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New Mailbag (and Buzz Report)

I know I’ve been remiss in posting my videos here, but I vow to be better this year. Therefore, here’s this week’s Mailbag, and just as a bonus, the Buzz Report that posted Friday!



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Book review: Outliers: The Story of Success

Outliers: The Story of Success Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a fascinating read, which is kind of Gladwell’s thing — I haven’t read “The Tipping Point” yet, but I did read “Blink,” and he’s certainly got a gift for surprising you with research. There were parts of this book that made me want to jump out of my chair in frustration, especially as the mother of a child who will be one of the “young ones” at school and potentially disadvantaged as a result for his entire life. I’d say the first half of this book has distinct policy and behavior implications that I certainly hope our new president is considering.

Then there are parts that are sort of … interesting, but not helpful. In some ways, Gladwell argues that the phenomenally successful are merely the recipients of a series of incredibly lucky coincidences related to timing, cultural heritage, ethnicity, and repeated strikes of happy coincidences. Plus, of course, a lot of really, really hard work.

So, it’s reassuring in one sense to know that the truly self-made success story is probably a myth. On the other hand, is it too late for those of us who might have been born in the wrong generation, who didn’t go to summer camp, and who didn’t have the right access to computers, charm, the textiles industry, or some other lucky happenstance? I guess only history will tell. Regardless, a good and pretty easy read that I definitely recommend.

View all my reviews.

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Thoughts on being A Woman in Technology

Today I attended the California Diversity Council’s Women in Leadership Symposium. To be honest, I was sort of dreading it. I’m not usually one to talk about being A Woman in Technology or one to take up the torch of sisterhood, or to think of myself as blazing a trail, carving a path, cracking any glass, or anything like that. I often think that the best way to be a woman in technology is just to BE a woman who happens to be in technology. But after today, which was much better than I expected it to be, I left with a lot on my mind.

There’s no question that I have always been sort of a guy’s girl. I’m a big, Montana-bred, no-makeup (off-camera, anyway) kind of girl who carries a knife, knows how to ride a horse, and prefers trucks to cars. Before I became one of the few female attendees of conferences like MacWorld Expo, E3, and CES, I was one of the few women in the press room after football games, basketball games, and golf tournaments. Being a female sports reporter felt a lot more isolating than being a female tech reporter. The vibe was so much more macho, the air so charged with testosterone. Covering football as a woman is a particularly hostile endeavor: at least I might actually have played basketball, golf, or tennis.

Being a woman in tech seems, at first blush, a lot more fun. A lot of geeks flat-out worship girls, and girls who know things about computers take on a goddess/hot-elf/fantasy Geek Woman vibe that’s kind of hilarious and flattering. Technology itself is equal opportunity — if you can learn it, you can do it, and if you can talk the talk, you can talk your way into some of the clubs, no outstanding physical skills required.

But the geeky girl-worship doesn’t change some of the fundamental truths about being female and covering technology. You’re still thought of as vaguely alien, even if you’re beloved. No technical mistake will go unpunished, because you’re expected to not know what you’re talking about. And there’s never a time when you’re not being parsed more for your looks than your knowledge. And then, frankly, I’m still a woman in corporate America, and that’s got its own set of enraging double standards, uncomfortable boys club moments, and the nagging feeling that I’m never doing quite enough.

What I realized today is that I’m a lot more sensitive about being A Woman in Technology since I’ve had a child. My life is more rigid: I hardly ever go to evening events, because I want to spend time with my son. I leave every other day at 4:30 on the dot to pick him up from daycare on the other side of the bridge, and I know I’m unbelievably lucky that my husband and I can alternate these early departure days without drawing managerial ire. I’m not doing much on the weekend other than juggling kids’ birthday parties and naptime and the various friends and grandparents and parties and stir-crazy toddler needs. I’m not Web 2.0 networking, in a nutshell, except on Twitter.

I go from the rush of mornings at home (getting us all up, dressed, fed, and out the door with a minimum of oatmeal-covered shirts, meltdowns, and last-minute pooping) to the rush of the workday (six shows a week, with whatever media appearances, meetings, and show fill-ins might crop up) to the rush of the evening (dinner, what the HELL to have for DINNER?) to the almost thrilling release of collapsing in a pile of cats and wine to watch “Lost” or “Battlestar Galactica” or whatever we’ve TiVo’d on Food Network. And that usually involves multitasking of the laundry-folding or dish-washing variety. I’m tired. I never rest. I worry that I’m failing, and I’ve spent almost all of 2008 over-compensating for that feeling. At today’s symposium, there was a discussion of work-life balance, and the overwhelming consensus was that the thing we do, we Women, is stretch ourselves too thin, fail to set boundaries, and fail at saying no.

