limitless potential.

High-school students get debugging help from Rane Johnson-Stempson.That amazing potential was on full display during our visit, making it an enjoyable experience for everyone. For me personally, the most fun was working with students as they learned about rapid prototyping and industrial design through our .NET Gadgeteer platform. The students learned that computer science isn’t just sitting at a computer, programming in isolation. They discovered that the field also involves working on teams and creating tools that people use every day—items like digital cameras and media players. Given the short class periods, we could do only simple projects, but these were enough to make the students’ eyes light up and to prompt questions about where they can buy a kit. My eyes lit up, too, at the possibility of having inspired hundreds of budding computer scientists.

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Education and Scholarly Communication Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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ChronoZoom wins Digital Education Achievement Award

Many of you have heard me talk passionately about ChronoZoom over the past year, especially about our goal to bridge the gap between the sciences and humanities through this amazing open-source tool, which strives to capture the history of everything. I love the amazing breadth of these ambitions.

Another thing I love about ChronoZoom is how it was created by the academic community, with assistance from Microsoft through Microsoft Research Connections. The academic part of the ChronoZoom team has had a very busy summer, delivering two releases independently, without any coaching from the Microsoft engineering team. I urge you to check out the new features and download the source code on Codeplex.

I had a fabulous time working with our community leader, Roland Saekow of the University of California, Berkeley, as we presented ChronoZoom at the International Big History Association Conference at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. I’d like to hand this blog over to Roland, to tell you about a great tribute the team received this summer!

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director for Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

Three years ago, I was a student at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), taking a course on the history of everything. The course was titled “Big History: Cosmos, Earth, Life and Humanity.” Taught by Professor Walter Alvarez, it covered everything from the Big Bang to modern man. One of the most challenging aspects of a Big History course is grasping the timescales– all 13.7 billion years. To meet this challenge, Professor Alvarez and I set out to create a dynamic, zoomable timeline. Three years later, after much hard work by incredible teams of people, ChronoZoom received the seventeenth annual Digital Education Achievement Award.

Chris Engberg (left) and Roland Saekow (right) accept the Digital Education Achievement award on behalf of the ChronoZoom team from the Center for Digital Education, represented by Kristy Fifelski, New Media Dirctor, e.Republic Inc. (center).  Chris Engberg (left) and Roland Saekow (right) accept the Digital Education Achievement award on behalf of the ChronoZoom team from the Center for Digital Education, represented by Kristy Fifelski, New Media Director, e.Republic Inc. (center). Image courtesy of the Center for Digital Education

This award, which is presented by the Center for Digital Education (a division of e.Republic), recognizes the results of countless hours of planning, discussion, prototyping, and development—the collaborative efforts of dedicated and passionate individuals from all over the world. Our team includes software engineers, program managers, and project leaders at Microsoft Research Connections in Redmond, Washington, and students and professors at Moscow State University in Russia and at UC Berkeley. This dispersed team developed cutting-edge HTML5 code and implemented services on Windows Azure to create a rich, visual database full of historical events and timelines.

Roland Saekow answers questions during the Digital Education Achievement Award panelOne aspect of the ChronoZoom project I find fascinating is that students—undergraduates, graduates, and postdocs—wrote nearly 80 percent of the code in today’s beta release. This award recognizes the successful collaboration between experienced veterans of the computer science world and students who have been inspired and mentored with great care and passion to do outstanding work.   Work on ChronoZoom began as a dream—a hopeful vision into the future. Not only did the right people have to come together at the same moment, but they also had to learn to work together in near perfect synchronization to transform our dream into a reality.   I am very proud of everyone on the team, and I look forward to our continued success. As an open-source project, we continue to grow our team, and take with us the experience in collaboration that Microsoft Research fostered. We invite you to join us on this journey to bring history to life.    Roland Saekow, ChronoZoom Community Lead, University of California, Berkeley

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