#MeToo – IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT!

The #MeToo campaign started on Twitter Sunday afternoon. It seeped into Facebook status messages and as images on Instagram. If you are confused about what it is, let me explain… But know this, if someone shared a status message with #MeToo, do not ask them to share their personal story. Butt out. You are not entitled to their story. It is none of your business. If someone did not share the message on their wall, it does not necessarily mean they have not been through sexual abuse. They would just like their space. Respect that.

How it started –

Over the last few days, Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood producer, has been making headlines for sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations. Here is a report documenting some cases of those who have been victims of Weinstein’s predatory behavior. He has over 30 different sexual abuse allegations to his name. However, sexual assault/sexual harassment is not restricted to people in any one profession. On Sunday, actress Alyssa Milano took to Twitter and posted the following:

Why it started –

For those of you who do not understand the point of this, take a few minutes to give this issue your undiverted attention.

I have been a victim of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

To some, it might sound like a daily affair and that victims should “move on”. To some, it might sound like a sensitive topic that they should not talk further about in public. To some, it might sound like a bunch of words strung together and nothing more. But to most, it sends chills down their spine because they have been there too.

Let me tell you something about sexual harassment/assault. Your profession does not matter. The length of your skirt does not matter. Your skin color does not matter. Your nationality or the language you speak does not matter. Your social status does not matter. Your gender or sexual orientation does not matter. Hell, it does not matter if you are 6 or 65 years old.  It does not matter if you say “Please stop” or “No!”, irrespective of whether it is said feebly or firmly. But what does seem to work sometimes is saying “I have a boyfriend”. Why? Because some men respect only the thoughts of other men. They feel entitled to sexual favors from the rest of us. The need for power and control is what drives most violators.  

Women are sexually harassed by men at least once in their lifetime, and if that does not scare you, you should be worried. There are, of course, varying levels of assault and harassment.

It should not all be equated to one problem.

For those of you who have been following #MeToo on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram, you would have read stories of women, men and non-binary folks who have been victims of sexual abuse. Some, multiple times. People who do not understand the gravity of these reports take sexual harassment lightly. Sexual harassment and sexual assault range from unwelcome advances to inappropriate conduct (with or without physical contact) to rape. None of these should be trivialized.

Here is the story of my best friend who was one such girl, born and raised in what one would term a “low-risk” family. As a seven-year-old, she trusted the neighbor (of over seven years) from her village. Silly seven-year-olds trust most people. The result of that blind trust was him sliding his hands into her trousers. She voiced out to her grandmother about the man being a predator, that smart seven-year-old. Sadly, it was brushed off as a child not knowing the world enough. That was just the beginning. Men followed and made unwarranted sexual advances as the now 12-year old girl made her way to her evening classes. She voiced out, but only to see her voice being drowned out by the nonchalant attitude of evening commuters. She watched her best friend being groped in front of her and sexually frustrated men make advances at different instances. She screamed for help, but help never came. All of this and more before she was 15. “Ensure you do not provoke them”, they later said. She did not dress provocatively. She was not drunk. She was not walking outside in the wee hours of the night. She was merely a child. It does not matter who she is, or where she is from. What matters is her story and I really hope it bothers you.

I understand the annoying question that has been running in the back of your mind – Why go public about personal stories? Well, no problem is solved if everyone decides to shut up. No awareness is raised if nobody speaks up. No help is sought if people are not sure who will be blamed by the end of a conversation – the victim or the person whose fault it truly was.  

The reason victims take so long to tell their story is because of the shame and guilt that society tends to impose on them, rather than the perpetrator. Know this, it is NEVER the victim’s fault. It is incredibly hard to come to terms with that. People who do not understand the issue for what it truly is propagate victim-blaming and victim-shaming. Don’t be that person.

For those of you who know me, know that I am not one to watch silently when someone makes unwelcome advances. But I do not expect everyone to do the same. People are different like that. Join forces in acknowledging that. Understand this could be happening to anyone around you, even if they are not voicing it out or reacting the way you would. Learn to break free from the shackles of being a bystander. If everyone acted in a timely manner, more lives can be shielded from the horrors of sexual abuse every year.

