WP668 Caboose in Spring Rain

WP 668 Railroad Caboose, February 2015

Lovely to sit in my office in WP 668 (the 1916 railroad caboose in our San Jose backyard) and listen to spring rain.  Lovely to have spring rain in the middle of California’s big drought!

Inside WP 668 Railroad Caboose, February 2015

Images Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson

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Notable Technical Women Project


I am happy to report that the Notable Technical Women Project – creators and distributors of the “Notable Women in Technology” and “TechWomen Emerging Leaders from Africa and the Middle East” educational playing cards and posters – is thriving!

Keep our history
Women have been leaders in tech from the start, but not enough of our contributions are remembered.
These cards can help.

“TechWomen Emerging Leaders from Africa and the Middle East” was the first publication of the TechWomen Alumnae group, and is the first daughter of the “Notable Women in Computing” project. Between them, we are distributing information to the world about 108 technical role models! You can get involved in the project through the Duke University “CRA-W and Anita Borg Institute Wikipedia Project – Writing Wikipedia Pages for Notable Women in Computing” website: http://www.cs.duke.edu/csed/wikipedia/

Recent Notable Technical Women Project developments:

  1. Dr. Susan Rodger (Duke University) offered “Notable Women in Computing” cards to about 1,300 SIGCSE (ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education) conference registrants – and 800 placed orders (in both regular and jumbo size – for classroom use).  The conference starts next week.
  2. Great Press from Julie Bort of Business Insider on 12 February 2015, including all of the Notable Women cards: 54 Women Who Rocked the World – thanks for your many retweets!
  3. Reach and Teach bookstore in San Mateo CA is the first to put our “Notable Women in Computing” cards on their physical shelves. Thanks to Craig Weisner and Derrick Kikuchi for their support!
  4. Internet sales are brisk at  http://www.notabletechnicalwomen.org/ - We had enough interest to place a big production order for the “TechWomen Emerging Leaders in Africa and the Middle East” posters and cards.
  5. Jessica Dickinson Goodman is minding our online store and recording photos of educators and students all over the world using “Notable Women” cards and posters.  You can see photos of cards and posters in the wild at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jessidg/notable-women-in-computing-card-deck/posts.
  6. We have distributed over 3,000 cards since October 2014 (they were originally sold at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women and Computing -aka GHC14- conference). Our first full production shipment of TechWomen cards just arrived today! The first thirty decks were printed last month through the generous donations of TechWomen mentors – and Symantec sponsored the first poster printing. Today’s shipment is being paid for by actual customers.
  7. Eileen Brewer (Symantec) and I took cards and posters on the TechWomen Delegation to South Africa last month and will take them on the Delegation to Tunisia next month also.

Thank you for your ongoing support!


Zimkhita Buwa, Seven of Diamonds, South Africa . Nomso Faith Kana, TechWomen Eight of Clubs, South Africa


Images Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson

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Dumping the Landline


Northern Californians who lived through the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989 often have a fondness for landlines – phones that use a metal wire telephone line for transmission rather than a mobile cellular line, which use radio waves. After Loma Prieta, only the landlines worked.  Nonetheless, this week, we are dumping our landline phones. Beside that our family uses our personal iPhones much more frequently – even within the house as an intercom, the number of daily telemarketing calls have become overwhelming.

Our energy company Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) is proud that they “…have helped customers connect more solar systems than any other utility in the country”. However, that means we get far too many landline calls from companies aggressively wanting to sell us solar systems.  While I support the installation of home solar power in general, our house in Willow Glen has a beautiful 80+ year old ceramic tile roof in good condition – not appropriate for solar panel installation. We only receive about six landline calls a day and usually four or more of them are telemarketing calls from solar vendors. I called PG&E and they say they are not responsible. We are on the Do Not Call Registry and routinely ask the companies to “Take Us Off Your List!”.  Nothing has helped against the relentless tide of telemarketing.  Enough!  

The calls that we get that are not from solar power shills are often from companies trying to sell us new construction or carpet cleaning.  Only one or two calls a week on our landline are from friends and family. Now that I am working from my home office daily, I would rather take my chances that the cell phones will work after a major earthquake than talk to six telemarketers every day. At least on an iPhone, I can easily block unwanted callers.

John is now transferring our home phone number to Google Voice on our temporary ZTE phone. In a week, we will have reduced our daily frustrations, saved $71/month in payments to AT&T, and have more space on our desks where the landlines used to be. Hooray!

28 Feb 2015 Update:
Our house is old enough to have a niche for a wall telephone. What do I do with that now that the landlines are dead? Maybe a sculpture niche? The birds are not sure if they want to share their corner with a cat sculpture…

IMG_0159 . IMG_0164

Photos Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson

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Collection Agency Story with a Happy Ending

I am inspired to write about my own recent experience with a private debt collector (a kind of collection agency) by today’s article “Locked Up for Being Poor – How private debt collectors contribute to a cycle of jail, unemployment, and poverty” by Jessica Pishko (in The Atlantic, 25 February 2015). While I was certainly not locked up, it did take over six months and many phone calls to resolve my recent copayment discussion with University of California – San Francisco Medical Center (UCSF). Remarkably, the collection agency is the hero of my story.

