Week 4, Day 4

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

I’m going to go in reverse chronological order of people I talked to or saw today, some of whom I see on a regular basis, even though I don’t know who they are.

I’ve got to start with the guy I talked to while I was walking to the hardware and grocery stores today. I had intended to stop by Jsmile51 cafe on the way back, and did. You don’t want to carry refrigerated desserts around too long in this heat (it was about 92 degrees and humid). OK, now that I’m thinking about it, I have to show you what I got. Just a minute while I grab my camera.

Is that not the cutest little thing? It is a peach mango panna cotta! It even comes in its own little box! And with its own little spoon! That thing is not going to last much longer than it takes me to finish writing this paragraph. Here is a nice picture of the current radar to entertain you while I eat. That storm is coming down from the north. It’ll be here in half an hour. This time, I’m staying inside. (As it turns out, the first picture didn’t save correctly, so I grabbed this one just now. Still pretty impressive.)


That was very yummy. Thank you for your patience. Nice looking storm, huh? Now I have to think what to do with the little jar.

Ok, forget that guy. It wasn’t a very interesting story anyway. On to Bella.

I met Bella on the walk home from the bus. She was laying on the grass, but got up to meet me, so I felt obliged. Truth be told, she is about three or four times larger than she should be. It makes her head look too small. And she looks much older than her six years – I thought ten at first. She wobbles more than walks. That’s the way it goes, doxies love to eat. She came up to me and quietly sniffed my hand for about ten or fifteen seconds, then decided I was an imminent threat to the neighborhood and began to bark at me. I kept talking with her owner, so she stopped after about thirty seconds. Courage of a lion in those little dogs.

I had more grandiose plans when I started typing tonight. I planned to tell you about the woman in a motorized wheelchair I see nearly every morning on the train. She gets off at the first stop in the loop. The CTA workers seem to have a great deal of respect for her. There is almost always someone ready with the ramp to assist her as she detrains, and they always greet her with a smile. Today, though, the usual person was not there to assist. The driver really hustled to get off the train, get the ramp, position it, wait for her to detrain, and then put the ramp away and hopped right back on the train. He seemed genuinely upset that she had to wait a little longer than usual.

I also planned to tell you about the round-headed man with the buzz cut. I see him board my bus so often it’s rather spooky. Given that I have about a 15 minute swing (the rain is really coming down now) in my starting time, which is about three or four buses worth, I should only see him occasionally, not four times a week. He gets on at 29th Street, so he can’t know when I start out. Unless he has a WEBCAM!!! Hmm… an inspection of the immediate vicinity seems in order. After the storm.

What really got me on this idea of people in my neighborhood was The Twins. Technically, they are not from my neighborhood, they live closer to 43rd Street. I know this because I usually see them getting on at that stop when I get on after yoga class on Wednesdays. They are identical twins and when I’ve seen them, they are dressed almost identically, most often wearing shirts which suggest that they are in an acting summer camp. They are the youngest unaccompanied people on the bus; I’d estimate their age to be about eleven. They are not completely unaccompanied. When they come to stop in the morning, they have a young man about 16 or 17 with them, possibly their brother. He boards a different bus at the same stop. This bus is a straight 25 minute shot from their stop to the camp campus and the girls sit together, keep to themselves and are likely looked after by other riders, even if they don’t know that.

The Twins are striking in their striking-ness. They hold themselves in such a regal manner that they might be princesses. There are, though, a couple of differences between them. They both have all their long brown hair in box braids. The leader twin (I imagine that every set of twins has a leader twin and a follower twin, the bold one and the more laid back one. It stands to reason – in any pair of people there is likely to be that dichotomy) has maroon highlights, while her sister has bronde.

What brought them to the forefront of my attention today was the fact that they were sitting in front of me on the bus in one of sideways facing seats. They were both silently singing songs as they rode along. I think they were listening to them in their neck headphones.  The bolder sister noticed something and wanted to signal it to the other sister – mainly using eyebrow communication.  If they talk at all on the bus, it is completely inaudible. Her intent was either misinterpreted or ignored, so she texted her sister. And there they sat, next to each other, texting back and forth.

They are so young and beautiful and funny, and it seems, at least outwardly, that things are going pretty well for them. I hope that continues, as unlikely as that may be. A student in class today said to some of the other students that there are 100 missing black girls in Chicago right now. Apparently, there is only one news source reporting this, but I can’t find it. The Twins headed for a tough road, and I wish them the best.

Week 4, Day 3

I’m writing today from a new venue, the kitchen! How do you like the new digs? I have the apartment to myself tonight and I’m cooking dinner to celebrate. I am preparing my pasture raised pork chops and organic mushrooms, the variety of which I had no idea until moments ago. When I bought them last Saturday at the farmers’ market, they told me, but it wasn’t a name I had heard before, so I promptly forgot everything about it, except for that it started with “p” and had an “r” in it. (I think it’s funny (in the sense of difficult to understand) how our brains (well, mine at least) work – i can often recall parts of words or a faint memory of what it “sounds like” rather than the word itself. This happens to me a lot with names, too.)

