rockbot's 6 tricks to leading a healthy, productive life

  1. When everything is falling apart around you: pick one thing - one tiny thing - and do it. More often than not, it’s just the impetus you need to get into something bigger. Sometimes it’s all you can actually do, and you’ll at least have done something, even if it’s really small.

  2. Isolate your senses to reduce the chances of distraction. When I need to be really productive, I go to a place with a lot of sensory constants (like a library): no one is cooking, so smells don’t distract me; I’m in a cubical or closed room, so I only see a wall; I listen to the same song on repeat, which is basically like white noise after a while; there’s nothing around me so I’m not tempted to touch anything new or interesting; I’m seated and don’t have to move unless my body demands a change of scenery. The more senses you remove, the more distractions you remove. This is extraordinarily powerful; use only when absolutely necessary, as you will also lose track of time.

  3. Create a to-do list. I suffer from what I call productive procrastination. I pick one item from my to-do list, and work on it until I get bored with it. Then, to procrastinate, I work on another item on the list. Rinse and repeat until all of the items are completed.

  4. Pick up a new hobby. Believe it or not, chronic boredom will only make you less productive. Busy people stay busy because there are always things on their to-do list.

  5. Choose your hobbies wisely. Conversely, if you’re overwhelmed by all the hobbies you have, let one go. Being overwhelmed means you’re unable to act, and thus you can’t be productive. Remember the critical saying: “every time you say ‘yes’ to something, you’re automatically saying ‘no’ to something else.”

  6. Variety is the spice of life. Don’t force yourself to do work all the time, but also don’t let yourself do anything but work for too long. Give yourself permission to have fun, and get your butt in gear so that you can make the fun moments really count.

======

This was originally posted on SuperYesMore as part of the Human In The Machine publication at https://superyesmore.com/rockbots-6-tricks-to-leading-a-healthy-productive-life-8b553b6c4ac1112787d2d52d3804ea64

Help

I constantly struggle with asking for help, but I’ve found that I’m more productive when I ask for help at the right time.

When’s the right time?

GREAT QUESTION!

The balance is tricky and I’m constantly figuring it out, but here’s what I’ve learned so far:

A) If it’s something I’m sure I know already but forgot the specifics, I look up the docs IMMEDIATELY.

That’s what docs are for.

B) If it’s something I think I know but may have forgotten and the docs don’t help, I play/try to figure it out on my own for 5-10 minutes.

Then I ask someone else.

C) If it’s something I definitely don’t know but was supposed to learn, I play for 15-20 minutes with docs.

Then I ask someone else.

D) If it’s something I definitely don’t know and have time to learn, I play for 30-45 minutes.

Then I ask someone else.

Note that there’s never a point at which I flounder for an hour (or more!).

Because if you’re floundering for an hour, you’re not only no longer productive, you’ve gone down a rabbit hole and it will take you twice as long to find your way out.

Your goal, as a developer/engineer/hacker/whatever you call yourself, is to learn and ship code. If you’re neither learning nor shipping, it’s time to ask for help. Then you’ll learn and then you’ll ship and all will be right with the world again.

Fun fact: once you get the help you need, your productivity instantly goes up! Because now you’re excited about taking the knowledge you’ve just gained and applying it to the next thing! Cool, right?

Remember: Asking for help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.

It’s you saying you’re ready for some learning and you won’t let a little rabbit hole tempt you away from shipping.

Chapter 5: And Now For Something a Little Different

For those of y’all just joining in on the fun, I’ve been writing a look-at-all-the-stuff-that’s-going-on post every New Year for the past four years.

I had a proper recap of 2014, which links to all the other posts I’ve done since 1 January 2012.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been in this industry for four years now. The journey has been absolutely incredible: from starting at absolute zero in 2012 to helping to launch major projects and leading teams in 2015, it’s humbling to see how quickly I’ve gotten to this point.

On a technical level, I have to say that my biggest accomplishment of 2015 was giving a keynote in another language (Spanish) at JSConf Colombia in Medellín. I couldn’t have done it without the incredible support of the community, and for that I’m immensely grateful.

I made a conscious decision to only do four conference talks this year (as compared to the eight or nine I did in 2013 and 2014)… In addition to JSConf Colombia, I had the incredible opportunity to emcee Node Summit, open Codemania in New Zealand, and present at StrangeLoop in St. Louis. To make up for my lack of a billion and five talks, I also did a bunch of podcasts (even becoming a co-host of one!), panels, and interviews.

2016, however, will be a year of further simplification. I will again only do four conference talks (of which one has already been booked), and none of them will be robotics-related.

Don’t get me wrong: robots are awesome. I have spent the last three years presenting, organizing events around, and encouraging people to play with robots. But it’s time to pass the torch.

The NodeBots community has grown in ways I could have never expected, and I’m so proud of the people who have made it the international phenomenon that it has become. Y’all don’t need me anymore; the fire is burning in each and everyone one of you. I am inspired by you, and the NodeBots community will continue to grow. Thank you for having fun with me :-D

On a personal level, I’ve spent a lot of my free time crafting this year. I started with a End-of-Year Project (instead of a resolution), in which my goal was to make a pair of jeans from scratch. Sadly, I don’t have a completed pair of jeans, but! I do have a pillow, a t-shirt, a hoodie, a pair of pajama pants, and multiple drafts of skirts and jeans!

More importantly, though: I also have a better foundation in life outside of tech, which had escaped me since starting on this journey in 2012. It’s easy for us to write code at work and then go home and write more code and then spend all of our time talking to our friends about code. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this way of life, but when it’s all a person does, it’s easy to think that there is no life outside of code (except there is! there IS life outside of your computer!). And 2015 was the year that I really started to learn that. (See also: exercise.)

I’m sure there was other stuff that happened in 2015, and I’m sure I tweeted about it. But other than that: 2016 will, without a doubt, be an even bigger challenge than 2015 was.

