Week 7, Day 2

A short post, I think, today. I’ve spent most of the evening composing my graduation speech. My thinker is thore.

So here’s where we are at. Code freeze was today at 11 am. That means the girls can no longer work on their code (hence, it is frozen). If I had thought of it in time, I’d have played “Let It Go” (Get it? The code is “Frozen”. You can continue reading after you finish rolling around the floor laughing.) Some students may choose to work on it outside of class, that’s OK. We need them to focus on other things in class. This mimics real-life software cycles quite accurately. If there weren’t code freezes, coders would just keep coding, and nothing would ever get delivered. There’s always one more feature or one more bug.

We prepared the girls for this yesterday by meeting with each group individually in the morning. We wanted to see where they were at, what they had planned, and to hold some serious discussions about what had to be cut because it wouldn’t be ready in time. I expected them to be more stressed out at the meetings. I’m not saying there wasn’t stress – we had five girls (25% of the class) out sick. But the ones who were there had already talked in their groups about what had to be done, and simply reported it to us.

After code freeze, the girls created their own LinkedIn pages for professional networking. They’ve been hearing about LinkedIn  for a while now, especially during the career workshop session on social media. They understand that it is a professional network and not the same as their other accounts. LinkedIn is the one place teaching staff is allowed to make social media connections to the girls before the end of the program.

At lunch time, I generally hang back for a few minutes and do a security check of the room, making sure the laptops are secure and that no purses or valuables are left behind. Secretly, part of my reasoning is that about twenty people plus Accenture employees will have just converged on the small cafe, and I don’t like waiting in lines. I’ll do a lot to avoid it.

I knew that a Courtney was on her way back with a small number of girls who wanted to work through lunch (they are already getting to understand the coder’s work life balance – or lack thereof), and several of the laptops weren’t secure, so I just waited for them to get back. To my surprise, the entire group came back. Someone had brought Cards Against Humanity ( a game I’ve never played), so fifteen of them play all through lunch. The other few worked on other things.

The afternoon was dedicated to making posters for the poster session after the ceremony Thursday. They were really involved in this all afternoon. It’s great to see how easily they switch gears to a new task, but still work as teams – and have fun doing it. This is a great group, and I’m gonna miss them.
Shanzeh – this is an Easter egg for you. I’ve been thinking of misspelling your name a different way everyday so you have to read the whole post. 😛



Week 7, Day 1

Silly me. I thought I had seen a fair amount of Chicago, biking around. On Saturday, I rode about 13 miles to the northern terminus of the Lake Shore Trail. Then, on Sunday, I saw something that made me rethink my geography. I was headed to a farmers’ market with Ellie, and I glanced at a sign that caused me to do a U-ie. When I got back, I discovered that I was at the geographic center of Chicago. What surprised me was that I was a few blocks south and west of where I am staying this summer. I thought I WAS already south and west of the center of Chicago. Now I find out that I have to go farther south and west to get there? That makes Chicago a whole lot bigger than I thought.

My mistake is reasonable. The zero, zero of Chicago is at the intersection of Madison and State Streets. Street addresses increase to the north and south of there in an orderly fashion. I am at 3337 South Morgan, which, not surprisingly is in the 3300 block. Every address directly east or west of here is also in the 3300s. Bruno’s Bakery is at 3341 South Lituanica, regardless of the fact that Lituanica Avenue is less than half a mile long. I also know that the address 2207 North Clybourn Avenue (home of Pequod’s Pizza, where we’ll be dining Friday) is about 22 blocks north of the loop. The same is true going east or west from State Street.

On my trip north Saturday, I got up to about the 5600 North blocks. In the past, I’ve ridden as far south as South 63rd Street, so I thought I’d seen a considerable portion of the city.

Finding the geographic center of Chicago on 37th Street means that instead of going about 60 blocks north and south of the center, I’ve really gone 93 blocks north and only 26 blocks south of the center. (Actually, since Chicago annexed the land for O’Hare in the 50’s, the center has moved about 18 blocks north and one or two west from there.)

So, the question is: do I attempt to correct the imbalance and head farther south? Nope. Not a chance. Why? My trip a few weeks ago to the Museum of Science and Industry convinced me that would not be a great idea. On that trip, I went directly south (on a bus) to 55th. I knew when I got off that I was not in a great place. It wasn’t horrible – 55th is actually Garfield Boulevard, and the boulevards are  generally rather nice, one lane running in each direction separated by wide grassy islands with stately trees and often lined with very nice mansion-like houses. In some neighborhoods, the one I was in included, the scene is dramatically different only half a block away – urban blight is prevalent. I definitely felt out of place. I was on the very northern edge of Englewood, one of the most violent communities in Chicago. I’d be taking my life in my hands if I rode my bike there.

