Personal Messes

Section 5:Complex Consequences Chapter 3: Personal Messes

early June 20yy online from Arlington VA and DellVille AZ and Los Alamos NM.

Following their bonding dinner in Los Alamos came an unusual opportunity for Casey and Sally and Marilyn to help each other. Believing she’s found her niche in technology journalism, Marilyn asked her Aunt Sally’s , along with Sally’s colleague Casey, for advice about her public image. With their abundance of career mis-steps and continuing misgivings about social media practices, the older duo welcome this opportunity to also explore techniques for defending privacy and web sanity.

Sally and Casey both experienced social media well before the Dawn of Web Time. Their online paths often crossed in the 1980s on the Usenet worldwide discussion network. The comp.specification newsgroup collected references to technical conferences and reports related to Sally’s theoretical studies and Casey’s practical verification pursuits.

Many groups discussed the Japanese Fifth Generation Project. Both computer scientists found travel funds to attend its well-publicized conference. In Tokyo, Sally and Casey recognized each other, the only American women, sitting among dark suited-businessmen. Crossing paths in the empty women’s restroom, they agreed to meet for a tour of sushi bars that night.

Isolated women in smokey after-hours business settings, the new acquaintances found common topics of interest. They soon outlined a short paper for ‘Doctor Dobbs Journal’ on ‘Consequential Reasoning for Screening Health Care Preconditions’. Intermittently they met and emailed into the 2000’s when Sally’s congenital vision loss kicked in to limit her mathematical and experimental professional opportunities. Casey’s visit to DC had forged their semi-professional friendship around mutual respect and mature advocacy on the fringes of funded activities.

Casey was uneasy at personal topics. She dreaded listening to her Whisperer’s life narratives. Her ‘Life Replayed’ timeline shook her into realizing how her private relationships were only hinted at among the sequence of jobs,, relocations, and publications during her 40 years post-college. Her graduate degree, at age 35, from the well-known, now defunct, New England Graduate Institute made an interesting story. Her retirement years showed diverse activities in local computer clubs and peer-taught technology and literature classes.

Casey was in a mood for deep personal reflection. She continued to practice lessons from Sally’s prodding to reveal that chip on her shoulder, which had complicated her many dust-ups with colleagues. These shoulder chip episodes symbolized as tiny whirlwinds on her Whisperer timelines. Maybe she’d finally learned from time, her life adviser, to suppress that long-ago grad school fiasco. Especially now, she didn’t want an outburst to drive Gavin away from their revived relationship.

Marilyn had e-mailed a long, wandering missive about her personal image concerns, now that she faced attractive professional opportunities. She needed reassurance and focus. An agent had shown interest in Marilyn’s proposed “Back stories of computing lives”. Marilyn promised to build on vignettes from insiders who can explain the critical decisions of their career pathways. The desperate need for computing industry diversity promised an audience. Anecdotes from their Nuclear Shadow Dinner with clueless Millennial Matt populated her kick-starter.

Marilyn realizes that a nonfiction writer requires a clean and clear professional online image. Like many of her generation, she has immersed herself in social media groups. How should she portray herself to editors and publishers and readers? She aims to be the fresh trustworthy voice who translates personal life experience and programming skills into the language of computational thinking now accessible to a public awash in devices

Sally sat down at her screen reading laptop with a nice iced Chai tea for their 3-way conversation to diagnose Marilyn’s complex situation. One ear bud channeled incoming conversations while the other voiced her laptop interactions. Marilyn had instructed her elders on their audio-video-screen sharing setup, which gave the feeling of sitting at their dinner back in Los Alamos, minus the Margaritas and their young bud, Millennial Matt. They laughed at the group photo of three women and one young male, all holding out smart phones showing a colorful 3-level graphic icon for Team 3Gen.

Casey opened their questioning. “You have a unique name,. Will you remain ‘Marilyn Maxxson’?”

Marilyn groaned, “I have a lingering distaste for that byline. My parents named me after that blonde bombshell of the 1950s. And I am blonde myself, now mixed with gray. Retaining my married name, Maxxson, elicits unfortunate confusion in spell correcting search engines. I’m not sure if a unique name is good or bad.”.