So, 2009 is about saying no. I’m fattening up, in terms of my time, my boundaries, and my work-life balance. I’m going to spend less time angry and more time editing out the things that make me angry. I’m re-prioritizing, and yes, some beloved activities, like Buzz Out Loud and who knows what else, may end up by the wayside. But trust me: only good can come of a happier, healthier, more productive and focused Molly (even the rants).

And if, along the way, I push through a ceiling made of glass or inspire a girl who’s younger than me or get myself a mentor or any of the other things that Women in Leadership are supposed to do, I won’t deny that part of myself at all. I’m grateful to the Women in Leadership for the reminder that I am not the only one doing all this ridiculous working and living and child-rearing and stressing. I’m grateful for the permission to make things easier on myself, and I plan to take it and not let it go.

UPDATE: After reading your comments, I’ve realized that the last few paragraphs of this post (boundaries, saying no more often, stretching ourselves too thin) are more “thoughts on being a [parent] [grownup] [human] in [California] [America] [the world].” That’s why I usually avoid the “woman in x” self-labeling — on some level, we’re all in this together, right?

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CitiMortgage’s Mafia-like “protection” scheme

I got an email today alerting me that my mortgage payment was past due. No, I haven’t fallen into arrears due to my own irresponsibility and interest-only bad loan. I was trying to pay off my debt faster, actually. Here’s the story.

My mortgage is with CitiMortgage (subsidiary of CitiBank, which is running into a bit of trouble these days and apparently taking it out on me). A few weeks ago, I got this letter in the mail about how CitiMortgage offers a BiWeekly Advantage Plan that lets you pay off your loan faster (they love the MidCaps there, don’t they?).

In a nutshell, you pay half your mortgage payment at the beginning of the month, and the second half in the middle. This adds up to about one extra payment per year, which helps reduce your overall compounding interest — they note that “a homeowner with a $100,000 balance, on a 30 year loan at 6% could save $24,138.65 in interest and pay off 5 years; 5 months sooner.” I live in California. My mortgage is a LOT more than $100,000. This ain’t chump change to me. But then I read where CitiMortgage charges a one-time fee of $375 to set up this “service,” and charges $1.50 for each payment. Because even though I thought I could just start sending two payments a month, CitiMortgage helpfully notes:

“Some homeowners try to make extra principal payments themselves, but most aren’t able to keep a consistent schedule. Let The BiWeekly Advantage (SM) Plan do the work for you.”

Yeah. But see, hubby pointed out that it’s not super hard to keep a “consistent schedule” if you’re using online billpay. So, we just changed our billpay schedule and said, “to heck with you and your fees, we’re no dummies!” About a month and a half went by … which is when we got the letter saying our mortgage was past due.

It appears that Citi has been applying our payments to principal only–not to the interest due. So, half the payments don’t count as payments, just “extra” principal payments. And when we called them and said, “we’re just trying to make bi-weekly payments,” they said, “we can’t apply the payments to your interest unless you call us every time you send an extra payment.” And hey! Guess what they tried to sell us? The $375 BiWeekly Advantage (SM) Plan with $1.50 draft charge per payment!

When hubby pointed out that it hardly seems fair that we either have to pay to send extra payments or call every time we send one to make sure it’s properly credited, he got the customer service equivalent of a big “who cares” shrug.

It seems to me that In These Troubled Times (drink!) CitiBank ought to welcome anyone who wants to aggressively pay their mortgage, and not try to soak them for a little extra cash by ensuring that aggressive payment is such a hassle that it’s hardly worth the long-term interest savings. This feels like an old-fashioned protection scheme (“you throw us a little payola and we make sure your payments are properly processed”) at best and seems to come close to extortion at worst. I know times are tough at Citi, but you know what you’ll probably need to get through them? Customers. Interest rates are falling and I’ve got good credit, CitiMortgage. Keep this crap up and I’ll refinance my way right out of your failing ass.

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Check it out: I’m a Woman on the Web!

I’ve just entered some pretty awesome company! I’m going to have a regular column on WowOWow.com, a site for Women on the Web that was founded in part by Lesley Stahl (yep, that CBS synergy paying off again), along with some other pretty big names–the regular contributors and founders are, in addition to Lesley, Peggy Noonan, Liz Smith, Joni Evans, Mary Wells, Sheila Nevins, Joan Juliet Buck, Whoopi Goldberg, Julia Reed, Joan Ganz Cooney, Judith Martin, Candice Bergen, Lily Tomlin, Jane Wagner, and Marlo Thomas.

I will be, not surprisingly, bringing the tech to the party. I’ll have a weekly post tied to or based on the Gadget of the Week segment in that week’s Buzz Report episode. The Wowowow audience is definitely less tech-savvy than the CNET audience, so look for these to be more informational or explanatory posts about the trends behind the Gadget of the Week, some buying advice about the category, or just an explanation of what in the heck a “netbook” is, as in the first post, which went up today!