I know my mom reads this. Mom, if you’re nervous, check this out. Bridgeport and nearby McKinley Park (where I was riding Sunday) are among the safest areas in Chitown. I won’t be headed south. A side note: when I rode as far south as 63rd, I was considerably west of Englewood.

What brought a lot of this to the forefront was this article I read today. It is by the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, (self described as “a ministry whose purpose [is] to work for healing and reconciliation in the midst of the violence and alienation of our world”) which I knew was located on the Southside of Chicago. It is a relatively new blog, and caught my eye because all their postings have “Chicago” in the title. Six months ago, it would have stayed below the radar.  

Today I looked up where they are: about 19 blocks directly south of where I’m sitting right now. I’ve been within a block of there twice and within four blocks many times. That’s about as far south as I’m going to go. The imbalance will just have to be, and what a gross imbalance it is.


Week 7, Day 0

I can already tell, I’m going to really miss this place. Riding around today to yoga, church and a farmers’ market, it occurred to me that this may be the ultimate (or penultimate) time I do some of these things. I like Chicago. I’ve already looked into how to get Ellie back home. It can be done. You can’t just  leave your adventuring partner alone in a far off city.

Prior to heading out for the day today, I bumped into this article, the first in a series. It is about the lack of men in Christian (Catholic and other denominations) churches. I didn’t have time to read the whole article before leaving, but the thought stuck in my head as I entered Our Lady of Good Counsel Church this morning.

Technically, it is the same parish as I attended last week, when I was at Saint’s Peter and Paul Church last week. Along with Saint Maurice Church, the three comprise Blessed Sacrament Parish, and are all located within about half a mile of each other as the crow flies. The same priest presided over both masses. I didn’t see what the atmosphere was like before mass last week (I forgot to factor in time for parking), but given the atmosphere after that mass, I suspect it was different from what I saw today. A block and a half can make a difference.

One of the first things I noticed today was a lot of casual conversation between groups of people before mass started (I was a few minutes early today, go Ellie!). I realized that I hadn’t really noticed that at any other church I’ve been at here in Bridgeport. It was definitely a hallmark of St Catherine’s of Siena Church in West Seneca, NY, where I grew up. It varies from church to church, but is mostly non-existent, since many congregations (or their leaders) opt to keep the church space quiet before (and some, after) mass.  I understand the dilemma:

  • Quiet allows people a moment of peace to center themselves before the service, and sometimes (almost certainly more often that I’m comfortable with) the chatter is harmful gossip.
  • Socializing, on the other hand, allows people to catch up with each other, and may act as an enticement to actually GO to church and to bond people together.

There should be a way to do both, but the physical space for most churches is not set up very well for that, the narthex (I really just wanted to use that word, though I am dubious of its etymology: the architectural feature is allegedly so called from fancied resemblance to a hollow stem of a giant fennel) is quite small.

I sat too far forward to get an accurate count of the number of men and women, but I’d estimate that there was about a four to one ratio of women to men. As I think back, this is not uncommon. I’m slightly appalled that the same person who notices the deficit of women artists at the Art Institute of Chicago in one trip missed the lack of men in church every week. I noticed some of the details, like the number of families that show up without the father on a regular basis at my home parish in Connecticut, but missed the overall pattern.

Call me an aeolist, but something has to change here, and I’m not sure what it is. Given the summer I’ve had, things I learned before the summer, and witnessed at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church this week, I think having more women (including mothers) in leadership roles would be a good step forward. Even if we assume the best of intentions of an all male leadership, there are going to be things they miss simply because they are male and have only male experiences to guide their decision making. Women simply bring a different perspective. I noticed that all of the roles, except priest, at OLGC were filled by women. There was one Eucharistic minister in particular who seemed like the kind of person I’d like to meet. Why? Simply because while she was up on the altar, the (very young, maybe eight years old) altar boy made a simple mistake, and she smiled to let him know he forgot something. She helped him to make sure everything that needed to be done was. Her smile told him that his mistake was no big deal, and that he should try again (I bet she was a teacher). I have seen quite the opposite reaction from adults in similar circumstances many times – chastising the child as if the error was an intentional slight, so I was really happy to see this. After the mass, I saw her greet at least four or five families with hugs and well wishes. I left thinking, “This is the kind of leadership the church needs.”