I hadn’t looked carefully at the mushrooms yet, but as I pulled them out of the bag, as much to smell them as to visually inspect them, I thought to myself, “Golly, those look like oyster mushrooms.” I looked up oyster mushrooms on the web and poof, there the name was: pleurotus.

By Photograph by Aaron Sherman [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
Indeed, they are oyster mushrooms. Spoiler alert: The word pleurotus comes from the Greek “pleura” meaning side or rib (and is the root of “pleurisy”) and “otos” which means “ear” (been to an otolaryngologist lately?).  The mushrooms sorta look like ears, I guess.So there’s your etymology lesson for the week. I know you were going to look it up anyways, so I apologize for jumping the gun there, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

You don’t mind if I eat while I’m writing, right? I don’t wish my dinner to get cold. It took a bit of time to pursue all that stuff above, so it’s ready now.

I imagine by now many have you have read, possibly even memorized, the article about our classroom that come out in the Chicago Sun-Times this afternoon. That’s Karen, Anna, Vanessa, and Dami in the photo. A nice article, overall.

A fair amount, say five or ten percent, of what we do in the classroom is media related. We are often taking pictures and video of what is happening. An organization like Girls Who Code lives and dies by it’s media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. (That should be enough that you can play all day.)

It’s very important to get the word out for a number of purposes. First and foremost, GWC can’t exist if there aren’t GWC. The girls in our class (and the classes around the nation) are having a lot of fun and learning a ton, and what better way to entice newcomers than to show that? Second, it helps GWC attract sponsors to help grow the program.

One of the biggest consumers of our class media feed (it’s not a formal thing, it’s mostly just a Google Drive folder with shared access where we put pictures and videos) is Accenture itself. (Hi, Kate!)  In addition to the public media opportunities like the newspaper article, they use it for their internal media. When your company has more than 375,000 employees, you have to communicate with them somehow. Even though the girls are sometimes kind of noisy in the corridors after lunch (this doesn’t happen often – they police themselves because they want other girls in future years to have the same opportunity they have. Still, they’re teens. ‘George promised to be good. But it is easy for little monkeys to forget.’ – H.A. Rey), they don’t make too much of an impact even on just the 4500 employees in the Chicago office. Our photos and videos help drum up interest in the program at Accenture, which supplies us with so many things, including mentors. In fact, this year there were enough volunteer mentors to supply not only more than twenty for our classroom, but enough others for two classes being held at UIC, which does not have a corporate sponsor or enough female technical employees to satisfy the need.

Looking back, I see I haven’t do it already, so I should tell you about the mentoring program Accenture has set up for us. They are really unbelievably good to us.

We have nineteen girls, and there are a few more mentors than that, all female, to help fill in as people go away on business or vacation over the summer. They very cleverly have set the program up as two-on-two mentoring, rather than one-on-one. This helps ensure that each girl really has two mentors, and there is generally a mentor they know even when substitutions are made. The girls and mentors meet over lunch every Monday for an hour or so.

Accenture has structured the program to be really beneficial to the girls in terms of college and career. Rather than run the risk of running out of things to talk about, they have given a theme to each week which helps the students pursue their goals. This week the topic was “Prepare for Resume Writing by Listing Accomplishments”. This is information we know will be helpful to the students, but that we don’t have any time to do anything with in class.

I had planned to write about our class guest today, Paul Barsamian, who told us about drones and their uses (besides military). As usual, the girls asked excellent and insightful questions. Quote of the day (from Paul): “Drones will soon be as common as laptop computers are now.” It’s not as scary as you think, there are a lot of friendly uses, too.

Week 4, Day 2

Things were (are?) a little tense in Chicago. On the way home, I witnessed two near acts of violence.

The first was in the downstairs food court of the Thompson Center, also known as the State Building, since it houses the Governor’s Office and the State Board of Education. It is also home to such auspicious tenants as Taco Bell, KFC and in my case, Sbarro. I ate a light lunch (they serve excellent chicken noodle soup in the cafe at Accenture), so I was a bit peckish come 4:30. I grabbed a slice of New York style, since I find Chicago deep dish style a bit heavy for my tastes.

While I was paying, a man in his mid-twenties started making quite a racket behind me, dropping F-bombs about every third word at the top of his voice. He was yelling at another man who was similar in age, but another race (I will not specify race in either story, although both involved interracial altercations, the races were different in both stories – no pattern other than more than one race involved). That man was assiduously attending to his food, completely ignoring the tirade leveled at him, although also clearly aware of it (everyone in the area was).