Given my track record, I’m not even going to pretend I know what 2016 is going to look like, but I’m hoping it’ll have more vacations in it. Yeah, definitely more vacation.

Thanks all ❤️

On-Boarding Driven Development

Optimise your code for a better onboarding experience

Raquel Vélez looks at how an onboarding-focused approach to development can help get new coders started as efficiently as possible

Your newest teammate has just pulled the codebase onto their machine for the first time. Unfortunately for them, everyone is away at meetings and won’t be available to answer questions until the end of the week. Now what?

When someone joins a team, they already need to deal with HR and get to know their new teammates. Add to that the daunting nature of learning a new codebase, and the first several weeks on a new team are difficult at best.

It’s in everyone’s favour to optimise the onboarding process. From a financial perspective, every minute a developer isn’t contributing code is costly. From a developer’s perspective, every minute they’re not shipping code is unproductive.

So how do we make onboarding more effective in less time? Let’s do what we always do: let’s look at the code.

Application structure

Look at how your codebase is structured. Could you send your file tree to another developer (who does not work with you … that would be cheating), and have them tell you how the application works?

Codebases are in a constant state of disarray. The code you write today will be refactored eventually. Therefore, as you’re working through your application, anticipate your next teammate and ask yourself: what can we do, on an architectural level, to ease someone in?

Start by using well-named folders that clearly explain what they’re for. Avoid the dreaded ‘util’ file at all costs. Make it explicitly clear where the code lives, so when someone starts hunting around, they’re spending more time thinking about how a chunk of code works and less about where it lives.

The code you write today will be refactored eventually. Ask yourself: what can we do, on an architectural level, to ease the next person in?

Tests

How much of your codebase is adequately tested? Do all your tests pass? Do you name your tests? In other words: can someone run your test suite and immediately know what your application is supposed to do?

When a newcomer joins the codebase, one of the first things they’ll need to do is run the tests. When they get to the point where they’re fixing a bug or adding a new feature, you want them to find out as soon as possible if they are breaking other parts of the application.

Write your tests so someone can run them and read what is supposed to happen as the application runs. This way your new team member will be able to understand what the code is already doing, allowing them to ask more complex questions about the rationale behind it.

Documentation

Are you confident that the documentation around your code is sufficient? In particular, does your documentation cover interdependent codebases? No matter the size of your team or application, there will always be code that depends on the output of some other code.

Reduce the number of questions about how functions work by clearly documenting what each function does, what parameters it takes, and what the output of that function is. To make it easier for someone to understand what each chunk of code does, embrace the ‘many small modules’ approach to writing code.

Allow for abstraction at high levels, but be clear under the hood how everything works. You can’t know which part of the codebase your next team member will be working on, so prepare it for anyone.

Above all else, make sure the documentation is easy to find. You want everyone on your team to be able to find the answers to their questions with ease.

Let’s do this

We’re used to thinking about the user when we create our products. But what if we consider the newest member of our team as we build our codebases? The best teams share an understanding of where each
bit of code lives, what it does, and why. They can then spend their time discussing how that code should work. Working on ‘how’ instead of ‘where’ , ‘what’ or ‘why’ is essential to productivity.

In short, we need to acknowledge the reality: we are not the only ones looking at our code, and one day we won’t touch it at all. Let’s consider those who are picking up the pieces after we’re done with them, and make it as easy as possible for them to ramp up, as quickly as possible.

Raquel Vélez is crafty about code and culture at npm, Inc. She also enjoys adorable animals, funny GIFs, and chocolate


This article originally appeared in issue 277 of net magazine and was posted on Medium on 17 November 2016

Exercise

Important to the Internet Age Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. I won’t even pretend to be one.

TCW: I talk about cancer, which sucks. Fortunately, I haven’t been diagnosed with cancer, so there’s that.

About a year ago, I started practicing yoga regularly. Last winter, I started skiing. When the snow melted, I started rock climbing. Over the summer, after going to the doctor for my annual checkup, I realized I needed to lose a few pounds, so I modified my diet - ever so slightly - so that I could get on track to reach my target weight.

I’m the healthiest I’ve been in years.

When it comes to why I’ve gone through this turn-around, it actually has very little to do with vanity (though omg seeing my muscles starting to peek through is thrilling, to be sure).

The truth is, I have a family history of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Especially cancer. Over the last ten years, I’ve seen members of my family suffer from every sort of cancer you can imagine: breast, uterine, lung, colon… it’s all there.

For the longest time, I desperately wanted to believe that healthy people didn’t get cancer. So I used to exercise occasionally to avoid it. My reasoning was fairly straightforward: let’s say that everyone starts out with a number of cancer risk points. When you consume lots of antioxidants and exercise (even if it’s only every once in a while), you lower your cancer risk points… right?

Except I’ve seen who survives and who doesn’t. There are no cancer risk points (or at least, you don’t get to change how many you have). At this point, it’s less a matter of how do I avoid getting sick, and more of a matter of how do I tackle it if I get it. Furthermore, how healthy you are has nothing to do with whether you’ll get sick or not. How healthy you are when you get sick, however, has everything to do with whether you’ll beat it or not.

Some cancers are game enders - it won’t matter how in shape you are or how careful you are about your health during treatment. But other cancers have a much higher chance of survival if you start at healthy and stay at healthy.

By “healthy,” I very much mean consistently healthy. None of that exercise-when-the-gym-membership-is-cheaper-right-after-New-Year’s-but-whoops-it’s-February-and-these-oreos-sure-are-more-interesting sentiment. (Though I also think it’s totally reasonable to hang out and watch Netflix while eating a pint of ice cream every once in a while. Just remember to go to the gym the next day - it’s a worthwhile compromise :-))

The key is to find a form of exercise that excites you. There are loads of sports out there; I tried as many as I could until I found ones that I really enjoyed. And then I stuck with them - I’m doing my best to get good at them. I’ve made friends who do them, too. I track my input/output with an app. And I keep getting that little bit of a thrill as more of those muscles start peeking out.