I ended the day with my roommate at the Chicago Hot Dog Fest, a fundraiser for the Chicago History Museum. Given that the hot dogs were all supplied by Vienna Beef, I wondered what the point of having more than a dozen vendors was. I found out: toppings. (Warning! Karen E., if you are reading, you may wish to skip the rest. It’s not going to be pretty.) You can get hot dogs with all kinds of gourmet toppings, with one notable exception: ketchup. They don’t put ketchup on hot dogs here. There wasn’t too much of a line at Chubby Weiners, so we ate there. I ate a thing called a Momona (which, now that I have the interwebs, I can tell you is either a small town in New Zealand, or urban slang for something that is large. I will leave it to you to decide in this case). It has grilled pineapple, bleu cheese, bacon and citrus-chipotle barbecue sauce. It was really good.


Week 6, Day 6

Chicago is a small town, you know, like Middlefield – the kind of place where you can just bump into someone you know and have a chat. Why, just yesterday, I was climbing the stairs (I’ve been doing that more, lately. When I got here, all the stairs were hard. I’ve been working on getting better at them. Now a double flight of stairs is NBD, even at the end of the day) in the Thompson center up to the L, when who should I see coming down the escalator? None other than Christina Marshall, the brains behind yourelu.com, the Beauty Made-to-Measure clothing source for women with curves, who I met on a GWC field trip a couple weeks ago. We recognized each other right away. Since I was on the stairs and she was stuck on the escalator, I turned around and headed down so we could continue our conversation. I had just read the girls’ journals that morning and had noted that several of them had mentioned Christina’s presentation was one of the most influential events in the program for them.

The prompt: What event or activity so far in the Summer Immersion Program has had the greatest impact on the way you think? What new knowledge did you gain in that event? What assumptions did you make before it that were challenged?

One girl’s answer: My favorite event in the SIP was when we listened to Christina’s speech. It impacted me in how it showed me that persistence, practice, and determination was required to succeed. My assumption that I had it hard was challenged because Christina’s story was full of unfortunate events and she has risen through it all.

(Words to live by: You never know whose hero you are.)

I told Christina how inspirational she was for so many girls and thanked her again (Words to live by II: If you can pay someone a sincere compliment, just do it). She told me how happy she was to have had a chance to speak to our girls, that GWC was a great program, and if there was anything she could do for the program to let her know.

Today being Saturday, it is Adventure Day! After early yoga (and a nap) this morning Ellie and I set out north. It is a glorious day, still warm and sunny, but the humidity is pretty low – an excellent day to ride along the Lake Shore Trail. I wanted to go to the Lincoln Park Farmers’ Market (LPFM), which had closed ten minutes before I arrived the first time I found it.

It was still fairly early when I set off, so the trail wasn’t too busy, although it picked up as I progressed. Sadly, I had to pass the Chicago Hot Dog Fest since it hadn’t opened yet. Maybe tomorrow. (I ate a Vienna Beef [Hot Dog Fest’s sole supplier] Chicago Style Hot Dog from a street vendor on Thursday, and quite liked it. Hot dogs, like cookies, are a sometime (sic) food.  Not too far away, the LPFM was in full swing. Fruit and veggies are plentiful now, but I was in search of my breakfast and possibly dinner.

I rolled Ellie gingerly through the crowd and found a place that sold a Chorizo and Egg Taco that was quite yummy. We circled the market, noted that it would be open for two more hours and continued our northerly passage. We left the market on North Clark Street, and I observed a small line of people across the sidewalk a few hundred yards ahead, stretching away from the side of the small truck. As I got closer, I found this!


In case you aren’t too familiar with how to do Adventure Day, when you see a truck labeled Donut Vault with a waiting line and it is Adventure Day, you get in line, and you ask for any kind of donut and when they hand you the bag, you do not ask what kind they put in because IT IS AN ADVENTURE! I got Coconut Cream. And it was worth it.


I hadn’t gone much farther when I found this New England connection. It is a memorial to David Kennison, the last survivor of the Boston Tea Party. He was a pretty famous guy here in Chicago, and has quite a legacy, a lot of which is in dispute (Did he really live to 115 years, 3 months and 17 days?) On the other hand, the fact that he had twenty-two children is not in dispute. Nor is the fact that he fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

We traveled next to the western side of the zoo which I hadn’t seen yet. The gardens there are quite beautiful. I stopped to refill my water bottle at a fountain (there is a working water fountain about every mile along the trail), when I was passed by an unusual contraption. It looked like part bike, part padded wheelbarrow. There were two kids about four or five in strapped in the wheelbarrow part, and one younger kid in a child seat behind the man (father, I guess) propelling the craft, speaking French to the children as he rode. Three kids? What a load!