It was also clear that this is not the sort of thing that happens here often. All the workers stopped what they were doing to watch as the row escalated. Soon the man was slapping the table tents (those acrylic things that hold suggestions for dessert, etc.) off the tables and across the floor. It was clear the yelling man was doing everything he could to intensify the situation, short of striking the eating man. Eventually, the yelling man stormed off and up the nearby escalator. The eating man got up, picked up the scattered items set them back and left. I don’t understand much Spanish, but it seemed as though some of the employees were surprised that the police had not come (there are generally guards just upstairs, screening building visitors via a metal detector).

The second incident happened at the other end of my ride on the Orange line. I got off the train and descended the stairs to street level. I looked up at the sign which tells when various buses are due to arrive. I take Route 8 – Halstead, northbound toward Broadway in the morning and southbound toward 79th Street in the afternoon. The line for 79th Street said “Due”, which means it was here now, just to my left. I glanced out, and saw a bus bound for Broadway, and just behind it another bus for Broadway. I went back toward the first to make sure I had read it right. There was a man in the doorway of the bus absolutely screaming at the driver, who kept repeating “You need to leave the bus,” quite vociferously. Having verified that the first bus was headed to Broadway, I headed back to see if there was a third bus. There was, just behind and to the right of the second bus, out of my line of sight. As I walked back to it, it pulled around the first two buses and started off. I quickly turned to see if I could catch it as it was stopping just in front of the buses to pick up a couple of passengers who had scurried to head it off.

Just then, the man stepped off the first bus, and the driver closed the door behind him. He turned back toward the door, shouted something in another language and hit the door, smashing the window in the door. He turned away from the bus just as I was passing by. I very sedulously maintained eye contact with the wall in front of me, not wanting to attract his attention. The diversion caused me and a couple of other people to miss our bus at the makeshift stop. The next bus was in 12 minutes. Not a huge wait, but I didn’t really want to hang around that station for long – bad vibe.

Suddenly, a solution popped into my head. Way back when I started taking this bus, for the first couple of weeks, I noticed that the announcer voice on the bus (the drivers don’t announce anymore – CTA has hired a professional) said “Green” at almost exactly the same point as we left the station, just before the bus pulled out into traffic. The LED sign in the bus also said “Green”, so I knew what I heard was accurate. I was perplexed about this for almost three weeks. I even went as far as asking the CTA employee at the station, who said “I don’t know. Ask the driver, they’ll know for sure.” The driver had no idea what I was talking about, although he certainly had heard it many times a day. I was left to my mystery.

About two days later the answer came to me. It was just like all the other announcements: it was the name of a stop! I looked at the cross street for the first stop and sure enough, it’s Green Street, and just across the crosswalk in front of the station.

So we walked over there. Given the heavy traffic, and the fact that we were stopping it by using the crosswalk meant it was no competition as to who would get to the stop first. I flagged down the bus but (it normally doesn’t stop there, since it picks up everybody across the street), and we got on, still thinking about how upset that guy must’ve been to break a bus window with his bare hand.

On the other end of the spectrum, in my classroom, the girls were working on making a piezoelectric buzzer on their robots play a song this afternoon. Most groups were successful, we got Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Firework by Katy Perry, and the Star Wars theme, among others. One group didn’t quite make it as far, but they were working on a secret project. At the end of the day, we had a recital of the robot songs. In this last group, while they hadn’t managed a whole song,  had gotten their bot to play a small set of notes over and over, like a beat, so they wrote a rap to go with it. Then they performed the rap! The chorus went something like “Syntax error, we have to  try again, syntax error we have to try again”. They wrote four verses and mentioned many of the students in the class, and the TAs and I were in the last verse! Then there was the shout out section: “We say syntax, you say”, “ERROR!” Geekiest rap I ever heard. They are going to work on perfecting it for graduation.


Week 4, Day 1

We had a reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times stop by the classroom today (this has been scheduled for a while now) to gather information for an article on GWC at Accenture. It should appear in Wednesday’s C S-T. I’ll post a link.  While she was interviewing the TAs and a few of the girls, I had the good fortune to have a conversation with Bill, an Accenture employee whose daughter happens to be a TA in another GWC class in the Chicago area.

Our conversation turned to superpowers, as most conversations naturally do. Just kidding. Every once in awhile, though someone mentions that they have a superpower. This is super cool, so I always follow up, mostly since I, too, have a superpower – a couple actually. Bill mentioned that he had a superpower. I asked, and he told me: he can park anywhere. That is quite a handy superpower to have.

I mentioned that I have one too. Many of you know that technology works better when I stand next to it. For example, and this really happened back toward the end of May, a student tried to print something to the library printer at school, but it wouldn’t print. So I stood next to the printer and told the student to try again. It worked. This has happened to me countless times. I can count on it working about 90 percent of the time. This was especially handy when I used to work in tech support. I could walk a customer through a procedure and it would work, even if they had just done the same thing a few minutes before.