Most importantly, the forms of exercise that I’ve chosen (yoga, skiing, climbing) allow me to step out of my head, even if only for a short period. It’s like meditation to me. The massive benefit is that I’ve learned how to breathe, which helps me lower my own stress levels (a skill that is super useful, no matter what the occasion). The greatness of those muscles are a distant second compared to the calming effects of my brain on endorphins.

I exercise so that I can be healthy enough to beat whatever comes… no matter when that might be.

Wikipedia

Someone (I don’t know who) decided to write a Wikipedia article about me. The amount of information in this thing is incredible - the amount of energy, effort, and research that went into writing this article is absolutely humbling.

On Friday, 28 August 2015, the article was deleted for lack of notability. A lot of people chimed into the deletion discussion, and I’m really grateful for that. It’s okay, folks. There will be other opportunities, I’m sure.

I have preserved what I could of the article just before it was deleted, as a thank you to the person (whoever you are) that wrote it.

I appreciate the amount of time you put into writing about me. I will not let the internet forget your effort.

❤️


#Raquel Vélez

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


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Raquel Vélez

Born

1985

Other names

Rockbot

Education

B.S., Mechanical Engineering, Caltech, 2003-2007. Graduate Studies, Robotics Engineering, Università degli Studi di Genova, 2009-2010.

Occupation

Senior Engineer

Years active

2004 - present

Notable work

AI.js, vektor, Convene, CrowdNotes

Awards

Special Recognition for Community Outreach by the Laboratory Director, MIT Lincoln Laboratory (2009), Minority Student Education Outstanding Service Award, California Institute of Technology (2007), Caltech President’s Scholar, California Institute of Technology (2003 – 2007), Research In Science and Engineering Award Winner, German Academic Exchange Service (2006).

Website

rckbt.me

Raquel Vélez (Pronunciation: [rakel beleθ]) is a senior Mechanical engineer and software developer currently developing the Node.js package manager (known as npm),[1][2] and is one of the main contributors to NodeBots.[3] She is an active contributor amongst the open-source development community, most prominently in the San Francisco Bay Area where she lives, and a resident at Recurse Center (formerly Hacker School).[4] She has previously worked at Caltech, NASA JPL, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and various universities in Europe.

Vélez was internationally educated at schools and universities in the US, France, Germany, and Italy and is a featured speaker at events and conferences throughout the United States, covering topics such as technology, robotics, and storytelling. She speaks English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian .[5]

Vélez has contributed to a high volume of open source projects and is an active member in the web development industry .[6]

Contents






Biography[edit]


Raquel Vélez is an American technologist and community leader. She studied Mechanical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and worked as a roboticist for 8 years at a variety of institutions, including the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Duisburg-Essen, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, the University of Genoa, and Applied Minds. Vélez’s career shifted to web development in 2012, wherein she has since specialized in Node.js (JavaScript). She has worked at Skookum Digital Works, Storify, and Sauce Labs. She is currently a Senior Engineer at npm, Inc. and speaks at conferences around the world. Vélez has lived in 4 countries and speaks 5 languages.


Early days[edit]


Vélez parents were both chemical engineers. When still in high school, Vélez was convinced that she was going to be a film-maker, in particular, she wanted to do altered-reality and science-fiction-like films to explore the human reality. In her last years of high school, she was so good at maths and science, that she was invited to a local university where a lot of different engineers where presenting different topics. One of those speakers was a mechanical engineer, who showed the audience a robot she had built. Vélez was utterly impressed at the fact that somebody could made a real robot with their own hands, since, for her, they were just fictional movie characters made with special effects .[7]


Education[edit]


This engineering event was a life-changer for her, and that same day she told her parents that she wanted to be a roboticist. At the time, she was more interested in building the robots than in the software, which she considered just “a means to an end“. She went on to study mechanical engineering at Caltech and enrolled in the DARPA Grand Challenge.[8] There were three teams, electronics, mechanics and software, and everybody was in the mechanics and electronic teams while nobody wanted to join the software team. Vélez joined the software team, since she was the only one who had done anything at all with code before.


After this experience, Vélez started getting involved in programming more and more, to the point that when she was finishing college, she was not as interested in robots as she was before. In 2009, just after the first semester, she dropped out the masters program in robotics she had started, because it got too theoretical with too few experimentation. Vélez felt that the robotics environment was too competitive, and having to pursue a PhD was not in her plans, since she didn’t want to work on a long term project.[9]


Leaving academia and working with node[edit]


Vélez finished internships in robotics at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Machine Vision Group,[10][11] the Chair of Mechanics and Mechatronics, University of Duisburg-Essen,[12] the Caltech RoboRescue Team, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory (in which she became leader/Co-founder of the Robotics Outreach),[13][14] Applied Minds,[15] founded Lightbulb Robotics and went to work at a startup in a blogging community for Hispanic women as a CTO.[16]


Around 2011 she turned her interest into the internet and software development, specially front-end development.[17]


In 2012 Vélez started working with Node.js, which at the time was new, and there were no tutorials or resources around. She started working on node full-time as a full-stack developer in several start-ups. Since the core members of the node community where living in San Francisco, Vélez and her husband decided to move there. She continued showing up at meet-ups and participating in conferences.[18]


In 2014, Isaac Z. Schlueter called Vélez and asked her to join the team to found npm (software) as employer number one, with two other co-founders.[19]


Leadership and contributions[edit]


Vélez has also been a board member and press liaison for Hackerspace Charlotte from 2011 to 2012, board member for the Latin American Coalition from 2011 to 2012,[20] and Vice Chair for the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Charlotte Hub from 2011 to 2013.[21]


Due to her notability, Vélez has been invited as a speaker to some of the most important conferences and live events in the tech industry, like JSConf,[22] jQuery conference,[23] CascadiaJS,[24] Robots Conf.,[25] or Platzi Live,[26] among others.