We continued along. I wanted to see if we could reach the northern end of Lincoln Park (it is huge – about seven miles long) and make it back before the Market closed. We made it up there, and I was kind of tired because we were going against the wind the whole way. I kept telling myself that at least it would be at my back on the way home. I turned around (the trail has a convenient small loop around a garden for turning), and rode a little bit and what did I see? That French guy! Still hauling his kids, happy as can be! More power to him.

Earlier, on my way out of the farmers’ market, I noted a taped off bike parking area on the north side of the market. I headed for it on my way back. When I got there, I looked for a way to lock Ellie up, and noted that none of the bikes were locked – even the bikes that had locks. A young man with an apron and name tag greeted me as I approached the area. I asked him what the deal was. He said “Free valet bike parking.” What?!? Who ever heard of that? “Free?” “Yes, until 1pm.” That is when the market closed. OK, so Ellie got free valet parking. She felt super special. She is a rescue bike, and not yet used to good treatment.

I re-entered the market knowing exactly where to go: Wholesome Harvest for bacon, then elsewhere for lettuce and bread – dinner is BLTs tonight (I got tomatoes at the Daley Plaza market on Thursday). Turns out, Wholesome Harvest had lettuce, too, so I got some and found good bread at a bakery stand.

Now I am home, and as soon as I finish this up, I’m cooking dinner for my roommate and myself. (I’m pretty sure that’s grammatically correct, but if not, I know someone with the right personal brand will tell me).  You know we’re having.

Week 6, Day 5

These final projects have been a trial by ordeal for the girls. Short deadlines, lots of interruptions, learning on the fly, many failures, a few successes, and a million decisions: it’s a little like a reality show without the rancor.

Here’s what they are up against: their goal is to come up with a working prototype of their project, along with a pitch, a poster, and a website that describes the project. The deadline for the prototype is Tuesday lunchtime. They have a check-in with the teaching staff on Monday morning, where we will talk to them about what they might have to cut from their plans – the rest of the day is for debugging, so no new features should be added. Wednesday is their poster deadline and then they work on their pitches and websites. Luckily, they had some practice on the pitches today.

Accenture was generous with us (again), and allowed us two hours of video studio time with five experienced employees. Each of the five groups got to make short (2-3 minute) production quality videos (better than many local television ads I’ve seen) about their projects – essentially their pitches. This took between 20 and 30 minutes for each group. They had to get mic’d, learn where to stand, where to look, and how to act in that time. All of this was done in a green screen studio with three live cameras, a teleprompter, and lights – the whole shebang. While one group was doing this, another group was up in the control room watching as things were recorded with the backgrounds put in. The backgrounds could be Powerpoint slides, or, if the students didn’t provide that, a view of downtown Chicago taken from a window in a skyscraper.

Every group had come up with something different, from all the girls in the reading at once, then taking turns with different parts, to have just two girls present. It depended on the nature of the girls in the groups and the nature of the project. We should get the completed videos by Wednesday, I’ll post them if I can.

Meanwhile, back in the classroom, a little more of that magic happened. “We’ve got circles!” rang out this afternoon. That may not seem like a big deal, but it was. One group has been working extraordinarily hard (and Courtney the TA with them) on making a cell phone app. Their app, named Wakey, Wakey, sounds an alarm to wake the user up as their train stop approaches. They decided it was essential that this be an app rather than a website. Creating an app is difficult – the tools are hard to get working (you have to have exactly the right equipment) and even harder to understand. Students in this group have been working through their lunch and even at home into the wee hours of the morning. Today, about mid-afternoon, they got one of the hardest pieces done: a map of Chicago with a circle around each stop on the Blue Line.

Another group was having problems of a different sort: communication problems. There were two factions working on different pieces of the their project. Both sides got stuck, and there was no communication between the groups. It was so clear to see late yesterday afternoon. Each faction was on the opposite side of the table, studiously working (sort of) on their part of the project, and quietly resenting the other side for not doing their part.

Today, with one member of the group absent, progress ground to a halt and some students started complaining about the others. Shanzeh came to me and let me know what was going on in more detail that I could glean simply by looking. My sense was that the students all knew the right thing to do, but were afraid to be the first one to take a step, thinking the others would be mad at them. They really needed to break through this barrier. Being no fool, I sent Shanzeh into the foray (it seemed better to send someone with less authority in so it didn’t seem to the girls like they were in trouble, plus, you know, self-preservation on my part), where she worked her magic and got communications going again. Just a few minutes later, all the girls were LITERALLY ([expletive deleted], psychology and language are so intertwined – I just love it when the figurative becomes literal) on the same side of the table, making a lot of progress. One said “Let’s work like this from now on, so we can all see the computer and pass it around!”