Bill smiled and nodded. “I left tech support for that exact reason. It annoyed the customers when I did that.” Imagine! I just found somebody with the same superpower as me! Totally awesome and totally rare.

I have other superpowers, too. I have the uncanny ability to drive into a city I’ve never been in before and drive right to our destination. No map needed. I’ve done that several times, too.

My point is this. I think we all have superpowers: things we can do better than most people with little or no effort. Some of them might be kind of obscure. I think it is our responsibility to figure out what our superpowers and then use them to help people. This can take a lifetime to do. After thirty years of doing something you’ve always been able to do, you suddenly realize it’s a superpower. What’s your superpower? Now you have to figure out how to use it for good, not evil.

Other things from class today:

We now have a mascot, Athena (see her picture below). The girls named her in a gladiator-like battle of names. We started with six names, including: Petunia (my favorite), Athena, Freddie, Flufficity, Edie, and another that is not coming to mind at the moment. I have to thank my TA, Courtney, for suggesting the voting process. With their heads down, the girls voted on their favorite names, and we eliminated the name with the lowest number of votes in each round. Eventually, it came down to Freddie and Athena.

I call it gladiator style because it works the same way gladiator battles of old and modern day Monster Truck Rallies work: You root for your favorite, and when that one gets killed, breaks an axle, or is voted out, you move one to your favorite of whatever is left. Classic.

It also means you don’t pick a name that only has 4 votes out of 18, as you might if you took the first round winner. You always get one with more than half the votes.



The other thing I overheard in class today. Two of the girls in the class took it upon themselves to write a paragraph of nice things about every girl in the class, and send the whole thing as a group-wide text message. Yep, they’re going to remember this summer.


Week 4, Day 0

The scene: I’m hungry. I forgot to take my pill this morning, so I just took it now and I have to wait an hour before I can eat. I apologize in advance if that comes through in my writing.

So, I woke last night around 2am to find two of the six other AirBNB guests here this weekend asleep in the living room, one on the couch, the other propped up in a chair. That can’t be comfortable. Immediately, my mind tried to make sense of the situation. Why aren’t they in their room? Were they drinking and passed out there? Was someone else in their room? Hmm…

I went back to bed and woke again around around 7. I went into the living room, where both guests were awake and asked, “Did you get kicked out of your room?”

“No, nothing like that. I lost my backpack last night, with the keys in it.”

“Oh. Do you know where you lost it?”

“At Pitchfork. I set it down for a second….” (Pitchfork is a music festival in town this weekend. I don’t know any of the groups except Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys.)

My first thought? Grand Rapids meets Chicago.

My second thought: Maybe I can at least help him get into his room; my AirBNB host is in NYC this weekend. I know where the spare set of keys is, so I got them. sadly, there are no room keys on it.

I tried my room key. No luck. I always did wonder if all the keys are different. The room keys are those old lever lock kinds of keys. (There’s a nifty animation in that link.) You might refer to them as skeleton keys, though technically…

As it turns out, they are all different. Comforting, but not helpful under the circumstances.

He sent a text to our host. There’s a woman downstairs who helps keep this place clean, maybe she has a spare room keys. During our conversation, the severity of the situation became more clear. His car keys were in the backpack. He and his friend were stuck in Chicago.

There was nothing more to be done at the moment, so I quickly changed and headed off to church, offering to do what I could to help when I got back.

When I got to church, there was a curious sign on the front door of the main church that said because of the hazardous weather warning (possibility of severe thunderstorms) all masses today would be held in the chapel. The chapel actually opened out into the school gym, whose floor, in true Catholic school style, was covered with a tarp so the folding chairs wouldn’t scratch the finish on the hardwood floor, which I will say was in immaculate shape.

As it turns out, the steeple on the church is unstable, so it is not safe to hold services if there is a risk of a severe storm.


Several times on the way to and from church, as well as during mass, I prayed for a resolution to the situation. For me, this means thinking of the intention, then bringing myself into the present by being as aware of everything around me as I can. I think this helps me connect to the power of the universe. What can I say? It’s worked several times in the past. Of course, it may be coincidence, but I choose to believe otherwise because it helps give meaning to my life.

In the meantime, I tried to think of what we could do to pull off a miracle. First, we’d need to know what the problems were. I knew he had his phone, but did he have his wallet? Then we’d need to know what resources there were. Was there someone at home who could FedEx the keys? He could stay here until they came. I could attempt to disassemble the door lock to get in the room. I brought a few tools – really my multitool. Barring that, we could get a locksmith to open the bedroom door. We could go back to Pitchfork and see if they had a lost and found. If the bag was stolen, the thief would probably look through it for valuables and dump it, so it might still be there. If he lost his wallet, I could get him a CTA pass to help him get around for the day. OK, I had a plan.

