Category Archives: Home & Family

Dogs and Birds

At the end of March 2021, we adopted Bailey from the San Jose Animal Shelter. She is a mostly Malinois (a type of Belgian Shepherd) who is just over a year old. That is, Bailey is a teenager in dog-years. She is smart and active and curious, so John is spending quite a bit of time socializing and training her. In the afternoons our two 10 year-old dogs (Redda and Gilroy) are happy to sleep in their kennel, away from her energetic puppy demands to play.

We have dogs not only as pets but also to warn us when there are trespassers on the Guadalupe River bank that is our back property line. Several times a week there are homeless or random people who think (despite the signs and fences) that our yard is some kind of public park. Some of these transient neighbors decide that our ladders, bikes, tools, or other stuff are just what they need. Our dogs earn their keep by making our yard less accessible to petty thieves and unwelcome sightseers.

Bailey is sweet and cuddly, loves to run fast, jump in her water trough, and try to drink from the hose. Gilroy is teaching her to play fetch but while she will take his ball, she does not want to give it back. On the advice of a dog trainer, we are nose training Bailey – that is, giving her the task of hunting for treats using only scent – to engage her mind. We have to enforce daily naps so Bailey does not get over-tired.

At the same time as managing the dogs, our 15 year-old cockatiel birds (Guapo and Sparky) have developed health issues. Guapo in particular has been falling off his perch. Our vet suggested that we raise the floor of their cage. We also added cotton pillowcases for padding to make his splats softer. Guapo’s tail feathers are already starting to grow back.

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Introduction to Physical Computing

Wissa Wassef, weaving by Reda Ahmed, Egypt
Wissa Wassef weaving by Reda Ahmed, Egypt

TechWomen has started its first Virtual Delegation and I am one of the delegates from the Silicon Valley to Cameroon. On 14 June, I gave the online keynote speech on “Building a Global Network.” On 17 June, Maryann Hrichak and I (TechWomen Mentors) are leading a session on “Introduction to Physical Computing” with 100 students in Douala and Yaoundé, working with TechWomen Lead Fellows Janet Bih Shufor and Gisele Beatrice Sonfack.

Maryann and I will introduce the online discussion through the history of computing and weaving, specifically Jacquard looms, considered a precursor to modern computing technology. The idea for this approach came from my daughter Jessica Dickinson Goodman who was one of the Mentors on the 2018 TechWomen Delegation to Nigeria during which she gave a workshop on “Teaching Binary and Encryption Through Weaving.” Our Physical Computing session this week will be relatively short but we plan to cover the relationship of physical objects (like looms and yarn) to computing devices. We will show parts of the hands-on video “Personal Jacquard Weaving” and will end with a more futuristic view in the video “Knightscope – Present and Future” from Knightscope, the robotics company where my long-term TechWomen Co-Mentor, Mercedes Soria is Executive Vice President of Software Engineering, and Chief Intelligence Officer.

Some key dates from my introduction: 1804 Jacquard loom, 1837 Babbage Analytical Engine (programming by Ada Lovelace), 1884 Hollerith punched card tabulating machine (used in 1890 U.S. Census). Punch cards and paper tape continued in use until the 1990s.

Gisele and Janet will lead the students through an exercise using the MIT Media Lab’s Scratch program. Gisele wrote this about the exercise: “To control a system, or automate its operation, we use the variables which can be random or fixed depending on the type of sensors, we apply the conditions. Loops are uses to do the same thing infinitely. These concepts are the basics of physical computing.” This is their handout.