In other news, I’ve started composing (at least in my mind) my graduation speech. I’ve got five minutes. How do you condense seven weeks – almost 250 hours with 19 girls and two TAs into five minutes? 150ish words per minute – about 750 words. Choose wisely, write carefully. I have three angles I can go from. I’ll have to see how they work, and if I can weave them together somehow. No, I won’t tip my hand. If I have it typed, I’ll post it here; well, an approximation anyway, I tend to ad lib a bit.

Week 6, Day 4

Every Thursday afternoon, my TAs and I meet with the Chicago site lead for GWC. Her job is to check in and make sure everything is going OK, and to help with whatever she can. Our class is in good shape, so we usually just go over what we’ve done since last week and what we have planned for the coming week. A lot of our conversation this week is about the upcoming graduation ceremony for the girls, which is next Thursday for our class. We will have a few introductions, a secret keynote speaker (Accenture is not saying who, so I don’t even know, though I have a suspicion), the girls will  give pitches for their final projects, and finally receive their graduation certificates. After that, it’s sort of like a science fair for about an hour; the girls will have made posters, videos and be demonstrating their projects to friends, family members, and mentors and sponsors from Accenture. We are expecting between 100 and 150 people all together.

The girls have been working hard to prepare. For a couple of days in a row, there has been a cadre who have brought their lunches back to the classroom to continue their work. Today, the rest of us (about two-thirds) took our lunches out to Daley Plaza, and what a great day to go! I have been avoiding taking them out on Thursdays since that’s when the Farmers’ Market takes place, and there are not a lot of places to sit, a lot of people, usually a protest or two, and it is easy to lose track of the girls. Still, the girls NEEDED to get outside, especially with intense work they have been doing. So we grabbed our lunches and headed out.

Most of the girls sat by the fountain, Shanzeh and I shared a table with some people unknown to us, but will to let us sit with them (Courtney opted to stay in with the coders). We had just finished eating when I turned around and noticed someone in a blue costume doing a handstand – no wiggling, no shaking – this was clearly someone with some skill.

Come to find out, there were six performers from Cirque du Soleil there today to promote their show which started in town last night. Of course, I phrase it “Cirque du Soleil came to visit GWC at lunch,” which is almost truthful.

Shanzeh considers joining the Cirque du Soleil.

I’ve been wanting to get back to this market since Week 0, so I took advantage of today to buy some good cheese and fresh heirloom cherry, grape and pear tomatoes.

When we got back, we continued our brain break by holding a mini-lesson on resumes. They had seen a presentation about this at the career workshop last week, so I showed them the resume I used to get my position with GWC, walked them through the important features. No, not having a doctorate, the other stuff, like simple uniform layout, use of action verbs, reverse chronological order, most important information first. Fortunately, I used these techniques over and over in my resume.

Next, I read them my cover letter, and showed how it connected my resume to the job, and presented information that wasn’t suitable for my resume, such as my understanding of why there are few women entering computer science,  and my definition of feminism. I stressed how important it is to know your audience – to read the website of the organization you are applying to, and use it. When I was on the Board of Education, there were several otherwise well qualified candidates for high ranking positions that were eliminated because it was clear they hadn’t even looked at District 13’s website. We gave them about 45 minutes to start their own resumes. I strongly suggested that they write the content first, because formatting is a rabbit’s hole you could spend a lot of time in and not get anything done.

I started out talking about our site lead’s visit today. I told her a little about the side project I had been working on for the last couple of days, namely trying to write a program that I can use to generate a Google Document. I had no luck at all yesterday. Zero. Nada. Zilch. I went back in today, and did more research, and after a couple hours finally got it. The girls noticed, mainly because I whooped, clapped and did a happy dance around my chair, risking a 15 yard penalty for excessive celebration. My site lead pointed out that I had done a really good thing, one that I hadn’t thought of. I showed my students that I, even after thirty plus years of programming, still struggle, and don’t know it all. I also persisted, and ultimately triumphed over the problem. That, I think, is a more valuable lesson than any coding I can teach.