Soon after npm launched from Node.js, this open source technology has become the runtime of choice for high-performance, low latency, I/O asynchronous applications,[27] which are built on top of Node.js, ranging from robots to API engines to cloud stacks and mobile websites.[28] Web applications like those of Fidelity, IBM, The Linux Foundation,[29] PayPal[30] or Microsoft[31][32] are build on top of it.


Vélez is also a core developer of NodeBots, Arduino robots powered by Node.js and programmed with Firmata, who is leading the next generation of JavaScript robots, flying drones and quadcopters,[33] with meetings all around the world and an International NodeBots day.[34]


Publications[edit]


She is a co-author of the book Vélez, Raquel (2015-05-08). Make: JavaScript Robotics: Building NodeBots with Johnny-Five, Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and BeagleBone (1st ed.). Maker Media, Inc. p. 272. ISBN 978-1457186950. 


She is currently part of the Reactive podcast [35] and was also a contributor to the Pastry Box project [36] during the year 2014.


Interviews[edit]



  • “Hilariously, Isaac Emailed Me” with Raquel Vélez - DESCRIPTIVE - 15 May 2015.[9]

  • Programación de robots con Javascript - Platzi LIVE - 5 March 2015.[37]

  • Rockbot - CodeNewbie Podcast - 20 April 2015[7]

  • 013: With Raquel Vélez - Ghost Talk Podcast - 19 May 2014.[38]

  • 103 JSJ Robots with Raquel Vélez - JSJabber Podcast - 9 April 2014.[39]

  • Controlling Robots with node.js and Johnny-Five with Raquel Vélez - The Hanselminutes Podcast - 4 October 2013.[40]

  • A Gentle Introduction to node.js with Raquel Velez - The Hanselminutes Podcast - 14 June 2013.[41]


Views on diversity[edit]


Vélez has called the attention of the media over the topic of discrimination and unconscious bias against minorities in the tech industry. She has said she made a point of working at top universities such as Caltech and MIT to burnish her credentials, and she is not surprised Hispanics earn less in high tech, “Not only because I am Hispanic but because I’m female, I have had to work four times as hard as most of the folks in the industry“.[5]


She remembers being annoyed by the fact that, during her studies at Caltech, and not having a lot of women around, she sometimes was ignored due to unconscious prejudices. In particular, she remembers doing homework with her male classmates, telling them that she had the answer to a problem they were trying to solve, and nobody paying attention to her, until somebody else found the same answer.[9] Vélez confessed that at first these systematic misogynistic situations got to her, but she didn’t allow it to happen again and tried to focus in doing what she loved.


She maintains a list of Women Who Node [42] for women who are “not only Node devs, but also could be asked to speak at conferences“. She also compiled a list of Latin American developers [43] and wrote a viral post about hiring diverse teams .[44] She has also been cited as an inspiration for people who want to become developers too.[45]


References[edit]




  1. ^ “Raquel Vélez at npm Inc.”. npmjs.com. 2015. 

  2. ^ “Former Node leader takes big money, launches npm”. Venture Beat. 2014-02-11. 

  3. ^ “Raquel Vélez at NodeBots.”. nodebots.io. 2015. 

  4. ^ “Raquel Vélez at Recurse Center.”. Recurse Center. 2015. 

  5. ^ a b “Minorities earn less in skilled jobs, research says”. USA Today. 2014-10-09. 

  6. ^ “Repositories contributed to by Raquel Vélez.”. GitHub.com. 2015. 

  7. ^ a b “Ep. 32 Rockbot”. CodeNewie. 2015-04-20. 

  8. ^ “Random Walk” (PDF). CalTech Engineering and Science, Volume LXVII, Number 1, p.6. 2004. 

  9. ^ a b c “18: Hilariously, Isaac Emailed Me with Raquel Vélez”. DESCRIPTIVE - Programmer origin stories. 2015-05-15. 

  10. ^ “NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Machine Vision Group”. robotics.jpl.nasa.gov. 2015. 

  11. ^ “JPL Robotics: Group: Summer Interns - 2004”. robotics.jpl.nasa.gov. 2004. 

  12. ^ “Chair of Mechanics and Mechatronics, University of Duisburg-Essen”. www.uni-due.de. 2015. 

  13. ^ “MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Outreach: Robotics”. www.ll.mit.edu. 2015. 

  14. ^ “MIT Lincoln Laboratory: News: Lincoln Laboratory is on a “ROLL. www.ll.mit.edu. November 2008. 

  15. ^ “Raquel Vélez Résumé”. rckbt.me. 2015. 

  16. ^ “Escúchame.org”. linkedin.com. 2015. 

  17. ^ “From Roboticist to Web Developer”. rckbt.me. 2012-01-01. 

  18. ^ “Raquel Vélez: Evolution of a Developer”. JSConf EU 2014. 2014. 

  19. ^ “Raquel Vélez”. blog.npmjs.org. 2014. 

  20. ^ “Latin American Coalition”. latinamericancoalition.org. 2015. 

  21. ^ “World Economic Forum Global Shapers”. www.globalshapers.org. 2015. 

  22. ^ “JSConf 2013”. jsconf.us. 2013. 

  23. ^ “jQuery Conference 2013”. jsconf.us. 2013. 

  24. ^ “Cascadia JS 2013”. cascadiajs.com. 2013. 

  25. ^ “Robots Conf 2014”. robotsconf.com. 2014. 

  26. ^ “Platzi Live review in Tech Crunch”. techcrunch.com. 2015. 

  27. ^ “Small Packages of Code Are the Biggest Thing in App-Making”. www.wired.com. 2015-04-15. 

  28. ^ “Why Node.js is becoming the go-to technology in the Enterprise”. www.nearform.com. 2014-10-03. 

  29. ^ “Node.js Foundation Opens Up with Industry- and Community-wide Support”. www.linuxfoundation.org. 2015-06-16. 

  30. ^ “Node.js at PayPal”. www.paypal-engineering.com. 2013-11-22. 