On my way home from church, the sky began to rumble, and there were a few drops of rain around. I checked when the bus would come (you can text CTA the bus stop number and they will reply with the ETA of the next two busses). Four minutes, just enough time to walk to the next stop. I walked there, and saw the bus approaching about a block and a half away. Suddenly, a minivan pulled up and stopped right in the bus stop. I walked behind it and flagged the bus. (I’ve almost missed two busses this weekend by not flagging them. The drivers though I was just crossing the street.) The bus zoomed right by. Grrr. OK it must be that I am supposed to walk home (only 17 minutes total, and I was already 6 minutes in). I began to walk, hoping the rain would hold off a bit.

gargoylesI got to the corner of 34th and Lithuanica and saw these guys looking over me. I’ve been down this street many times, it is treelined, quiet and pretty. Sometimes I detour just to walk or ride down it. I’ve never seen these before. I really like grotesques (technically, gargoyles are grotesques that serve as downspouts), and think that they watch over and help protect me. I took this as a good sign.

I got home just as the big drops of rain were arriving. I came up stairs. Our guests were still in the living room, looking markedly better. I asked is there was any news and what could I do to help. They thanked me for my offer to help, and said that their friend had picked up the backpack last night. They were waiting for a ride to go get it.

A miracle or coincidence? You choose. I already have. Time for breakfast.


Week 3, Day 6

I apologize in advance for any moan or groans I accidentally type as I am writing this evening. You see, prior to settling down to write my twenty-eighth (eighth, an excellent hangman word if I ever saw one – everyone knows it, but you might not even recognize it after all the letters are known) missive, I walked down to a restaurant which just opened about ten days ago, Antique Taco. It is a new addition to a small (4, I think) chain of restaurants by the same name here in Chicago. It is a perfect night here in Chi-town, about 72, a slight breeze and low humidity. Consequently, since it has a large outdoor (dog friendly!) eating area, it was packed. I ordered to go so I could come back here and write to my beloved peeps.

I got garlic shrimp tacos, creamed elote, and a horchata milkshake. There was a bit of a wait, but I had anticipated the crowd and brought a book, Jackaby, which has been great fun to read. My food was delivered soon enough, and I was on my way. The milkshake didn’t make it home. I knew it wouldn’t.

I started the day out with a bike ride down to my 7am yoga class. On the way back, I grabbed an egg sandwich at a local bakery, and headed home. I have seen signed for a firemen’s memorial along a few of my regular routes, so today I took a detour into the old Stockyards area, knowing that the detour would add no significant time or distance to my trip. As I rode in I saw the Union Stock Yards Gate, which is a National Historic Landmark. Right behind it is the memorial. I was wrong about the time or distance thing. I sat down on a bench near the memorial, and began to eat my sandwich. I continued eating it, but was moved to stand up and walk around the monument. When I first looked at it, the statues looked almost comical: distorted faces and simplistic figures in almost absurd poses. As I looked more, though, the horror on the faces seeped in. It really is an extraordinary monument. Others have recounted the story of the “Fallen 21”, so I shall not repeat their efforts. I didn’t take any photos, although I had my camera. This site has some images which really do the memorial justice.

A little later in the day, I set out to find a new Farmers’ Market, but failed. It is held 4 days a week from 8am to 2pm, so I expected a rather large market, but found no sign of it. I rode around the park several times, but nothing. It is listed in several places, and I rechecked the address and hours, but it is a mystery. The good news is that it is only about a six minute bike ride from the markets I’ve frequented on several Saturdays now, so you know where I ended up. I got some more mushrooms (I’m not sure what variety, but different from last week), and some baked goods. Sadly the watermelon water guy and his son weren’t there this week. I’ll look again next week.

My big trip today was a bike ride to the Lincoln Park Zoo. I accidentally rode past it (the Lake Shore Trail is on the other side of a highway from the park and zoo. I ended up riding an extra mile or so for a grand total of about 20 miles round trip. My legs were tired and I knew I had a long ride back, so I didn’t stay at the zoo long. Plus, it was crowded. I much prefer zoos on rainy days.

I past many beaches as I rode along the trail. Each time, the crowd using the trail grew dense. I got the sense of being in a live video game (the next Pokemon Go?). You are riding along with many obstacles coming right at you: bikers going in the other direction, slower bikers going in the same direction, walkers going in ALL directions, plus the occasional faster biker passing you. I will tell you this: it is completely possible to pass by an active women’s beach volleyball tournament, with thirty or more nets set up, without looking up at it even once. You have to keep your wits about you.

There are six other people staying here tonight. Four are going to the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting tomorrow, and two are here for the Pitchfork Music Festival.