I also showed them something else. One of the students was trying to get her website to send an email with user comments in it, but it wouldn’t send. Finally, she brought it over to me. We worked for a while, not getting it to go. I suspected I knew what the problem was, because I think I tried doing the same thing a long time ago. I took a copy of her code, and started to play around with it. (Play is an important word here – it implies that failure to find the answer has little consequence, and it is easy to try something else. It is essential that students learn this play aspect of coding (and would be great if they generalize it to other areas in their lives – they will become unstoppable).

I played for a while, and verified my suspicions with some research. I searched mightily for a solution, and finally found one. I started down the path of testing my solution, and got far enough to see that it would eventually work, probably with about a half hour’s time. Then I stopped. I spoke to the student, explained that there was a solution, but that it probably wasn’t worth the time to put it into practice. I could have set up her machine in about an hour. On the other hand, they have less than two days left until code freeze (the deadline to stop programming because other things need to be done: posters, pitches, demos, rehearsals, etc.). If she was dead set on continuing the project after the end of the summer, I’d have done it, but the feature she was working on was a minor feature, and I didn’t want to take her and  her laptop out of production for so long. The lesson: sometimes it’s better to cut bait and move on. This is a hard thing to teach the really driven students. Theme for today:

Man, I hate programming.

Man, I hate programming.

Man, I hate programming.

Man, I hate programming.

*solves problem*

Man, I love programming.

And I didn’t think I had anything to write about today. Huh.

Week 6, Day 3

Well, here we are. Laundry night and nothing to write about. It was a quiet day at work. The girls are working hard on their final projects. I was failing miserably at getting even the “Quickstart” example code running in a project I’m working on while the girls are busy. I did help solve some programming problems they were having, so I wasn’t completely useless. (Update 10 am Week 6, Day 4 I got the quickstart to work!!!)

Still, here we are. No bike ride tonight because I had early yoga this morning. There is one last hope. Let’s see.

Good news! Not all is lost! I was thinking that I hadn’t posted more than a picture or two recently, and I was hoping to be able to dig something up.

I’ve been thinking a lot about workspaces this summer. Our class has had the privilege of visiting several high tech work environments. Each has it’s own character, as you will see. I have been meaning to take some pictures of other office spaces on the floor where I work, but haven’t gotten around to it. Spaces like these could be useful in an educational setting (not that I ever think about that, it’s summer you know).

As far as fun tech spaces go, it’s hard to beat Groupon. A quick glance at some of the signs hanging around the office makes that clear.

Each of the different areas of the office has a different theme. These are a few shots from the Las Vegas area, complete with umbrella tables and lounge chairs. Employees use both. We saw some eating lunch at an indoor umbrella table.

I don’t have a picture of it, but most employees work at long desks. There are no cubicles. Any separation of work space is accomplished through personal items (small awards, water bottles, etc.) and monitor placement. Each person has about six feet of space. This is a very common pattern – I’ve seen  at several companies. At Groupon, each desk was labeled with a tall stick or flagpole (about three feet high) with the person’s nameplate on it. The nameplates were not fancy – paper or cardstock. They were at least in part colored by what department the person worked in. I remember that HR used rainbows. Departments weren’t all together. Usually people from several different departments were nearby each other.

At Groupon there were a few circular workspaces with a team of three or four people working in them. These seemed to be the most high tech people – many of them had three or more monitors at their desks.

In terms of where to store personal items, the answer is lockers – again, a very common pattern. The lockers don’t seem to be assigned. These were adorned with fanciful stickers to help you remember which you are using.

I think I mentioned before that the conference rooms (all of these places have lots of collaboration spaces of different sizes) have humorous names selected by popular vote of the employees. The Star Trek Wars room is actually a meditation room.

They also had an Enchanted Forest area, complete with a giant hollowed out conference log, and a tree with swings hanging off it.


The piece-de-resistance was in the front lobby of Groupon. It is the giant cat in a spaceship, pictured here with the back of Courtney and the front of Shanzeh, our TAs.


I have a few other things to do before I hit the hay tonight, so I’ll stop there. That’ll give me chance to take some pictures at Accenture. You’ll see that the culture is different there, but they have a number of very interesting workspaces.


Week 6, Day 2

Oh, Ellie, you kidder.

Once again, Ellie tricked me into a longer and more interesting bike ride than I had planned. She does this. “Just half an hour,” she says.

“OK, but I still have to write tonight.”


And so we start out. Not in any particular direction mind you, just sort of in a direction we haven’t gone yet, at least at that time of day. Today it was south first, then west. I usually head east toward the lake shore when I bike after work; south and west has been the substance of weekend trips. We hadn’t gone far when Ellie whispered, “Psst, remember these?” She pointed at some large sculptures presiding over the front lawn of the Bridgeport Art Center.