Let me end this post by stating very clearly that raising awareness is only a part of the issue that we, as individuals, can solve. Sexual misconduct is a widespread epidemic in our world, one we can’t get rid of until those responsible for it are punished for their misdeeds. Remember, the disease starts with the perpetrator, not the victim. 

So be aware of the problem. Acknowledge it. Understand it. Always make sure you act to protect the victim.

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My first Tech Trivia Night!

On 25 July, 2017 I attended my first ever Trivia Night at the Facebook Seattle office. What made the event more interesting to attend was the theme — “Women in Tech”.

For the longest time, I was apprehensive of attending a Trivia Night because I did not know if I would contribute much. Since the theme was something I was fairly comfortable with, I decided to be a part of some evening madness. After getting through the event, I realized how much I have been missing it out on! Read on to understand why…

Facebook Seattle hosted its first women in tech trivia event at its stunning sundeck on a sunny Seattle evening. Check out the view of Downtown Seattle from the sundeck on the featured picture! (Lesson: You get fabulous views during tech trivia nights during summer)

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(L) Jennifer Margolis and (R) April Wixom

 

Facebook’s very own April Wixom and Jennifer Margolis were on the mic, adding some fun and flare to the engaging trivia questions. The environment provided the right balance to unwind and meet like-minded women who enjoyed tech history as much as I did. There was serious competition in the air as each team was competing to win some Facebook Growlers, shot glasses and other Facebook swag. They were all equally capable and it was incredibly exciting to see who did the best at the end of each round. The team effort put forth to answer each question was my favorite part of the evening. (Lesson: It’s okay to not know all the answers!)

The Trivia night consisted of five parts — (1) True or False, (2) Women in Tech and History, (3) All things Computer Science, (4) Movie Quotes, and (5) Picture round based on Facebook Open Source Projects.

Each round consisted of ten questions. The first round was not something we were particularly proud of, but it was interesting nevertheless! The questions included “The color orange was named after the fruit” and “Can turtles breathe through their butt?”. We got 6 out 10. But I think I learned the most during this round. (Lesson: Quirky facts that you take back home will result in a lot of time being spent on learning new facts!) Don’t you love when that happens?

What followed is something my team and I are incredibly proud of. We got our women in tech and history, and computer science questions all right! Not that it validates what we do but that is how much we have been inspired by reading about the field. If there is one thing I believe in (disregarding all the fake news articles that we are presented with these days):

You are what you have read.

The questions were about prominent figures such as Grace Hopper, Anita Borg, Margaret Hamilton and other techs such as Enigma, ENIAC, etc. Jennifer thoroughly enjoyed hosting the round on movie quotes, voicing each one the way the character does. From Casablanca to The Wizard of Oz, from A Streetcar Named Desire to The Titanic. We did surprisingly well in said round as well! (Lesson: You will surprise yourself at Trivia Nights!) The final round of picture quotes was gripping. We got the questions right by simply reading code though we were not fully aware of all the (Awesome!) Open Source projects that Facebook has going. Though we did not entirely make up for the points we lost in the first round, we ended up in fourth place and experienced a fun evening geeking out. (Lesson: Life is so much easier when you have well-commented source code) Here is a list of all the open source projects Facebook has made available to the public.

It was a memorable event with friends (old and new), good food and a stunning view of Downtown and  Lake Union. There were times when I did not know the answers to questions, there were times when I forgot, but my time was not wasted. Don’t deprive yourself of all the learning and fun you can have at trivia nights the way I did for the last couple of years.

Could not make it out to a Tech Trivia? Keep an eye out on my Twitter feed for a similar event. The organizers at Facebook are also determined to put out something more challenging in the near future! Or just head out to learn new things about anything under the sun!

Sli.do for Teaching Assistant interactions

Oftentimes there are situations where students do not ask questions in a public setting, fearing the way they would be perceived by their peers. As a Teaching Assistant, it could prove to be hard when you are motivated to share a wealth of knowledge but you do not receive any feedback from the class on topics that are hard to grasp.

To tackle this gap and to encourage students to ask questions through a medium most comfortable to them, the use of mobile/web applications to increase audience interaction can prove to be fruitful. While doing my research, I chanced upon an app called Sli.do. Though this is usually used at conferences, Sli.do was very helpful in engaging my students to ask the questions they would otherwise not raise. By monitoring my feed in real-time, I could answer the most “Upvoted” questions and archive the ones I have answered.