OK, since you’ve read this far, I’ll share a life’s embarrassing moment. It only occurred to me today (after 4 WEEKS of being here, and 16 days since I wrote about Armour himself) that the Armour School across the street and Armour Park and Armour everything else around here is the same Armour as Armour Hot Dogs (remember the ad? I don’t think you could make that one today). In my defense, I’ll just say that I only heard the word Armour in the ads growing up, but don’t remember ever seeing it spelled out. We ate a different brand (in Buffalo, which has its own local brands, you would).

Week 3, Day 5

“Today was a really good day”, I said.

The girls leave our GWC classroom at 4pm, although we had for a while considered letting them leave earlier – a protest was scheduled at Daley Plaza, a half block away at 6pm. Accenture advised us that they were closing office services (mail room , etc.) at 3pm, because they expected people to arrive early for the protest. In our case, letting the students leave early would have meant calling all the parents to let them know, and once we found out about the protest, didn’t have enough time to do so. In a dire emergency, we’d have found a way.

My TAs and I stay until 4:30 and generally reflect back on the day and organize for the next day. It was during this time I uttered that phrase. And it was a really good day.

As always, the girls start the day at 9am journaling. Today’s prompt, as it always is when we expect a guest speaker, was to research their background and prepare questions. Our speaker today was Arin Reeves. More on her visit later.

At 9:30, we started out for our first field trip of the summer, to Groupon. We took the L and walked about 10 minutes to get there. Once inside, we were ushered up to a large conference room, where we joined 3 other GWC classes from around the city for a Q&A panel of women Groupon employees. Our girls stood out in so many ways. They asked the most and (instructor bias) most thoughtful questions. Afterward, they honored the panelist with our cheer. I could see they were hesitant, but they started rubbing their hands together “sssssss”, and looked in my direction as if to say “Is it OK to do this here?”, I gave my approval by rubbing my hands together, too. Then “3, 2, 1, Boom! Ooo! Ahh!”. The panelists smiled and laughed. The other GWC classes did, too, and then a murmur arose. I heard girls from other classes asking why they didn’t have class cheers. I suspect that there will be more classes with cheers by the end of next week. And why not? It’s SO much fun. There is a movement starting in our class to add onto ours, with some really neat suggestions. I’ll keep you posted.

Our girls were the ONLY ones to go up to the panelists, introduce themselves and ask further questions. And, get this, entirely unprompted, they got all their email addresses so they could write thank you notes when we got back. Yes!

We toured Groupon – the office space is really fun. They have swings set up for conversation (around a giant artificial tree), really fun names (voted on by employees) on their conference rooms, such as “Houston, we have a meeting”, “Moon landing sound stage”,  “Not saying it’s aliens, but…” and the “Star Trek Wars” meditation room. Signs asking for people to do (or not do) things are written humorously, too. “A kitten dies every time this door is slammed. Please close it gently.” This means a lot there, because their mascot is a cat.  I’d be up all night if I tried to describe everything I saw. We were a bit late for lunch getting back, so we started a bit late afterwards.

This morning we received the most thoughtful email from Chrissy, the Deputy Director  of Instruction (who was in our class Wednesday), about speaking to the girls about recent violent national and world events. My favorite phrase in the email was, ‘While it is by no means a requirement that you have a discussion about this, we ask you to consider the pervasiveness and impact of recent events and the privilege inherent in “opting out.” ‘ So we had a discussion. There were no questions from the girls, but we made it clear that while we might not have answers, they should feel free to talk to any one of us should they feel the need, we’ll listen. We also told them how proud of them we were for their deportment at Groupon.

To re-enliven the group before our speaker came at 2, Courtney (aka “C-money”) lead an invigorating bonding activity. (An aside: Shanzeh is now aka “Zay-Zay”, I am, of course, Doc Och).

Arin Reeves is simply an excellent speaker, amazingly open (at the end of the talk, she prompted the girls to ask her anything about her personal life. One girl asked how she met her husband, which was a cute story. For her to tell, not me), who made us think differently about gender, and has the research to back it up.

Again, our students did us proud. Their questions were spot-on, thoughtful, topical and appropriate. They really impressed Arin, who asked when graduation was so she could come back.

After she left, the girls wrote their thank you notes and talked about everything they had seen and done today. After the frenzy of the day, the quiet after 4pm was welcome. We talked about the girls and how proud they made us. Today was a really good day.

Week 3, Day 4

So, I realized that you haven’t seen my neighborhood yet. I’ve decided to take you on a tour. We’ll see how this comes out. I started out kind of late (7:45pm), so it was getting dark by the time I got back. I haven’t looked at the pictures yet. I’m just going to post what I’ve got, cropped and enhanced, of course, but if they’re blurry, it’s because I wasn’t holding the camera steady enough in the waning crepuscular light. Here we go. (A brief pause while I upload the pictures.)

At first blush, they look OK. Phew.


This first one is the view down 33rd Street looking east, the direction I walk to catch the bus way down at the end there. You can see the school off to the left. Oops, no you can’t, because I cropped it out. (This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen and edited for content.)  There were about 30 children in the playground just past the school you can’t see and half as many adults, all playing and talking.