Here is our 17 June 2021 session plan:

  • 10 minutes – Introduction to Physical Computing (Katy Dickinson & Maryann Hrichak) on Zoom, including Arduino weaving video segment
  • 25 minutesScratch activity in two Zoom breakout rooms with about 50 students each, one in Douala (lead by Gisele), and the other in Yaoundé (lead by Janet), with ten TechWomen mentors helping
  • 5 minutes – Reflection (Katy Dickinson & Maryann Hrichak) on Zoom, including Knightscope robots video

TechWomen is a mentoring program of the US State Department – Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

TechWomen Maryann Hrichak, Katy Dickinson, Janet Bih Fofang, Gisele Beatrice Sonfack, Zoom 2021-06-15
TechWomen Maryann Hrichak, Katy Dickinson, Janet Bih Fofang, Gisele Beatrice Sonfack, Session Planning Meeting 2021-06-15
Xaviera Nguefo Kowo and Janet Bih Shufor, TechWomen Cameroon Delegation Screen Shot 2021-06-17
Xaviera Nguefo Kowo and Janet Bih Shufor, TechWomen Cameroon Delegation 2021-06-17
Fellows Janet, Jessica, Gisele of TechWomen Cameroon Delegation Screen Shot 2021-06-17 Screen Shot 2021-06-17
Fellows Janet, Jessica, Gisele of TechWomen Cameroon Delegation 2021-06-17

Thanks to Jeannice Farrer Samani, Janet Bih Shufor, and others for their recommendations on materials below. During our TechWomen-Cameroon Physical Computing session, I knew many of the girls might have network connection problems or would not  fully understand the Zoom-based presentations because we spoke in English and many of them are French speakers. I want the “References and Resources” to present inspiring materials they could read later. I selected physical computing examples focused on weaving and robotics and included women and girl role models not only from Cameroon and Africa but also from the U.S. I hope that the girls will find these materials helpful!

References and Resources:

Additional Information from TechWomen Mentor Suzette Shipp:

1640 Weaving Room, Carlyle House, Alexandria, Virginia USA (postcard).

Updated 22 June 2021

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Willow Glen Garden Update

Cercidium Floridum, Desert Palo Verde, Parkinsonia Florida, San Jose CA, June 2021
Cercidium Floridum, Desert Palo Verde, Parkinsonia Florida, San Jose CA, June 2021

Now that I am done with Spring 2021 classes, I have been able to tend my garden. Our house in Willow Glen (San Jose, California) was built almost 100 years ago in the old bed of the Guadalupe River, so the soil is amazing. Yesterday, we planted a green-bark, yellow-flower Palo Verde tree (Desert Palo Verde – Cercidium floridum – Parkinsonia Florida), that should thrive in our increasingly-hot summers. The tomato garden I planted in March is starting to fruit, and the giant white bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai), Pink Stripe Flax (Phormium), Matilija Poppies (Romneya), and four types of yarrow are blooming exuberantly. The oak tree named after my friend Seham Aljaafreh, who helped me plant it in 2014, has doubled in size this year.

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Master of Arts Graduation!

GTU Commencement poster 2021-05-24
GTU Commencement poster May 2021

On 19 May 2021, I was graduated (virtually) with a Master of Arts degree from the Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley, California), followed by a second graduation on 23 May 2021 from Pacific School of Religion (part of the GTU consortium) with my Master’s hood and a Certificate of Spirituality and Social Change. My thesis title was “Range of Chaplain Engagement with Prisoners”. This will (eventually) appear in the ProQuest dissertation and thesis database. Thanks for the loving and patient support of my family, friends, and community. Hooray!

26 May 2021 Update: I am honored to have been accepted into the Doctor of Ministry (DMin) program of the Berkeley School of Theology! I am very interested in BST’s new cohort theme of “Racism/Prison Renewal/Reparations.”

Katy Dickinson graduation by John Plocher, 23 May 2021
Katy Dickinson graduation by John Plocher, 23 May 2021

6 June 2021 Update:

Katy Dickinson GTU - MA Diploma and hood, May 2021
Katy Dickinson GTU – MA Diploma and hood, May 2021

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In Memory of Daniel Vega Martinez (1969-2021)

Daniel Vega Martinez 1969-2021, collage, from Peggy Bryan
Daniel Vega Martinez 1969-2021, collage, from the Rev. Peggy Bryan

On Sunday, a group of family and friends gathered to remember Daniel Vega Martinez (1969-2021). Daniel or “Big O” was a beloved member of our Stepping Stones reentry community, and had been in my class at Elmwood county jail. The Rev. Peggy Bryan, who leads the Stepping Stones community with Jack Fanning, wrote this tribute and account of Daniel’s death.