Here is a small How-to post that I sent across to my class on how to use it.

EE447: Sli.do – HOW TO

  1. Download the sli.do app on your mobile phones/tablets (or) enter https://www.sli.do/ in a browser of your choice.

If using app on mobile/tablet device:

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If on browser:

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  1. An event code will be provided to you for the class
  2. Once you are logged into your event, the following screen must appear.

If using app on mobile/tablet:

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If on browser:

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  1. Click on ask button to the right bottom and type question in. Screenshots to follow are from mobile application but everything works similarly on browser.

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  1. Once the question is sent across, the rest of the class will be able to view the question and “upvote” it (similar to Stack Exchange/Reddit)

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Please make sure you upvote a question that is important to understand what is to follow in class. This will work only through enough participation from all of you.

 

  1. Another option available on the app is Polls. We may not use this feature but it is certainly good to know about it. Only the person who creates the event will be able to create a poll and view the results/infographics.
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Hope this helps you create an enhanced learning experience for your students.

 

Google AutoDraw – The perfect tool for creative minds who can’t draw

Google released a web app, approximately a month ago, that brings to life the inner genius in even the most cack-handed artists. Introducing (albeit a little late) AutoDraw!

AutoDraw is an experiment by Google in the artificial intelligence domain, where the system uses machine learning to predict well-defined images by analysing your slapdash squiggles. The predicted visuals are created by talented artists and the dataset is constantly growing to include classes.

Google gathered information to train a neural network by using Quick, Draw! By having the community provide different variations in a drawing for a particular object, Google trained a robust system that combines the classic fields of art and machine learning.

The app is easy to use. Once the user draws on a blank screen, AutoDraw pairs the drawing with potential submissions from talented artists. The user simply has to choose the right prediction from the toolbar and, Voila! The crudely drawn creation of the user’s work is replaced with a rather slick version of it.

Google allows artists to submit their best drawings to expand the dataset, all while teaching the machine to improve its performance. AutoDraw is a creative tool that allows amateur users to create posters or colouring books.

Here is a video of my fun experience with AutoDraw.

 

#MarchForScience – Tweets and Treats

“What do we want?”    

“Evidence-based Science!”

“When do we want it?”

“After Peer review!”

April 22, 2017 witnessed over 500 marches for Science around the world rally for science and its policy-making.

At different March for Science rallies, demonstrators gathered to hear a mix of scientists, politicians, and celebrities laud science as the force moving humanity forward, and demand of our leaders and government evidence-based policy. Keynote speakers included Megan Smith, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Adam Savage, Mayim Bialik and Prof. Manu Prakash amongst others. They acknowledged the vital role science plays in our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world.

There were folks dressed in lab coats and pink knit brain hats. There were costumed characters and festooned pets.  Across the nation and abroad, as thousands of scientists and their supporters convened on Earth Day to defend science against proposed government cuts and political interference, many got their messages across with colorful and candid protest signs. I could not personally make it to the march (who else hates falling sick when something fantastic is going on?!) However, I followed the marches across the world on Twitter.

Here are a few signs/tweets I fell in love with:

Though this was not a tweet from Tyson on the day of Science March, it stresses the importance of science and research unlike anything else.

Scientists and citations. This one got it all right in one tweet. I had a stupid smile on my face while reading this. NIH is life. Literally.

The electrical engineer in me squealed a little when I saw the following sign. This was then inducted into my list of favorite tweets (Get it, get it… ;))

Boy, did they get this right! A woman’s place is in the lab. Agree? (:

Yes. Yes. YES.

I am not one for mixing science and politics. But with the proposed budget cuts affects funding for research where it is needed most, politicians force scientists’ hands.  Also, who doesn’t love Katie Mack!?!

When we have support from one pole to another, you know we did this right!

Here are some cute brain hats for you. Pretty neat, don’t you think?

This was only the beginning. The following week (April 23-29, 2017) will be a “Week of Action”. Please read more about it on the March for Science blog. You could also join a Satellite near you here.

For those of you interested in meeting other scientists, the World Science Festival, founded by Prof. Brian Greene, will reconvene for the 10th annual World Science Festival in New York City from May 30, 2017 to June 4, 2017. Watch out for tickets here.

To wrap up, this was the message I had planned for my sign:

May the facts be with you.