  31. ^ “Microsoft Joins Industry in Move to Create Node.js Foundation”. msopentech.com. 2015-02-10. 

  32. ^ “Microsoft launches Node.js tools for Visual Studio”. techcrunch.com. 2013-11-21. 

  33. ^ Rose, Emily (April 2015). “Make: JavaScript Robotics”. O’Reilly Media. p. 272. ISBN 978-1-4571-8695-0. 

  34. ^ “NodeBots main page”. nodebots.io. 2015. 

  35. ^ “Reactive podcast”. reactive.audio. 2015. 

  36. ^ “Contributions by Raquel Vélez”. The Pastry Box. 2014. 

  37. ^ “Programación de robots con Javascript”. PlatziLIVE. 2015-04-16. 

  38. ^ “013: With Raquel Vélez”. Ghostalk. 2014-05-19. 

  39. ^ “JSJ Robots with Raquel Vélez”. DevChat.TV. 2014-09-04. 

  40. ^ “Controlling Robots with node.js and Johnny-Five with Raquel Vélez”. Hansel minutes. 2013-10-04. 

  41. ^ “A gentle introduction to node.js with Raquel Vélez”. Hansel minutes. 2013-06-14. 

  42. ^ “Women Who Node”. Twitter. 2015. 

  43. ^ “Latism”. Twitter. 2015. 

  44. ^ “Needles”. The Pastry Box. 2014-08-04. 

  45. ^ “No boys allowed: Girls Who Code takes on gender gap”. USA today. 2014-08-15. 



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Forget Resolutions, I've Got a Project

It’s that time of year again.

The New Year’s Resolution. (More like the New Year’s Promise Yourself You’ll Be Better At That Thing You’ll Forget You Promised Yourself You’d Be Better At In Two Months, amirite?)

I used to be a Resolutionist. I’ve made all sorts of resolutions over the years: go to the gym, hike every weekend, stop swearing… Yeah, none of these lasted more than a month, at best.

But not this year.

This time, I’ve got an end-of-year project (EOYP) that will require effort all year long to accomplish: by the end of 2015, I’m going to sew my own pair of jeans!

(Except I don’t know how to sew… yet.)

Here’s the beauty of this plan:

  • My project is complex enough that it will actually take me all year to complete it. (And if it doesn’t, that’s okay, too - I can just adjust my goal to be another level or two up, like a fancy dress or a jacket or something similarly slick!)
  • Given that I’m starting at zero, it will take time and patience to get to the goal line.
  • I’ve clearly identified my project as a SMART goal, so I know when I’m done (and can’t wiggle my way out of it on some weird technicality).

If you’d like to join me in my End of Year Project-ing, please do! I recommend picking a tangible, difficult goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

Examples of EOYPs that should really just stay resolutions:

  • Lose weight
  • Learn to __
  • Travel
  • Go to the moon

Examples of excellent EOYPs:

  • Teach a 45-minute yoga class to a group of strangers
  • Cook a six-course meal for ten of your closest friends
  • Speak in German to Germans in Germany
  • Give a talk on interstellar travel at a space conference

Again: if you manage to accomplish these goals long before the end of the year, just step the goal up a notch! At least then you can still say you accomplished something awesome, instead of looking back on your year and thinking “wow, I didn’t last past February.”

I can’t tell you how excited I am for my EOYP (and all the smaller sewing projects that will hapen in the meantime)! In fact, I’m so excited that I’ve already signed up for my first sewing class on the 2nd (I’ll be making a pillow :-D). AND I’ve done the unimaginable and joined Pinterest.

Oh the projects I have in mind for learning all the skills I need to make this pair of jeans!

I’m hoping to blog about my sewing adventures throughout the year, but let’s go ahead and admit that “blog about sewing” is about as useful as many of my other previous resolutions, yes? ;-)

What’s your EOYP? I’d love to know!

Let's Go, Chapter 4!

New Year’s Eve, 2014: I’ve officially been a web developer/software engineer for three (3) years now.

Wow.

To catch up on my journey, you can read all about my decision to become a web developer, the big move to SF (aka the mecca of all things node), and my totally phoning-it-in post because I couldn’t talk about what my plans were yet.

And then, if you’re still with us, you can watch me talk about my journey in Evolution of a Developer.

The ride hasn’t stopped (or even slowed down, really). This year, I spoke at nine (9) events in places like Melbourne, Australia; Waterford, Ireland; and Berlin, Germany. In addition, I wrote every month for The Pastry Box Project and did a bunch of podcasts, including NodeBots: LIVE!, which debuted at JSConf US 2014 and continued at RobotsConf 2014.

Over the last twelve months, I spent a lot of time focusing on community, from continuing to expand the NodeBots community to mentoring students and junior developers.

But I think the best part of 2014 (in terms of being a software engineer), was when I joined the npm, Inc. team in February. As the first employee, I knew what I was joining was special, but it’s only been as the team and company have grown and matured that it’s really dawned on me how fortunate I am.

On this day in 2011, I set out on a journey to Build a Better Internet. I knew virtually nothing about the web, but I was ready to dive in and learn everything I possibly could.

Three years later, I help build the tools that help everyone build a better Internet.

For 2015, I’ll be continuing on in node (io.js?), focusing primarily on giving back to this community that has given me so much. I won’t be giving as many talks next year as I have this year (gosh, I’m exhausted!), but I’ll definitely be around on the Internet.

May 2015 be a year of growth, challenge, and opportunity for you; I know it will be for me <3

Eating in California, Puerto Rican style

When I moved to California for college, I seriously missed my Dad’s cooking. His cooking… is great. It’s really the best.

So he sent me a few recipes, just so I could start cooking on my own. I’ve been using them for years now, and now my friends are asking for the delicious details!

The following are the entire contents of the Word doc that my Dad sent me back in 2004. I’ve left the content word for word, but have added my own formatting. (Dad jokes? What dad jokes?)