I wrote a blog last year “P-Phenylenediamine – Allergy to Hair Dye” in which I mentioned that I was being treated by the medically-excellent UCSF Dermatology Clinic. My debt discussions with UCSF Financial Services started because on my 2 June 2014 visit, the clinic receptionist did not ask for the regular copayment of $15. I sent in the $15 copay on 7 July 2014 as part of the regular UCSF billing cycle. Something went wrong because my payment was not recorded. UCSF kept billing me each month for $15. I phoned them a few times but figured it would sort itself out. By 5 December, when I was still being billed $15 a month for the 2 June copayment, I decided it was easier to pay $15 again than continue to call. Then, I got a letter dated 24 December from Transworld Systems – a collection agency – asking me to pay them the $15 owed to UCSF.

I called UCSF some more and even mailed a letter on 7 January 2015 to UCSF (including copies of both of my cancelled checks for $15) objecting to being asked to pay the $15 copayment for a third time. UCSF Financial Services staff kept telling me that they no record of either my payments or my letter and said I still owed $15.  Communications were made more difficult because UCSF only wanted to communicate by fax (not email or paper mail). I send a fax maybe once a year.  However, I re-sent the letter by fax.  UCSF Financial Services still said they did not receive it.

Fortunately, I also phoned Transworld Systems, told them that the debt had already been paid twice and asked them to help work with UCSF Financial Services. I sent Transworld Systems a copy of the 7 January letter and copies of the two cancelled checks. The Transworld Systems staff were finally able to get UCSF Financial Services to recognize that the debt had been paid – they even said that UCSF would refund my second $15 copay! The refund hasn’t arrived yet but I am just going to let it go.

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TechWomen Delegation to Tunisia


The second TechWomen US State Department mentoring program Delegation for 2015 will be to Tunisia. We leave for North Africa in just a few weeks!  Delegate mentors from Bright Roll, World Bank, Mozilla, Symantec, Cisco, SolarCity and other Silicon Valley companies are trading travel plans and reading up on our destination. Some of the articles that have been recommended:

Two of the TechWomen alumnae from Tunisia whom we hope to visit during our trip are honorees in the TechWomen Emerging Leaders from Africa and the Middle East project:

TechWomen Cards_DJ . TechWomen Cards_H6

The TechWomen Emerging Leaders cards are under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 U.S. License.

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Giving Voice to Kings: Richard III, and the Bible

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church 2014

The St. Andrew’s Shakespeare group read The Tragedy of King Richard III last Saturday night, with John Watson-Williams and me splitting the title role by acts. Laura Biche was kind enough to host our dinner and reading in Redwood City. The next morning in church, I was the Old Testament Lector at St. Andrew’s in Saratoga, reading the lesson from Second Kings 2:1-12. Even though these two texts are extremely different, I enjoy using my voice to bring a story to life – whether the charmingly evil Richard or the story of a great prophet.

The St. Andrew’s Shakespeare group meets every two months, taking turns hosting. (John and I are hosting Comedy of Errors in April.) Sometimes we become the St. Andrew’s Players to act out a lesson for the church congregation.

Richard III, Act I, scene ii

Richard III vies among Shakespeare’s characters with Iago as being the greatest villain who is most satisfied by his evil deeds.  Here is Richard (still the Duke of Gloucester) gloating over his seduction of the Lady Anne Neville:

Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?
Was ever woman in this humour won?
I’ll have her; but I will not keep her long.
What! I, that kill’d her husband and his father,
To take her in her heart’s extremest hate,
With curses in her mouth, tears in her eyes,
The bleeding witness of her hatred by;
Having God, her conscience, and these bars
against me,
And I nothing to back my suit at all,
But the plain devil and dissembling looks,
And yet to win her, all the world to nothing!

2 Kings 2:1-12

Kings presents the biblical view of the history of ancient Israel and Judah after the death of King David, for a period of about 400 years, including cycles of stories about various prophets (c. 960 BCE – c. 560 BCE). Elijah was a prophet in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of Ahab (9th century BCE). Elisha was a disciple of Elijah and lead the prophets after Elijah was taken up into the whirlwind.

… they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

Images Copyright 2013-2014 by Katy Dickinson

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church Shakespeare group 2014 . St. Andrew's Episcopal Church Shakespeare group 2014

John Plocher - St. Andrew's Episcopal Church Shakespeare group 2014

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5 Excellent Startup Questions

Here are the five key questions to ask when starting any new project or venture:

  1. What problem are we solving?
  2. What is our goal?
  3. Who is our customer?
  4. What does our customer want and need?
  5. How do we know when we are done?

Thanks to Sun Microsystems Chief Engineer Rob Gingell for asking me versions of these so many times for so many years that they have become automatic.

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