Check it out; I’m pretty excited. I’ll post a link to each week’s column as it goes up!

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The America we should be: vote no on Proposition 8

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen demonstrations in support of Proposition 8 in and around my neighborhood in Oakland, California.

If you don’t know by now, Proposition 8 would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to legally marry. Proposition 8 proponents have refused to comment on whether they would actively seek to invalidate the marriages of those couples who have been united since same-sex marriage was legalized in California.

Let me be perfectly clear. I am, to the very core of my being, opposed to Proposition 8. I believe that passage of Prop 8 effectively creates a religious dictatorship in California and would export bigotry and discrimination to the rest of the nation and the world. I believe that the right to marry is universal, constitutionally protected, and that it is a civil rights issue to the core.

And that’s why I can hardly keep myself from jumping out of my car when I see African Americans and other people of color demonstrating in support of Proposition 8, and why I can hardly breathe when they are also women. Notwithstanding the fact that slavery itself was only abolished in this country about 150 years ago and discrimination in all forms is still thriving here, interracial marriage in the United States was still banned in 17 states as late as 1967. That is forty-one years ago. If there were a Proposition 8 41 years ago, Asians, blacks, Samoans, and Hispanics I saw with a Yes on 8 signs this weekend, it would have been about you. Interracial marriage was banned because it was considered unnatural, it was thought to be “against God’s will,” and it constituted illicit sex. Sound familiar?

That long, rich history of marriage-related discrimination in this country ought to be enough to get any thinking person, and particularly a person of color, on the side of the Proposition 8 opponents. For whatever reason — probably the simple fact that it’s human nature to find someone out there you disagree with and go messing around with their lives — that doesn’t cut it. And that brings me to women.

Less than 100 years ago, women in the United States would not have been allowed to vote for or against Proposition 8. In some countries, they still cannot. In the U.S., women were still considered chattel who could not own their own property or even the clothing they wore until 1890, when Kentucky finally changed its laws. The Equal Rights Amendment, which says “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” wasn’t even proposed until 1923, has only been ratified by 35 states, and is still not part of the U.S. Constitution.

Then there’s the religious question. Proposition 8 comes from a fundamentally religious argument — our society rejects homosexuality as a sin that is specifically proscribed by the Bible. But here’s the thing: the Bible is not the law. If it were, we’d live in a pretty chaotic, contradictory society that allowed for putting people to death for all kinds of minor and outdated offenses and let guys like King Solomon have as many wives and concubines as they want. And don’t get me started on the teachings of Jesus — nearly all of which flatly contradict the spirit in which Proposition 8 was proposed at all. And before we use religion — again — as a tool for oppression in this country, can we please remember that our nation was founded on the principle of religious freedom and that our Constitution was created out of the desire for a democracy that did not specifically endorse one religion over another, did not put the beliefs of one religious group over the beliefs of others, and did not force its citizens to believe and act based on the will of a religious majority?

It is unfathomable to me that America can have such a deep wellspring of hate and violent discrimination from which to draw its lessons, and that we can still have Proposition 8 on our ballot; that we still have not risen above petty, passionate, semantic bickering about who has the right to be a legally sanctioned family. It’s unthinkable to me that women and minorities can look past not just their own history but the active discrimination that still thrives in this country, and still try to find a target for their own bigotry. And it’s frankly abominable that so many people feel it’s acceptable, in 21st century America, to create a “separate but equal” caste out of productive, successful, law-abiding citizens with whom they happen to have a “lifestyle” disagreement.

Proposition 8 is un-American. Period. And I am begging you, no matter what your personal or religious beliefs may be, live your own life. Go your own way. Teach your children that they don’t have to worry about being discriminated against or marginalized in this country, no matter what future determinations our society decides to make about who is “anti-family” or “against God” or somehow the unacceptable “them” to the greater “us.” Because make no mistake: as long as we think discrimination and marginalization is ok, we’ll never stop trying to pick on somebody. In the future it could be the anti-technologist religious sect or heck, scientists and software engineers, or the half-robot people, or why not, women again, who are somehow picked out as somebody that it’s ok to hate and make laws against. Think this is about the children? Unless we make a stand as Americans and human beings, no child is safe from becoming a victim of somebody’s beliefs.

Like the right of women to vote, the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, and the possible election of an African American man as President, this change is coming. There’s no good reason to tell gays they can’t marry, other than pure, naked, ugly discrimination. Don’t be the pro-segregationist of your day. Don’t become a villain in the story of America’s march toward tolerance and freedom. Vote for the America we should be, instead of the America we have been. Vote no on Proposition 8.

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CEA i-stage: the kickoff to CES!

