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2019 Weekly Recap: Weeks 5-7

It’s been too long since the last recap! I’ve been super busy. I’ll try to compress three weeks into this one post, and apologies if it runs a little long.

One of the reasons I’ve been so busy in the past couple of weeks is because I had so much travel on my schedule. In Week 6, I traveled to London with my best friend and co-worker for an internal summit. It was a great opportunity to get data professionals and business professionals together to figure out exactly what the unique bits about managing data projects were. Data projects are a little bit different than conventional or deterministic software projects, and those small differences can lead to big challenges when trying to figure out how to navigate the project space. I’m extremely grateful that an international team wanted to put this together and learn more about it.

The same week, I traveled to the Stuttgart area for work as well. This was the culmination of weeks of work. The Stuttgart area is absolutely gorgeous and it reminds me of home. Low-lying mountains and sprawling country fields and a gorgeous city, I’m hopeful I’ll be able to work in that area more in the near future.

I’ve been pretty heads-down with work, but now that I’ve crossed a few major items off my to-do list I can start expanding to other activities. I’ve not been reading as much lately, so I’ll start refocusing on that this upcoming week. I’m trialing an online language course with Lingoda, so we’ll see how that goes. I do want to work towards certificates, and I’m willing to pay, but the curriculum mechanics aren’t immediately clear to me at the trial account level. It won’t let me “test out” of a chapter without doing the online sessions, but even at the A1.1 level there are 50 sessions (equating 50 hours of material), and the certificate doesn’t unlock until you have hit at least 90% completion. I haven’t really figured out how to align the curriculum to the pricing scheme. We’ll see.

I’m also taking a very basic introductory course on American Law on Coursera. I figure now that I’ve been sued I should do some formal readings on the subject for the first time since high school.

I’m slowly taking on more collaborators for First Vigil and starting to frame a vision for the project. I did manage to power through a ton of research backlog last week and I’m quite happy with that. I’ve also done some backlog organizing to prepare for collaborators and started tidying up the project.

The weather in Berlin has been astonishing this weekend. It was up to 13 degrees, and I took the opportunity to get on my bike and explore. Friday of Week 7 there was a BVG strike so I rode into work. I don’t often see Berlin from the street level, and I am greatly looking forward to months of bikeable weather. As an aside, physical activity along with supportive environments and a whole lot of autonomy has been doing wonders for my mental health. I’m powering through to-do lists, learning, and healing. That feels good. I feel good about that. It’s what I came to Berlin for.

What I’ve read

Allow me to take a moment to whine a bit. Most of what I discover I find on Twitter while using my phone. As a result, my workflow for this section is to use Twitter’s bookmark feature, which means I have to explicitly navigate to the mobile web version of Twitter while writing these posts. That’s not a huge barrier but it is an irritating break in the workflow. I head that Twitter is shipping Bookmarks to web soon, but good heavens can we hurry it up?

This is an article that I read a few weeks back but I wanted to revisit. Zoé, who is a sharp and incisive writer who I respect deeply, tells a personal story about the very real fears of immigrants who are in America legally. Speaking about her mother, she writes,

She recalled a scene from her childhood: In the rain, a dog was riding inside a truck driven by a white man, and a Black worker was drenched in the truck bed. So the news in the United States, to her, was an example of how white Americans similarly care about dogs more than Black people.

I’ve told her this directly, but Zoé’s writing style is like watching a good chess game or a fencing match. She frames a story from multiple angles, all with clear direction but from various perspectives, and perhaps you can see the endgame and perhaps you can’t, but the cleverness is in how all of these parts are all fit together, finally coming together in a brilliant denouement.

Zoé takes the story and relates it to Dylann Roof, the man who murdered nine at a bible study in Charleston. She references Operation Paperclip, the effort to bring Nazi rocket scientists to the US to extract their knowledge. And she addresses the empty privilege of being the model immigrant: exceptional and PhD-holding, a new land assessing deeming you worthy enough to exist (but never worthy enough to hold you in esteem). She brings this together to show how those factors all collude in modern America to create an everlasting culture of fear, where even naturalization is seen as unsafe if your skin isn’t white.

I am an immigrant now, someone living and working in a country that is not my own. Yet though I am trans, and though I am visibly Asian, and though I am an outspoken activist, I will never feel this level of fear in Germany, even with its troubling upswell of anti-migrant violence, that Zoé and her family fear in America. Americans shoud feel ashamed. Freedom and fear cannot coexist.

This is such an important piece. We live in a time of weaponized conspiracy theories and we often forget who the victims are. This article looks into their lives, the harm that was done, and the impunity with which the hoaxers have operated. I recall when the Parkland shooting happened, and a young nonbinary person was blamed for it even though he was hundreds of miles away.

The first death threats landed via Facebook messenger by nightfall: “I hope someone throws you out of a rotary aircraft, you commie!” Another made a direct reference to the concert venue that employed him. “They knew where I worked, what I did. It just got me so afraid.”

It’s notable how the Pinochet reference, which has been popularized in part by my assailant, has entered the common right-wing discourse. The right is gleeful about murder and cares not for the truth. But that’s not the saddest part. The saddest part is how few people seem to care.

Lenny Pozner lost his child at Sandy Hook and has dedicated himself to fighting conspiracy theories online. He shares how isolating that work is, something that that strikes a chord with me. Fighting back is perhaps the thing that requires the most support, and it is one of the parts of activism that receives the least.

What shocks Pozner most, he says, was how alone he was when he began this fight. “I was the only one standing up to the hoaxers, and other than the loss of my son that was my biggest disappointment at the time.”

We have to do better by our movement and support those who are willing to take the fight to the people who want us dead.

Data flows forward with time. Anyone who works with data knows this. Consequently, it becomes very difficult to roll back systems that depend on data, because we can’t roll back data. So how do we reconcile this with the principles of continuous delivery that say that we must be able to roll back to any point in history at any given point in time?

The article doesn’t really offer a solution that works in a pragmatic data science sense, but sets a foundation for how we could be thinking. We must always be moving forward, which means we must always be able to disable features and push the fixes upwards, not backwards. In a data sense, this means we ought to always have a knowable fallback model that offers acceptable performance. This is worth a blog post in and of itself, so perhaps I will find some time for that this week.

What I’m learning

I’m doing a bunch of online courses!

First, my company has an account with DataCamp. A lot of people want to learn data science and have asked for my opinions on the material, so I’m trying to power through them and assess them for their practical suitability. So far I’ve found it incredibly slow and tedious, though I am starting from the most basic level. If nothing else, it’s inspired me to put together some thoughts on intro-level Python knowledge.

I’m doing a trial run of Lingoda to explore online language learning to see if it’s worth it for doing a certificate. I’m almost definitely at the A1 level of German with everything except speaking, so maybe I’ll just commit to that even if it is excessively costly.

I’m also using Coursera to take an Intro to American Law class. I studied some law back in high school and got sued, so it’s not like I’m ignorant to the matter, but some formal study is fun and refreshing. Plus, I learned that “tortfeasor” is a word so I’ll just be making fun of lawyers forever for that.

What I’m reading

I made no progress with books this week :(.

The week ahead

My boyfriend is visiting next weekend (!!) and I’m excited to spend this week prepping for a talk. I’m going to try to get some reading done and really buckle down on learning things. I want to start moving tech tasks off the board for First Vigil and hopefull start working on a new design.

Selfie of the week

A nice bike ride through Berlin is exactly what I needed

Author

EG

Emily is a data scientist and activist. The opinions shared herein are her own.