I’ve been watching this garden everyday for weeks now. It IS the front yard of the house, which is not uncommon here. In every case that I’ve noticed, the gardeners of such plots have been of Asian descent. The neighborhood is about ⅓ Asian descent, ⅓ Latino, ⅓ Caucasian. The reason I watch this particular garden it that one day I noticed that the gardener stuck what appeared to be cut shoots of some kind directly into the soil behind this fence of plants. I think it is the same kind of plant as you see here.  There is also a bok choy looking plant.


Hey look! Kids in the playground.


There are alleys every so often.


This is the only cross street, Lituanica, which is Latin for Lithuania (didn’t see that coming did you?). I’m not sure if the street was named for the country, (which could be, since this area was once called the Lithuanian Downtown. In fact, my downstairs and upstairs neighbors are both Lithuanian) or it might have been named for the airplane, which was piloted by two Lithuanians and carried the first ever trans-Atlantic air mail, but crashed near the end of its flight. To the right is Bruno’s Bakery, the 2011 Best of Chicago Best Lithuanian Bakery. I sometimes smell the sour dough rising, but the store has limited hours, during all of which I am at work [insert distressed face emoticon].


In this shot, I hope to draw your attention to the detail on the roof line of Bruno’s and many of the other buildings in the area. This tells you a bit about what the neighborhood once was, and, I think is aiming for again.


This shows that in this area, the streets were all raised a few feet in order to put in sewage systems a long time ago. I wrote more about this in Week 0, I think, plus I found more info here.


This hardware store (again, notice the detail on top) serves more as a social gather point than a hardware store. Every time I’ve walked by and it’s been open, there have been half a dozen people just inside the entrance, chatting, some sitting on lawn chairs or merchandise in the store. I think it serves the same social function as some barber shops – a place to hang out and chat. It is across the street from my inbound bus stop.


This is Nana restaurant, which I’ve written about.


A fair amount of walking happened there, plus a stop for sundries at CVS. Many people do stuff to make their part of the neighborhood a little nicer.


Here’s another example.


There are a lot of pretty buildings around here.


Some walls have murals. I like the dog’s super heart.

This is part of the gardens that I saw on Week 3, Day 0. Not satisfied with planting just her (whole) yard, she’s started planting the sidewalk.


Most vacant areas have been planted with gardens. Off to the right, you can almost make out the blue lights of an adult who was practicing hula-hooping with an LED hoop (look for the blue glowy arc).


This building is across the street from mine. There is an open sign in the window, but I don’t think it’s an active store anymore. There are weird statues and toys in the front window.


I live in the back half of this building. That’s about it for the neighborhood. I walked a while more after this, but it was too dark for pictures. On the way home, a kitty paused on the sidewalk in front of me as I made a chk, chk, chk sound. As I came closer, the kitty started to move quickly away, so I pss, pss, pss’d. The cat instantly flopped over on her side on the grass and let me pet her. Sweet kitty.


Week 3, Day 3

On the way home from work, I was scrambling a bit for a topic to write about today. I have a couple saved up for those days when the barrel runs dry, and I thought I might have to dip into my supply, but I shouldn’t have worried.

Lots of good things happened in class today: ALL the girls got their City Scroller code going, which looks like THIS (minus the blue flying thing) when it’s working. It’s a pretty complicated program, so we took some time with it today. It serves as a piece of the videogame they are going to complete on Friday. Given the number of students who needed some support, we were glad to have an extra pair of hands today in the form of Chrissy Ziccarelli, the Deputy Director of Instruction for GWC (aka my boss). She clearly loves being with the students and jumped right in to help. All day long, it was awesome to hear a yell from one part of the room, “YES! I got it!” followed by “Sssssss 3, 2, 1 Boom! Ooo! Ahhh!” (if you haven’t seen our class cheer, check it out).

We also had a guest speaker, Shalini Patel, who is the CEO of, and with her sisters, co-founder of Inspire Girls Academy (the website is worth a visit just to see the cute cover images), an organization dedicated to inspiring confidence and interest in STEAM to young (K-4) girls. Our girls just LOVED her. They were vibrating with excitement as we went to lunch.

Back to the scraping around for something to write about. Did you know it is National French Fry Day today? I was making a slide for our daily class agenda (I try to put some trivial but interesting fact on it as well our plan), when I found out. I kept thinking about this as I rode the train home and pondered what dinner might be, considering I had no food at home.

I was just about to go out and find some dinner when my roommate asked if I wanted a hot dog. In light of the impending rain, my rumbling belly, and the imminence of said provender, I said yes. We each ate two Hebrew National hot dogs (we needed a good dose of nitrates) on Ezekiel bread (though there is a theme apparent there, those foods probably could not be farther apart on the health food scale). Charles had an appointment and needed to leave right after we ate.