These recipes are near and dear to me, and I hope y’all get a chance to partake and enjoy some of the best food you’ve ever had in your life <3


Dude, this is the scoop! I was going to send you the recipe book I have in English but after looking through it, I think it sucks. Not only the translations are bad, it has different recipes. So I opted for sending some copies of the Spanish book and discovered that I do not follow it that closely anyway (I used to, though!). Therefore, pay attention because here it comes…

The secret is in the basics… Basic “sofrito” and basic “relleno”. The basic sofrito is used everywhere you need to make a “guisado” (stew) such as “asopao”, chicken stew, beef stew, “arroz con pollo”, etc. The “relleno” is for the “pastelón”, “empanadillas”, “piononos”, etc. and here they are.

Sofrito Básico (4-6 people)

1 onion (medium)
1 green pepper (the elongated kind)
4 cloves of garlic (about one per person)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of oregano
1/4 teaspoon of cilantro
pinch on black pepper
6 to 12 olives (optional)
4 oz. of smoked ham (optional)
4 oz. tomato sauce
Olive oil and apple vinegar (the brown one, it’s THE BEST)
1 packet of Sazón with achiote (optional)
2 pounds of meat

The onion and pepper should be finely chopped and the garlic should be minced to get the most flavor. To make it easier, you can use the already minced garlic that comes in jars. In that case, use a tablespoon of the garlic instead of the four cloves. You can’t go wrong with garlic.

In the same pot of your main dish, pour a few tablespoons of olive oil (enough to cover the bottom) and crank the heat up to 70% (med-high). I like to use ham for most dishes except fish so if you like to use ham, start with that and cook it until it browns. Throw in the onions, green pepper and garlic and a few drops of vinegar and let it sauté for a few minutes (5) and stir occasionally (do not let it stick to the bottom). During these five minutes throw in the rest of the ingredients. And that’s it!

Actually, after the few minutes, you can throw in the meat (chicken, beef, pork, rice, yes even rice). For any meat, let it cook for a few more minutes (10 to 15) until the meat loses the reddish color. It is best if at this time you cover the pot and let it cook a bit, turning it. The rest is based on what you want done. TO BE CONTINUED…

Relleno de Carne Molida

Sofrito Básico
2 pounds of Ground Beef

Not much to say here, just use ground beef and let it cook at 40-50% (med-low to med) heat for 30 minutes.

These are the basics (the foundation). After this, the rest is a snap. But before we go on, we need the essentials, rice and beans. So rather than making it too complicated at first, let’s do the “white” rice and the beans.

White Rice (4 people)

2 cups of white-rice
2 to 3 cups of water
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
2 oz salted pork (tocino) - optional

The “tocino” is optional but if you cannot find any, I sometimes use bacon (the most greasy one I can find). The idea is to fry the “tocino” (bacon) to get the fat out and use it to cook the rice. It gives the rice a nice smoky taste that Puerto Ricans love.

Anyway, after getting the fat out of the bacon, or not, pour the oil and let it heat up at 70% heat. Throw in the rice and the salt and feel like you are frying the rice. The rice will kind of roast a little bit (DON’T LET IT BURN!) while it starts to soak the oil/fat. While hot, throw in some water until the rice is covered by no more than 1/2 inch over the top. Too much water will result in happy-rice and too little will leave it uncooked. Again, this is a matter of trial an error. Stir after you reach the desired amount of water and let it cook “covered” for 10 to 15 minutes until the water is absorbed into the rice. You will know it is time when the rice is not boiling anymore and it is not spitting either (it is almost dry but not exactly). Once you get to this point, turn over the rice, lower the heat to 30-50% (low-med to med), cover it, and let it cook for another 30 minutes until done. You will need to turn it over once or twice during that period.

TIP: If you feel that you have too much water then leave the pot open so that some water will evaporate instead of being absorbed. On the other hand, if after the 10/20 minutes of cooking you notice the rice is not cooking (the grain is still whole, not split or hard) just sprinkle some water and continue the cooking until it splits.

Beans (the magical fruit)

1/2 Sofrito Básico
2 15oz cans of Cooked Beans

Simple… Substitute the beans for the meat and let it rip (simmer) for 30 minutes in medium to low heat. Just add another tablespoon of olive oil for flavor, a bit of water to make them fluid, and perhaps a diced potato. If you add potatoes, this will be your cooking time measurement (when the potatoes are soft using a fork, the beans are done). Also, do not forget to stir it occasionally. The heat level should be enough to get the stuff to a moderate boil (simmering). (Trial and error babe, just trial and error…)

OK… Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s add some meat, shall we?

Pollo guisado (4-6 people)

2 pounds of chicken parts (dark meat is best) without the skin
1 pound of potatoes (approx. 3 med size)
1 15oz can of diced tomatoes (optional)
1 carrot or other veggies (optional)
Sofrito Básico
A pinch more salt

Follow the recipe for the sofrito and use the chicken for the meat. Because of the meat type, you may need more salt so you either add a 1/4 teaspoon more or, better yet, sprinkle lightly the meat with salt. If you decide to use the diced tomatoes (which I recommend), add it with the chicken so they cook for a bit. After the last step of the recipe, when the chicken is pale looking (not reddish), add water until the chicken is covered. Note that the more water you add, the more soupy it’s gonna get! So use your judgment…

After 20 to 30 minutes of simmering, dice the few potatoes and veggies and add them to the mix. Once again, the potatoes will determine when the stuff is done as in the beans recipe (maybe another 30 to 45 minutes).

Asopao de Camarones (4-6 people)

1 to 2 pounds of uncooked shrimp
Sofrito Básico
few drops of hot sauce (optional for kick)
1 cup of rice
water galore

Yes, that’s right! Follow the sofrito recipe and replace the meat with shrimp. BUT, the shrimp cooks so fast that we need to hold them until the end. You should use the uncooked shrimps instead of the cooked ones (brown versus pink) because they will not get too gummy and you get more flavor.