Sally had filled in Casey on Marilyn’s family life. Marilyn’s age, 45, is awkward. Soon completing a long anticipated divorce, her ex-husband now ensconced in a new job in Idaho, son Bob headed to college, she needs a new life. Technically trained in computing before the Dawn of Web Time, Marilyn thinks her skills are outdated. She is exploring those ‘return-ship’ opportunities advertised on

It was Sally’s turn. “I recall our intermittent familial online get-together’s. Your children were young and Bob worried you. Marilyn, you have not been in the workforce for a while, but still you kept active and learning. Let’s look at your resume-worthy activities.”

Marilyn seemed uncomfortable. ” Even that volunteer work with teenage Girl Scouts’ badges challenged my confidence. Cousins, and you aunts and uncles, expected me to retrain then take my rightful place in the technology work force, which is always crying for American technical talent. Not so true! This is a no-go with my age so easily determined by algorithms and human resources.”

She sighed, ” Am I doomed to be primarily an assistant something-or-other for an office which values my organizational skills only until the next layoff? I don’t fit a startup and don’t like traditional organizations.”

She continued. I want a niche that will last 20 years and lead to travel and recognition. My technical chats with you elder geek’s have revealed how deeply I feel the essence of code. I envision my iPhone apps as interfaces, events, abstractions, pre-conditions, non-terminating loops, and other terms to be explained to ‘computational thinkers’ as my potential audience. I grok innovation and innovators with the programmer’s mind and full awareness of sins and triumph of the profession. You hooked me into computational thinking!”

Sally sipped her tea. This confession challenged her. “You have strengths you may not realize. Your generation is the last to remember life before the Internet. You have skills in rigorous journalistic and programming practices often lacking in Millennial’s. Right?”

Sally continued, “Your two decades living at the side door of one of the nation’s most notorious laboratories offers unusual stories. Your values have been shaped thinking about nuclear arms, climate change, cyber security, and other big problems of society. ”

Casey interjected, “Your life on the mesa had unique scarifying periods, as we learned on our visit. Your family home barely escaped wildfires. You can explain high performance computing climate models. This wealth of life experience should contrast with the Silicon Valley obsessions with 24/7 working geek’s. Go, big iron Mom!”

Sally asked, “Hey, Marilyn, do you remember our first email conversations, bypassing your parents, when you were mulling career directions? That was like in the age of PSI-net and CompuServe. Remember millions of their shiny CDs arriving in the mail, now resting in landfills? I guided you around the Usenet hierarchy, explained trolls, and how to lurk on alt.*. We didn’t get into any trouble, did we?”

Marilyn lifted a box from the shelf over her computer monitor. Casey laughed as a shiny disk appeared on their screens. “It’s been so long, is that AOL or CompuServe?” she asked.

Marilyn chuckled, “Neither, it’s the Global Network Navigator! Thanks for those memories, Aunt Sally.”

Casey asked, “Do you follow all those horror stories and social media mis-adventures reported daily in the press and on Twitter? Who could forget the 29 million acknowledged cheaters watching their credit card, addresses, and names float out of the purloined database? Sloppy, sloppy!”

Marilyn opened up. ” Yes, I do. Social media horror stories intrigue me. Those 2014 NPR author interviews for my favorite books, Dragnet Nation and What Stays in Vegas, spark my paranoia. They alerted me to the vast amount of personal information I must have spread about myself through data resellers and public records. That PeopleSmart search on myself was scary. Of course, I had my ‘friend’ data sucked into the 2017Facebook Cambridge Analytica controversy.”

Casey and Sally sensed that Marilyn needed a public image audit. Like their younger selves, they divided up tasks, determined the serial and parallel steps, outlined the final report, and gave themselves a one week deadline.

Suddenly, Marilyn became a specimen in a research project, soon to be probed for all the consequences of her past actions.

Meantime, as the trio lightened up, Marilyn told how Bob’s science fair successes and his new chemist girl friend were jolting her matronly concerns. All the relatives and family friends were celebrating his Science Fair honors for that wildfire simulator that earned him so many scholarship offers. He’d also been inducted into some group called ‘the little bro security chasers”.

Casey groaned. “oh, no! I know that group. My little syster Brittany says they challenge authority and live on video games. She once felt harassed when she wandered into one of their meetings. I’ll find out if this is a cult or a safe club. Stay aware, Marilyn.”

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