About My Blogs

Like many writers, I've started, abandoned and returned to a number of blogs over the years, including ones on this site, at Medium and at the Huffington Post. I wrote a blog called Backward Messages for about three years, exploring the scapegoating of violent video games, heavy metal, the occult and other topics. I also occasionally post recipes from my kitchen at Gluten-Free With Everything

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The 2015 Ingress demographic survey

As I was researching my piece last month called “How To (Accidentally) Build A More Female-Friendly Game,” I realized that a comprehensive Ingress survey hadn’t been done since 2013, when Ingress was just getting off the ground. Someone did a reddit-based survey this year, but its respondents were mainly reddit users — not exactly a broad sample. I knew I wasn’t going to produce anything that could be called scientific, but I wanted to attempt something more inclusive. Since some folks asked: I am in no way affiliated with Google or Niantic and only conducted this study out of curiosity and to benefit the Ingress community. I advertised the survey on the international Ingress G+ group, on regional hangouts, on Facebook and in the Ingress comm. I asked people to reshare it in international and cross-faction groups. I received responses from about 1,250 players, most of whom answered most or all of the questions.

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How To (Accidentally) Build A More Female-Friendly Game

Video-game culture can be incredibly toxic for women and girls. They may face sexist remarks, harassment or even threats of rape and death. When Niantic Labs launched its mobile game, Ingress, in 2012, it’s unlikely that they designed it specifically to create a more female-friendly environment. But many women and girls who play Ingress say they’ve felt welcome and respected. Ingress is pretty different from other video games, but some of those differences create opportunities for equality — and opportunities to learn how to design a game with equality in mind.

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No Princesses Here

My daughter is five, blonde-haired and blue-eyed and, like many kids her age, she has intense emotions she doesn’t know how to control. In other words, she’s smack in the center of Disney’s demographic Venn diagram for “Frozen.” On our way home one day, she told me, “Mommy, Elsa has hair down to her waist!” On another day, she reported, “Mommy, it’s Ahn-uh, not Anna.” More recently, she came home from school with a whole homemade book about Olaf the snowman, drawn as a three-lumped figure with a U for a smile and no nose, his stick arms splayed. We haven’t shown it to her for the same reason we haven’t shown her any Disney movies in the first years of her life: both her dad and I strongly dislike Disney and many of its films’ messages.

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All I Want To Do Is Bicycle Bicycle Bicycle

Over the summer, prompted by some leg problems and a desire to fit more exercise into the course of my normal day, I began exploring bike-riding. I haven't ridden a bike in any kind of dedicated way since I was a kid, and it turns out that riding a bike as an adult in a city is a pretty different proposition. For one thing, you can't just sit on the saddle and have your feet touch the ground, and for another, riding on the street is a lot more like driving a small unpowered car than it's like doing donuts in a suburban cul-de-sac. 

I started out trying one of Devin's old bikes, which was small enough for me but not comfortable in most other respects. Still, it was enough to show me that, despite some bad and brief experiences in my 20s, bicycling is really, really fun. After trying a number of bikes with the patient folks at Alameda Bicycle I found one that suited me well: low step-through frame, upright riding position, trigger shifter, lots of gears for coping with San Francisco's constantly changing terrain, comfortable seat, and so on. 

Since then, I've become one of the horde of bicyclists commuting through San Francisco a couple of times a week. I love being part of the flow of bike commuters, seeing the different bikes and styles of dress (and the occasional push scooter or skateboard in the bike lane). My favorites, other than women like myself, are families on cargo or tandem bikes. On days I don't get to ride my bike, I look after the other cyclists longingly, wishing I could be among them. In quiet moments, I find myself thinking about riding my bike. Yeah, I've got it bad. 

Getting into bicycling in San Francisco is wading into a large, complicated political situation. Some motorists equate anyone on two wheels with aggressive bike advocates who yell at drivers, but that isn't really the case. However, there's been intense focus on bicyclists in the city -- a number of them have been killed by cars, prompting outcry, but there's been at least one bicycle-caused pedestrian fatality, which enhanced the idea that bicyclists here are scofflaws who don't obey traffic signs or signals. When I took the SF Bike Coalition's introduction to urban cycling class, they encouraged us to be kind to motorists, in no small part so they'd be kinder to the next bicyclist they encounter. We were asked to be ambassadors for the others. Meanwhile, the coalition's Yelp page is full of reviews from people who are convinced bicyclists want to take away their roads and their parking. 

I'm trying to steer clear of too much of that stuff, focusing on learning to ride better. I had my first broken-glass-induced flat last week, a rite of passage and a reminder that I need to learn some basic bike maintenance. Meanwhile, Devin recently got an electric cargo bike, and my daughter (5) got her first pedal bike and has quickly learned to ride it. I've gotten good enough now that riding my bike to work takes about the same amount of time as walking and taking BART, plus I don't have to deal with crowded trains and grumpy commuters in the morning. I arrive at work calm and happy. I'm glad for that. 



Some tips for your emergency-preparedness kits

A couple of years ago, I made the effort to put together emergency kits -- both a larger supply of things if we're stuck at home after a quake and smaller "go bags" we could take out the door in a hurry -- based on the guidelines at 72hours.org. Although their recommendations are aimed at a California/earthquake audience, much of them would work for a flood, tornado, hurricane or other major natural disaster, or just about anything else that disrupts services, water and food for a few days. They tell you to plan for 72 hours without services, but a week is probably on the safer side. 

Since I put those kits together, I've learned a few things that I want to share, in light of last night's 6.1 earthquake near Napa


  • Make sure to go through your kits a couple of times a year. I have reminders set in my Google calendar for the Saturdays closest to the spring and fall equinoxes. 
  • Use non-perishible food you'd normally eat, so when you have to rotate things out because they're due to expire, you can just eat them. Ours includes peanut butter, crackers, those pouches of readymade Indian food, bars of chocolate, high-protein meal bars, etc. We also have a lot of canned goods and don't rotate those out as often since they keep longer.
  • If you have any food allergies, some of the premade emergency kits won't have food you can eat. It's more work, but also more fun, to put together your own. 
  • It's ok to have some fancy food in there. Our kit also includes canned pate. A friend keeps champagne in hers. 
  • Speaking of alcohol, ours includes vodka. It's a decent sedative for nerves and it can double as an antiseptic for wounds.
  • If your kit contains a bucket, bleach and plastic bags for a toilet, make sure your bleach bottle doesn't rupture. It'll corrode your canned goods (and your can opener). I speak from experience. 
  • Those large multi-gallon containers of water always seem to spring leaks, meaning you could wind up waterless when you need it. I've started keeping smaller bottles instead. 
  • If you're on daily medications, store extras in your go bag and make sure you rotate them out regularly. Expired medications can still work, but less well, and if you've changed dosages it's important to keep your current dose ready. Some insurance companies won't let you get an extra month's supply early, but will cover for a few days' worth, or you can pay out of pocket for less-expensive medications.
  • If you have spare clothes in your go bags, make sure they still fit
  • If you have pets, make a go bag for them including water, food and any medicines they may need. 


Have you made emergency kits for your home? What tips would you offer?