“Sadly, we said goodbye yesterday to Daniel Martinez, one of the first men I met at Elmwood and who, in reentry, was my teacher about the authentic challenges faced by living on the streets. Daniel was handed a tough life and the demons of addiction and shame finally tracked him down. Sunday he was found in flames in the cab of the truck he was living in. He was transported to VMC’s Burn Unit but his injuries were deemed unsurvivable so yesterday I offered final prayers as his wife, children and sisters circled him with love…Expressions of condolences and love are pouring in from those incarcerated and those outside who knew, loved and respect Daniel, ‘Big O’, as a man of God and a real St. Paul when leading behind bars, in prison or jail. The cause of the fire is unknown—accident, suicide, homicide…Please keep everyone in your prayers, those who call him father, brother, husband, mentor, friend and teacher are spread far and wide. As plans for a service are known, I’ll let you know. My heart is broken, this has been beyond brutal, but it helps knowing Daniel finally rests In God’s perfect peace.”

Fifty of Daniel’s friends and family got together in the San Jose parking lot to honor his life and lay flowers at the burn site where he was fatally injured.

Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him

30 May 2021 Update: Daniel’s Memorial Service at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church

Daniel Martinez memorial, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, 30 May 2021
Daniel Martinez memorial, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 30 May 2021

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Wissa Wassef Tapestry from Egypt

Katy Dickinson with Reda Ahmed’s tapestry

To celebrate my finishing writing my Master’s thesis, John surprised me with a large tapestry from the Wissa Wassef Art Center, Giza, Egypt. Normally for a big family celebration, we would go out to dinner or maybe on a trip, but during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, that is not possible.

The title of my Graduate Theological Union MA thesis is “Range of Chaplain Engagement with Prisoners” and I will defend it before my committee next month. I finished the last of my required classes in December 2020 and if all goes well, I will graduate in May 2021 with the GTU – MA and a Certificate in Spirituality and Social Change from Pacific School of Religion. I will continue my studies at GTU in the Interreligious Chaplaincy Certificate program.

In 2010, our family visited the Wissa Wassef Art Center outside of Cairo (in Harrania Village, near Giza) where we bought a small tapestry and two books. I am glad to have a second of these lovely works of fabric art!

Our first Wissa Wassef tapestry is a small master work called “Around the Pond,” woven in cotton by Mohamed Achour in 2010. It presents fish and birds with palms and flowering plants around a small body of water.

Our new Wissa Wassef tapestry is undated but is probably much older than the first, even though John just bought it from a store in France. It was woven by Reda Ahmed in wool and cotton. Looking at our 2010 pictures, I realized we saw Reda Ahmed weaving during our Wissa Wassef visit. We hung the tapestry last night and it may take months for the textile to settle into its new home above the stairs. The weaving presents a large blue tree with red flowers, with a smaller tree and bushes as well as birds, weasels, and a lizard. I am thankful for this lovely and generous gift. The lively images and cheerful colors make me happy!

Note: Nothing pictured is for sale. Please do not ask.

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Guadalupe River – Flood Season

San Jose, CA, Guadalupe River 27 Jan 2021

It’s that time of year: flood season on San Jose’s Guadalupe River. Late yesterday afternoon, yellow rain slicker clad city workers went house to house to tell us of immediate danger of flooding. In addition to the houses, city workers went to each of the homeless camps near us to be sure that our unhoused neighbors were also prepared. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many homeless living under bridges and in culverts near the river where they are in danger as the water rises. We are watching the water levels on the NOAA map.

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