The Arena

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

— Teddy Roosevelt, 1910

I spent the past weekend in Nashville being newly re-inspired for American democracy: convening with 400 bright, passionate, and patriotic souls, making their way from 30 different states on three weeks’ notice to a summit assembled in due November 9th urgency, to learn, engage, and commit to political candidacy and as well as other forms of civic participation.

There are more than 500,000 elected offices in the United States. We need talented, authentic individuals putting themselves into the political arena, and to develop the systems of strategy and support to make them successful. Most media attention fixates on federal government, particularly the executive office, but that belies all the hard work of governance and progress that is so critical at the state and local levels too. And ultimately, it is about making that progress. It’s not about left or right; it’s about forward.

We heard from speakers like Florida Congresswoman-elect Stephanie Murphy, who rose from humble beginnings as a boat refugee from Vietnam to step up to her first run for elected office only this summer; unseated a 12-term incumbent; and will be the first Vietnamese woman in Congress. She was first prompted to public service by the 9/11 attacks, and then to a congressional run after seeing her representative take a check from the gun lobby just two days after the horror of the Pulse nightclub shootings, right in their own neighborhood. And Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, who is just coming off an impressively strong race for Missouri Senator (though as a Democratic candidate, he did ultimately lose the very red state); he spoke humorously but pointedly about the value of authenticity, a theme that was echoed in the remarks of many subsequent speakers. Including those of Stockton, CA Mayor-elect Michael Tubbs, who will be the city’s first black mayor and the youngest to the hold the office, at 26; in an age of social media and wide dissemination of salacious stories, Tubbs’s indiscretion on display was a DUI just two years prior, while serving as a city councilman. But he owned up to it and could be very real with the community about the fact that everyone makes mistakes—and more importantly than that, people are more than the worst thing they’ve ever done.

It was also good to hear about the ways in which others can support, those for whom political office isn’t in the cards. Congresswoman-elect Murphy broke down the process of a successful candidacy in three parts: message, money, machine. There’s the work that goes into designing a platform that’s compelling, that speaks to the concerns of constituents, that elevates important conversations. There’s the long, tedious, cruel necessity of fundraising, a task even more so difficult for upstart, first-time candidates. There’s the field and canvassing machine that has to be on the ground, getting out the message and getting out the vote. And of course that’s not even to speak of all the work after election; officials need staffers to help them research, design, and implement policy. These are all opportunities for us to take part and to serve, and there are so many more…

I haven’t yet had enough time to process everything I took away from the summit, and really there was so, so much more, but at the very least I’ve deepened my November 9th resolve to genuinely take on my American civic duties, and I have a new network of people with which to follow through on that commitment.

Please don’t tell me to celebrate hate

White and Asian men picking fights with those of us that are truly horrified and terrified by the specter of a Trump presidency and what that means for the marginalized, telling us we need to celebrate democracy and “be open” to those who are gleefully hateful and intolerant, who are proudly racist and sexist and xenophobic and Islamophobic and homophobic and all sorts of other awful: Please. Just. Stop.

Yes, the way to move forward as a country is through love and compassion and empathy and coming together and bridging differences. I truly believe that. But there is also a wrong side of history. The hate and bullying that the sheer fact of Trump’s election has condoned and normalized is wrong. It’s not just a difference of opinion. It’s wrong. Many of the legislative and judicial changes imminent with his presidency will be, too. (You can call me selfish but I’m afraid of losing my own reproductive rights, the ability to decide issues about my own body, ffs… And not to mention the rights about to be denied so many other marginalized groups.)

I know there’s more to it. Not everyone who voted for Trump is racist and sexist and homophobic, and taking a condescending tone of liberal elitism doesn’t help. I know. But those of you trying to play at being on a moral high ground for telling me that I should embrace and celebrate the democratic election of a hateful demagogue, telling me I’m the one being divisive: Please, stop.

TCS NYC Marathon 2016

I finished! I really finished! My first marathon on the books.

I got around to it just barely in time to check off a bucket list item that I casually suggested to a friend in a meandering lunchtime conversation 5 years ago, as something I wanted to do in the next 5 years… I don’t even remember who I was talking to and I’m sure they wouldn’t remember the conversation either but it stuck in my head that I was supposed to run a marathon by 2016 and now here I am.

The race went a lot more smoothly than I expected. After a slow start hanging out by the 4:55 pacer and nursing some deep concerns about a 5+ hour finish, as FiveThirtyEight’s marathon time calculator had predicted for me, I managed negative splits to then pass the 4:45 and 4:35 pacers for a nice round 4:30 finish. (As one friend says, “On par with the rest of FiveThirtyEight’s predictions this year!”) Still none too fast but very acceptable given my baseline level of slowness in running and lack of interest in training for speed. I think a couple of weird-tasting but well-timed gels at miles 11 and 18, plus Gatorade every other mile, helped. And the perfect weather today: brisk but sunny fall weather, slight breeze, temperatures in the 50s, ideal for running.