I’m in Las Vegas right now, because tomorrow I’m hosting the i-stage event at the Consumer Electronics Association’s Industry Forum event. By “hosting,” I mean that I am sort of the Ryan Seacrest of the event: Kevin Kelly of Wired, Jeff Pulver, and Ryan Block are the judges. It’s a pretty interesting and cool sounding contest, actually: it’s software, hardware, and services, and the winner gets $50,000 and a free booth at CES. And while the organizers assure me they’ve got a really big check for the winner, I think it might be the free publicity (and pre-show publicity) at CES that’s the really big draw.

The finalists haven’t been much-publicized, but from what I gather, they include everything from a price-comparison engine to a glove that can control your car doors. It should be pretty cool. Kara Tsuboi is covering it for CNET TV, so look for video of the finalists late tomorrow (Monday) or the next day. The event goes on all day with voting in the evening, and I’ll try to blog as much as I can during breaks. You can also follow me on Twitter for updates throughout the day.

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Molly Wood, political correspondent!

So, since CBS went and bought us, certain things are a little bit different. For example, I get to be Katie Couric’s Internet correspondent! Here’s the deal.

CNET is providing the video player for these live webcasts immediately after the debates (we did the same thing for the conventions) at the CBS News site. And for the VP debate webcast tomorrow (and maybe the future ones, depending on how I perform), I’ll do a little chit-chat with Katie to talk about the reaction to the debate on political blogs, Twitter, the Technorati election site, and so on. Tune in! The Webcast starts at 8 p.m. Pacific, right after the debate ends, and goes for about 30 minutes (I’m not sure what time I’ll be on, but I’ll Twitter it before I go on).

If you’ve got suggestions for sites I should be sure to monitor, let me know, and let me know how I do! I’m pretty excited, and it’s funny to end up back in the “actual news” after leaving it behind for tech so many years ago.

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Wow. TV just died a little for me.

Emmy tweet

I confess: I stopped watching the Emmys. It was shortly after Tina Fey won (yay!) and some idiot announced that I should “love TV and fear the Internet.”

But honestly, I’d been offended for quite a while before Sonnenfeld’s crack. And my other confession is that I love television, particularly the crappy reality type, and the shows that are constantly overlooked and undervalued by the Emmys and the ratings types, like “Buffy” and “Arrested Development” and “Sports Night” before that and, heaven help me, “Jericho.” So, I’m predisposed to oppose the Academy. That’s America.

But this! This parade of calcification, this Piven’s-second-win sleepwalking, this revolting attempt to re-create the glory days of “Laugh-In” (really? Is this the Emmy demographic? What am I doing here?) and “remedy” past sins by offering up a lamely presented, lamely conceived, and embarrassingly received “we suck” emmy to Tommy Smothers, even as TV serves up worse dreck and more castrated drivel than it possibly ever has … this was downright gross. I mean, my god. Josh Groban was the highlight, and I’ll tell you, I was not expecting that.

And lest I sound like a neo-Republican … the sexism of this charade! It is truly astonishing. Five reality hosts hosting the show and the best they can come up with for a bit is a Heidi Klum strip-tease? Seriously? And oh, hey, look, the “Desperate Housewives” bitches are still such bitches, all these years later! Isn’t that hilarious how they all hate each other because women are such bitches? I admit, my tone might also be colored by the stupendously witty pre-show, featuring Jimmy Kimmel slobbering in musical style all over Salma Hayek, because women aren’t worth talking to unless they’re hot and apparently men aren’t worth talking to unless they’re hot, either! It’s a gross-out two-fer!

And then these oblique references, and blatant references, in the case of Sonnenfeld, to how the Internet is making things so much harder for television are, honestly, anything but pity-inspiring. You know what you can do to counter the effect that the Internet has had on television viewership? Be better than the Internet. You can probably pull it off, if you put even the tiniest bit of money and talent into it. Try, just try for one second, one day, one season, to actually pay attention to the sea change that’s happening in modern culture and put just a smidgen of your energy into attempting to hear it and understand it, instead of acting like nostalgia-drunk old dickheads who can’t see past a chasm of cleavage and insider Hollywood jokes.

Stop telling six million people that their show isn’t worth keeping (“Jericho”). Stop trying to get me to watch the endless and indistinguishable parade of overly scripted, patronizing, gender-stereotype ridden sitcoms you pump at me every single season. Stop kicking shows like “Arrested Development” off the air, stop giving Jeremy Piven Emmys, and most of all, stop pretending that I don’t exist. Hey, you, television. Can you hear us? We’re the millions of people who are on the Internet instead of watching this crap, and you’d be wise to throw us a bone once and a while, because at some point, we’re going to be all you’ve got left. It’s really great that you’ve caught the snap with “Daily Show,” “Colbert,” and “30 Rock”, but you’ve got a lot to make up for, know what I’m sayin’?

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