Anyway, follow the sofrito recipe and use the rice instead of meat. Let the rice soak the juices a bit (5 minutes) and add water galore. I would say three times as much as when cooking rice (we are making soup, aren’t we?). Put to simmer for about 30 minutes until the rice sponges and the mix starts to get the asopao consistency. You can now add the shrimp and cook for another fifteen or 30 minutes. You can add more water if it is too thick. Consider that asopao is more soup than rice and as it cools down it will get even thicker. THIS IS GOOD GRUB! ENJOY!

Arroz con Pollo (4-6 people)

1 to 2 pound of chicken parts (cut in halves if possible)
Sofrito básico
2 to 3 cups of rice (Uncle Ben’s if possible)
1 red bell pepper (on sweet side)
water

Kind of follow the directions for “pollo guisado” but hold the veggies including the tomatoes and add a red bell pepper. Simmer the mix half way (not to completion) for about 15 minutes, and add the rice. Now it is like making rice! Make sure that you have enough water to cover the rice and follow directions for cooking rice.

TIP: I like to use Uncle Ben’s rice on non-white rice recipes because it is more forgiving when it comes to water. It takes a bit longer to split but I like the consistency at the end. More of a fluffy texture rather than a happy rice.

Mushrooms, I don-like-no-stinking-mushrooms. But I’m a fungi…

Sauté mushrooms

1 pound of mushrooms (a box)
1 onion
4 garlic cloves
Soy sauce
Apple vinegar
Olive oil

Nothing could be easier. Just finely chop the onions and mince the garlic. You can use the already minced garlic in jars (take a tablespoon or so). Garlic is GOOD!

In a frying pan, pour some olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic for a few minutes (no more than 2) with a sprinkle of vinegar. Add the mushrooms either sliced or however you prefer and add some soy sauce for flavor. If you are going to have the mushrooms as a side dish, you can cut the mushrooms in heads and tails. However, if you are going to use it as a base with steak or pork chops, then sliced works best.

Remember that soy sauce is salty so do not put too much (a tablespoon or so should be fine). Just use your nose on this one. You want some fluid consistency but not watery. Use both the olive oil and the soy sauce to get the consistency, while keeping the saltiness in check.

Meat with mushrooms

1 to 2 pounds of Meat
Sautéed mushrooms
Salt and pepper

When making meat with mushrooms (in a mushroom bed), I found that searing the meat first. Just slightly baste the meat with salt and pepper (no more than that) and throw in a pan with a little bit of olive oil. Do this on both sides until the surface of the meat loses its reddish color. Then take the meat away and in the same pan, sauté the mushrooms as in the previous recipe (just remember to slice the mushrooms). Once they are slightly sautéed (5 minutes), add the meat and let it cook in low to medium heat until the meat is done.

How about plantains you ask? Well, here are a few recipes…

Pastelón de Plátanos

2 pounds Relleno de carne (one of the basic recipes)
5 to 6 ripe plantains (big mamas not tinny winnies)
6 eggs
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 15oz can of green beans (optional)

This recipe is good for a 9 by 13 by 2 baking dish, which could easily feed 8. A smaller dish will require the proportion of the dish volume (an engineer should know what this means).

The challenge of this recipe is the handling of the plantains. To start, they should be very ripe, almost at the point of going bad. To the touch this means, not hard, but firm (not mushy either). From the outside they look past yellow and perhaps turning black. Actually, if they are black, just squeeze them a little to check how firm they are (one more of those trial and error things).

Second, you need to slice them in at least four slices. This has a lot to do with the firmness of the plantains. If they are too soft, it is going to be a mess to slice (unless you have a slicer, such as a cheese slicer) but you can make thicker slices. If they are too hard, then it is easier to slice but you have to make thinner slices or else you are going to end up with leather in your dish. My trick is to have them in the soft side (not mushy) and slice them with a knife (I hate to clean the slicer afterward) with the skin on. First slice the plantain in half then slice the halves in half. Then take the skin off.

Third, you must fry the slices or else they will dry out when baked and they will not release their sweetness. So, take the slices and fry them slightly. Take them out when they get golden not brown and place them in a plate for later handling.

And now we are ready for the construction of our masterpiece.

Make the meat filling as per the recipe if you have not done yet, making sure you do the right proportions for the dish size.
Take the baking dish and apply butter, lard, or SPAN to it to prevent it from sticking.
Batter the eggs in a small bowl with the salt like when making an omelet.
Cover the bottom of the dish with a layer of plantains (two, if you have enough) so that the gaps are not more than cracks. Crossing the layers is best!
Pour half of the battered eggs over the plantains layers to cover the cracks and spread if necessary. This will also serve to hold the plantains together.
Pour the cooked meat on top and level it. Hey, the stuff has to be perfectly aligned or else we run the risk of altering the balance of the cosmos…
Add the green beans if you decide to do so. I don’t do it myself. Some people (that I do not want to mention) are not very fond of green beans. Anyway, level it as well.
Add the rest of the plantain in layers as before. Best if you can have two layers but one can do as well. Just make sure you do not have big gaps between slices.
Finally, add the rest of the egg and spread if necessary as before.

That’s it dude! Put it in the oven at 350F for 30 minutes and you can PIGOUT…

How about something quick like fritters? Well, I’m glad you asked…

Empanadillas de carne

1/4 of Relleno de Carne
Plantillas de trigo (like Mexican tortillas but made out of flour not corn)

The most difficult part is the “plantillas” (disks). I could tell you how to make them but it is a lot easier if you buy them (provided you can).

Simply take the disk, put 1 or 2 tablespoons of the cooked relleno into the disk, fold it and fry. Once the fritter bubbles up or goldens, it is ready. A glass of milk, and you are ready for the next meal…

What about sweets? Well, sorry. I was going to tell you about flan, but making the caramel alone is enough to make your head spin for a while. Instead, you can buy cakes or cookies (or fruit if that’s your style). Actually, it is not that difficult but you have to do it once to experience it. Actually, here it goes.