Oh and the cheering! I brought headphones so I could listen to music but the cheering along the entire course was a much better acoustic complement for the race. I loved all the energy from the spectators, their cheering and their cowbells, and all the singers and bands and boom boxes along the way. There were lots of fun signs to serve as visual distraction as well: “If Trump can run, so can you!” “26.2, because 26.3 would be crazy” “Who needs toenails anyways?” “Seems like a lot of work for a free banana…” The cheering made the miles go so, so much faster than they ever did on any of my long training runs.

For the first time ever I also had friends come watch and then meet me at the end of the race. It’s kind of nice to be loved! And now I get to enjoy my finisher flowers in their mason jar vase.

A little bit of magic in our Muggle world

“Imagine Star Wars was opening in one cinema in one city and that was the only place you could see it. That’s sort of what’s happening with this.”— Sonia Friedman (quoted in The Telegraph)

In what was to us a small feat of magic in of itself, my friend Helen and I managed to get our hands on tickets to the Harry Potter play yesterday. We lined up at 10am in the returns queue and waited for four hours (!) and just barely got the last tickets to the day’s shows. The last hour before Part 1 was due to start playing was particularly nerve-wracking, as crowds of blissfully-already-ticketed theatre-goers pressed against us and we hoped against hope for more returns to come in. But finally the theater attendant came by with his clipboard and tickets spreadsheet and theater layout plan and asked us if we were interested in two singles that were available. Our answer was a very quick yes.

The play is amazing. It’s magical, spellbinding, bewitching, any choice of thaumaturgic adjective works.I was completely enthralled for the entirety of the 5+ hours of showtime. I even had to switch from contacts to glasses towards the end because my eyes were drying out from staring so intently at the stage. The story and plot are iconic JK Rowling Harry Potter; the stagecraft and special effects are wonderfully designed and thrillingly executed. I’m so so delighted I got the chance to experience the play as it was meant to be experienced, on stage in the West End, with its original cast and in its opening months no less.

The show deserves all of its five star ratings.

(I can only warn that reading the script on its own is unlikely to evoke the same sort of immersive thrall, so if you think you might have the chance to see the play performed live, hold off on reading the book!)

Observations from an impromptu user research session on the streets of Huxton

A middle-aged Black woman — from what I could glean, an overseas transplant here in London as a caretaker for the elderly — came pattering up to me and asked for my help finding her way to her destination, the address of which she pointed out at the bottom of a paper printout.

She had an iPhone 5 or 5S: a decent phone, but at least a couple years old, and a little worn. She showed me the screen of her phone, where she had put the address into Google Maps, but it wasn’t returning a result and she was clearly feeling a bit frantic about getting where she needed to go.

Google Maps has a lot of issues with UK addresses; apparently the key is to strip the addresses down to the postal codes which are uniquely identifying. Putting in the street address in addition to the postal code often doesn’t work; it’s gotta be just postal code.

I told her this and she tried to search for the postal code: watching her engage with the UI / UX was the ultimate in cringeworthiness. She struggled a few times to delete the street address from the search input field because the box was too small and she couldn’t get the cursor in; and then when she switched tacks and tried to hit the “x” to clear everything and re-enter the postal code it was too small of a tap target so she missed many times before she got it. Although Google Maps is case-insensitive, which I take for granted (and I would posit most tech-savvy people do too), she wanted to make sure she got the postal code exactly right and kept hitting the Shift key to make sure she was capitalizing her input. Which she ended up mis-entering anyways because it’s hard to type with thumbs on a small screen. I asked her if she wanted me to help her on the phone and she was so relieved and grateful to hand it over to me.

Google Maps was happy to return a result for just the postal code, but she had it set on walking directions; so she was happy at first to see a result but then immediately worried when she saw the estimated time to be 44 minutes. I switched it to public transit directions by tapping on the walking man icon, but I also realized how completely non-intuitive it is to have to do that. From there, she was still squinting to figure out where she needed to go, and asked me to read the instructions and tell her. I scrolled down to see which Tube line, direction, and exit she had to take; read them aloud and pointed out to her where on the screen she could see that information, which was fine, but also frustrating to me to see how difficult it was for her to figure it out on her own.

As creators of technology, we still aren’t doing a good job serving people who aren’t us. “Us” usually being young, mostly male, mostly White and Asian, tech-savvy urban professionals with disposable incomes and the latest shiniest devices and apps, with a strong geographic bias to SF / Bay Area and maybe NYC. It’s still very impressive that this woman will eventually get where she needs to go… But we still have so much room to improve if even some of the best of what the tech industry has produced — the Apple iPhone, Google Maps — is so deficient.