“Oh yeah, we should take a closer look.”

Thus we wended our way through a pretty neighborhood in a northerly direction.

Then Ellie got really excited. We came upon an intersection we’ve been to several times.

“Hey, you know, we’ve never, even once, been on this little section of road. Isn’t that odd, considering how close it is, and how many times we’ve been here? We should really see what’s down there, don’t you think?”

And then a minute or two later, “I didn’t know that Loomis Street went all the way through. How about that?” By “all the way through” she means it passes under both the interstate and the Orange Line and is an access route to Pilsen. Most streets here are abridged when they’re not bridged (LOL).

Naturally, we had to explore to see what was on the other side.

“Look! 18th Street is only a mile and a quarter away! That’s only a couple of minutes!”. Eighteenth is a major bike route, one that we haven’t been down in this section of town, yet. Might as well.

As we were zooming along, we passed over a bridge and looked over the side (we often stop and do this – today a train was passing by). “There!” she says, “It’s that park you see everyday from the train, and here we are!” She gets so excited about these things. The park is located in Chinatown, and has a distinctly Asian essence: pagodas, winding trails and traditional Asian design elements add to the ambience (WordPress likes ambiance there). From the train in the morning I often see people (mostly older and of Asian descent) exercising there. This morning a woman who appeared to be in her eighties was rapidly doing deep squats alongside the canal.

We had to go all the way around the block twice to find the entrance, and we finally did. What a pretty park. It is clearly designed to meander in, so Ellie and I did. There must’ve been a lot of Pokemon there. Just saying.

Now we’re home, an hour and a half later, quite refreshed. Still, what a kidder.

I know some of your are reading this just to hear about the Moth GrandSLAM storytelling competition I went to last night. I was almost late. I had glanced at the bus route: Bus 8 Diversey Street, wait 6 minutes, then take Bus 76 for a few blocks and a 3 minute walk. Google said 1 hour 12 minutes total travel time. It was 6:20 and I had to catch the first bus in 12 minutes. I hurried out and walked 6 minutes to the stop and caught the bus. I got off at Diversey, then checked CTA bus tracker (you can do that even on a flip phone) and saw the 76 was delayed, and the next one was 22 minutes away. Hmm. Walk or wait?

I had put considerable effort into planning the trip back home. I knew it would be after 10pm, but not precisely when. Google offered a multitude of possibilities. Unfortunately, each one started a little later than the previous, but required walking in a different direction to catch a bus: north, south east AND west, depending on the route. And some of the routes were complicated, requiring a bus then a train then a walk and another bus. There was no way to simply memorize  all the routes in the time I had, so I asked one of my TAs, who lives about three blocks from the theater if I could crash in their living room.  Just kidding. I asked what kind of neighborhood it was at that time of night. Pretty nice, as it turns out.

The upshot is that I knew it was about a twenty five minute walk to the theater, so I set out. I realized one small problem as I walked along. I sort of knew where the theater was, somewhere to my northwest, but not the street address. I did remember from a glance at Google Street view that it was next to a big church. So I plodded on, playing right, left, right, left, hoping to recognize the name of the street when I came across it. I did know that one of the many routes home was on the Ashland bus (not my first choice – that goes through a sketchy part of town), which told me that if I got to Ashland, I’d have gone too far. I kept looking up as I walked, and eventually spied the spire (LOL again). I made it with ten minutes to spare. As I waited in line, I mildly berated myself for not having at least memorized the street address. So much for being prepared, but no harm, no foul. As I pulled out my wallet to show my ID to get my ticket, I felt a couple of folded sheets of paper in my pocket – the itinerary, complete with addresses that I had printed out not even three hours earlier. Be prepared, but also try to remember that you are prepared.

The Athenaeum Theatre is an oldie but a goodie. The chairs had been reupholstered, but the seat backs still bore cracked mahogany leather. I had an excellent seat in the second row of the balcony. The theater was nearly full of a very NPR audience – about 90 plus percent white, middle-class and about three-quarters of it was within fifteen years of my age – I was close to the median. I point this out because the host, comedian Brian Babylon (Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me), did also. He had the crew bring up the house lights so he could see the audience, and mentioned that there weren’t too many people in the audience that looked like him, and that he was working on getting WBEZ to program more shows that reflected Chicago, and not just NPR’s core audience.