Flan de Vainilla

5 eggs
a pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups of sugar
1 14oz can evaporated milk
1 can condensed milk
1 teaspoon of Vanilla

In a square baking dish (I use a corning ware 9 by 2 square dish), place 2 cups of sugar. Add a bit of water, enough to get the sugar wet but not runny. You do not want a lake, you just want to see the sugar wet. Place the dish on the stove and let it heat up at 30-40% (low) heat until then sugar caramelizes. The trick here is to cover the dish so that the sugar does not dry too fast. You may see that the sugar starts caramelizing in spots not uniformly. That’s ok! Just take the dish (WITH GLOVES! IT’S HOT!) and stir the dish to make it uniform. Do not use any spoon to stir because the caramel will stick to the spoon and God help to get it out. Anyway, you may need to do this stirring a couple of times until the caramel gets a nice golden-brown color (more brown than gold but not brown).

Once the caramel gets to its desired color, take it away from the stove (again with gloves), take the lid off, and start spreading the caramel around the dish, by turning it around, until it covers the dish almost to the top of the dish (perhaps as close as 1/4 inch from the top lip). Keep spreading until the caramel cannot run anymore (it is too cold to flux). Do not stop the spreading while it is still too hot or else the caramel to settle at the bottom. Not good! It shows no craftsmanship!

For the flan itself, get a big bowl (between 2 and 3 quarts) and throw in the eggs, and a pinch of salt, and mix until an omelet like consistency. Add the rest of the sugar, the milk, and the vanilla. I am using condensed milk lately but you can also use 2 cans of evaporated milk instead of 1 and 1. If that’s the case add another 1/2 cup of sugar to the mix (condensed milk is already sweet).

Before baking the stuff, get another baking dish as deep as the one with the caramel but bigger for the bath. I use the 9inch square for the caramel and the 12inch for the bath. Fill a little bit less than half of this new dish with water and put it in the oven at 325F. For the right amount of water, I place the caramel dish inside the bath dish and add the water. Then take the caramel dish out and VOALA, le done! Let the bath in the oven until it reaches the desired temperature, pour the flan mix in the caramel dish (by now the caramel should be cooled and should crackle when you pour the flan mix), and carefully, immerse then flan dish in the bath.

The flan should take between 1 to 1 1/2 hours to cook. I usually let it run for an hour straight, and check every 10 minutes thereafter until done. To test if it is done, I use the toothpick trick (you can use any pointy instrument, really). Just poke the flan in the middle with the toothpick all the way to the bottom and take it out. If the toothpick is wet or you see thick creamy stuff, it is not done. The toothpick should come out clean or at least with dry crud.

Once done, take it out of the oven and let cool down. Then place in the refrigerator for a few hours and turn into a big plate. The caramel should be liquefied by now so it should run into the turning plate. Get a plate that is both big and with a slight lip to hold the juices. DIG IN! ENJOY!

NOTE: If you manage to complete this recipe, do not attempt to make it more than once a month. It could have serious consequences to your figure.

And this, is in a nutshell how we cook…

Actually, if you have been paying attention, it is all a series of building blocks. From here, the sky is the limit. Change the type of meat in the “Sofrito Basico” and you get a whole gamete of dishes. Just keep in mind that some meats are tougher than others (such as beef) so they need more time to tenderize. In this case, either use a pressure cooker for 25 minutes, or hold the veggies in the stew until the meat is nice and tender. If you add the veggies before the meat is ready, you will end up with a mush and meat.

Not only that, but the amount of water will change the stuff from a dish to eat with rice to a soup. Take for instance the shrimp asopao. Replace the rice with noodles, and the shrimp with chicken and you get “chicken soup”.

Shrimp pasta you asked! What are we talking about here? It’s just shrimp stew on a bed of pasta. Well, pasta is a no-brainer and the shrimp stew, well, it is chicken stew substituting the chicken with shrimp. BUT, since we are going over pasta, which most people like it with tomato sauce, then we go a little heavier on the tomatoes (in this case diced tomatoes), and we add a bit more oregano and basil to make it more on the Italian side. IS THIS SIMPLE ENOUGH?

What about “arroz con gandures”? - yes, it is gandures not gandules. Just follow the “arroz con pollo” recipe and substitute the chicken with a little bit of pork (pieces of pork chops will do) and add a couple of cans of pigeon peas and you are done. HOW’S THAT FOR A REVELATION! It’s all in the chemistry! Trial an error, babe, just trial and error…

People

Remember Oprah? She had a show for 25 years, and I only ever watched one episode in its entirety: the last one. In it, Oprah spoke, from the heart, about herself and the lessons she’s learned over the years.

Say what you want about Oprah, but after 4,560 episodes the woman has got to have some keen insights on people. And when presented with an opportunity to learn, I darn well pay attention.

Here, then, is my distillation of Oprah’s lessons over a quarter of a century of interacting with people, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, gender, religion, ability, fame, fortune, political persuasion, childhood, wardrobe, you name it:

  1. Everyone has a purpose. Spend your time finding yours, and then live it out.
  2. You are responsible for your own life. Stuff that you can’t control happens to you, good and bad, but how you choose to move forward from those experiences is totally up to you.
  3. Everyone - everyone - wants and needs to feel validated. Accepting and acknowledging that this desire is innate to every person with whom you come in contact will only help you.
  4. The world is bigger than you. You are not alone, for better or for worse.
  5. You don’t get to where you want to be without a dream, a team, and a plan.

Though I’m not sure her methodology was particularly scientific, I can’t help but feel like this is one of the greatest sociological breakthroughs of the twenty-first century. Oprah figured people out, and then had the audacity to share her findings with the rest of us.

I know I’m not the perfect example of the empathetic human, but I read those lessons, and I know I want to be better.

I hope you do, too.

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This was originally posted on The Pastry Box Project at https://the-pastry-box-project.net/raquel-velez/2014-november-18