What goes better with hot dogs than fries? Nothing, so the quest began. I already knew where to go: Zaytune, for their herbed fries with kalamata sauce. Zaytune is our closest restaurant, a four minute walk away, and moderately well known for their fries.

I saw a storm coming, so I quickly checked forecast.io, which is pretty darn good at telling me when it will precipitate in the next hour. It said “Heavy rain in 15 minutes”. That gives them 7 minutes to make fries, doable. I grabbed my umbrella (Isabella)  and headed out. I crossed the street, and realized I forgot my camera.

OK, Joe, you don’t need a camera to order fries (“You want a camera to go with those fries?”). I know, I know, but there’s something I noticed on my way to church Sunday that I wanted to take a picture of for one of those reserve postings.

I zoomed back to the apartment, grabbed Splashy (my camera, long story, more here) and went back out. I got there, and ordered only fries, commenting on the fact that it’s National French Fries Day.

The guy behind the counter said he had heard about that.

I said “These are the closest fries.”

He said “And the best”.

“Oh, yeah?”

“The ones across the street have no flavor. Ours have flavor. They’re the best.”

I said “Okay, I’ll trust you on that”.

“If you don’t like them, come back and I’ll give you more.”

(I’ve actually been trusting people’s opinions on food and other things while I’m here. It’s been a good practice.)

By the time the fries were done, light rain had started, so I popped open Isabella and headed home, lightning flashing all around. I know what you’re thinking, but I’m not in an open area – tall buildings all around me. Plus, if it’s my time to go, having sacrificed my life for fries, at least it’ll make a good story.

As I walked home, I noticed an older man with no umbrella walking more slowly than I, so I caught up and shared my umbrella.

He introduced himself as Bob, and I said I was Joe. He remarked that we both have simple names. I said that the rain was supposed to come down hard in a couple of minutes. He said “I’m from the country, and we used to say, ‘It’s raining like a cow pissin’ on a flat stone.'” We walked and talked for a minute or two more, until we got to his car. He got in and drove his way and I walked mine.


Week 3, Day 2

I have glimpsed the end of society as we know it, and it’s not going to be pretty. There is an epidemic spreading here in the city, I imagine that it will eventually reach more rural areas. The good news? I’m immune. The bad news? You are not. Except my wife, she is immune too. Never fear. Jean and I will rebuild.

A brief, completely geeky aside: Google Docs has a really cool spell checker. It knows about more than just spelling, it knows some grammar, too. For example:

I just ate to apples.        “to” is underlined, “two” is the suggested correction.

I just ate too apples.       “too” is underlined, same suggested correction.

I just ate two apples.      This one is OK.

Writing as much as I have recently, I’ve discerned the underlying algorithm, mostly by noticing where it makes errors. The second to last sentence in the first paragraph is a great example.

Jean is immune too.             “too” is underlined, “to” is suggested

Jean is immune to rubella.   Correct.

I think Google stores pairs of words (at least), and chooses the more correct one based on usage. The phrase “immune to” is much more common, so the spell checker takes that as correct.  I can find little direct information as to whether I’m on the right track. It does bring up the question of what data is used to train the checker. You’d definitely not want to use a lot of high school writing. You could, if you were Google, use a pile of editor-checked text, because you’d have it.

If you waded through all that, you must be worried about the end of society. I first noticed it Friday on my way to work. The man sitting on the bus in front of me had it. Today, I noticed five young (my TA would say “middle-aged”) men waiting for the elevator who were definitely affected. I’ve seen women who are affected, too. I’ll tell you about the men, because they led me to conclude that high tech companies will be the first to fall.

I’m pretty sure those of you back east, including Buffalo, won’t have seen the signs yet. I think it’ll affect those in their early teens first in those areas. You may have seen the symptoms and not realized the scope of the epidemic.  

The symptoms are walking (or sometimes riding) in a zombie-like state holding their mobile phone up in front of them, and occasionally flicking it. These five young men were doing just that while I waited for the elevator, then they began an animated conversation about the Pokemon they had collected.  I’m talking about Pokemon Go. If you haven’t heard of it, you will. It is a augmented reality game where Pokemon appear on your phone and you collect them up. You walk around to find more. Since a lot of people walk here in Chicago, there are a lot of people playing. Some even play on the bus. As the bus moved down the street, a map not unlike a GPS map scrolled on the player’s phone. Occasionally, a Pokemon or other treasure would appear, and he would do battle (?) with it. Like the cards, people collect, trade and make deals around these characters.

Already (it just came out last Thursday), the game has been credited with being agathokakological. (That’s a new one for me, too.) Clearly, national productivity is going to drop; high tech companies first. Then the markets will crash, yada yada yada.

How are Jean and I immune? Flip phones (plus I’ve got my foil helmet). Best of luck to the rest of you.