Given that the theme for the evening’s storytelling was “Comfort Zone”, you might expect that several of the stories might have to do with people experiencing the discomfort of being marginalized, and you’d be right. This theme was furthered when the audience was given the opportunity to fill out a sheet finishing the phrase “I felt out of my comfort zone when…” These were collected up and used during the program.

The ten storytellers reflected Chicago’s diversity better than the audience: black, white Latino, male, female, tall, short, thin and fat. They had all gotten there by virtue of winning at regular StorySLAM competitions. At those competitions, participants are selected by drawing names from a hat.

The stories were judged by three sets of judges: one set were former GrandSLAM winners, at least one of the other two seemed to be selected at random from the audience, and I didn’t hear about the third set. Each participant had five minutes to tell their story before the musicians, a cellist and a bassist, played a single note to signal the time. At six minutes, they would play a more complicated piece indicating that time is up, though they never needed to resort to this, all the tellers finished on time (just barely in some cases).

After each story, Brian Babylon read three of the slips from the audience and provided commentary on them. “OK, you’re just bragging. ‘I felt out of my comfort zone … when I rode my Vespa to a nude beach.’ Who mentions the Vespa? Just say you went to a nude beach!”

Some others:

“… when I gave a patient a PAP smear for the first time today.”

“… when my girlfriend took a pregnancy test today. We passed.” Who even knows what that means?

“… when the person I’d been having sex with for four months said, ‘Well, that’s it. I get married tomorrow at 9am.’”

Before the next story, the judges rendered their scores on an out-of-ten scale, and an assistant recorded them on a big piece of poster board. The scoreboard stayed up for the whole competition, so it was pretty easy to see how the tellers were doing.

The stories were all very good, and many were quite memorable, but the winners’ (Nestor Gomez) was the best.

Overall the night was a lot of fun. Definitely a do again.

Well, I’ve got early yoga tomorrow, so that’s all for now.

Week 6, Day 1

More than any other city I’ve been to, Chicago loves its flag. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks so. It’s just everywhere – on all public employees – police, bus drivers, water guys, you name it. It is also on just about every tourist attraction and hotel I’ve seen. People have it on T-shirts, hats and purses.  Baltimore has a city flag too, but I don’t remember it being so pervasive.

At first, I had no idea what I was looking at. I saw it hanging off a

[OK, a brief time out here. I am writing this during the day in class (the girls are working in small groups on their final projects). We just took a “brain break” which we do every couple of hours to prevent melt downs. Normally, we do some sort of physical activity, but today I noticed something at lunch and acted immediately. Sometimes you just have to, before the idea escapes. Elizabeth Gilbert mentions that idea in her interview with Krista Tippett, “ideas are conscious and living, and they have will, and they have great desire to be made, and they spin through the cosmos looking for human collaborators.” So I became one. As I got my lunch, I saw that they were selling a candy I hadn’t seen in a long time, and a few minutes later, I bought 22 packets of Pop Rocks Candy so everyone in class could have one. I knew that some students would’ve had them before, but many not. I gave them out a few minutes ago. The looks as they poured them in their mouths: priceless! Wide eyes, smiles, mild fear, all wrapped in one, ”That’s SO weird!”, “My brain doesn’t know how to process this!” Awesome!]

flagpole at a nearby business. I wasn’t sure what it was. I thought may a flag for a foreign country I didn’t know. I started noticing it more often, and then I saw it on the sleeve of a public employee. I don’t remember exactly how I first learned that it was the Chicago flag.

I think part of its success is its simplicity and clean design. Not much to it.  That is why it reminded me of a flag from a foreign country. Like the US flag, it is easy to recognize adaptations of the flag. There is one printed on a T-shirt at a business down the street which I’ve never actually seen open. In this variation, the red stars are replaced by red paw prints.

So, what’s behind the design? Quite a  bit actually. If you are a hardcore vexillologist, there is a fully detailed description of the design behind the flag.

In brief, the three bars represent the northern, western and southern parts of Chicago. The top and bottom are pale blue, representing Lake Michigan and the north branch of the Chicago River on top, and the southern branch and canal on the bottom.

The four stars represent four significant events in Chicago’s history: Fort Dearborn, the Great Fire (1871), the World’s Exposition (1893) and the Century of Progress in 1933. They have six points rather than five because, apparently – I’m not completely up on my vexillology, in flag symbolism, five stars are used to represent a sovereign nation. Each of the points on the star symbolizes some facet of Chicago as well. I won’t go into them all here, some are historical events, some are achievements or themes, like labor. One interesting one is the sixth point on the Chicago Fire star: salubrity – which means favoring health. I didn’t know that.