2.04.2019

It Could Happen To You

MAJOR TRIGGER WARNING FOR CHILD ABUSE, SUICIDE, AND SEXUAL/PHYSICAL/EMOTIONAL ABUSE. VERY MAJOR. Even if this isn't a trigger for you, I'd suggest putting up a picture of a cute baby animal in another window and maybe taking a break here and there while reading.

For anyone who missed it, this past weekend, twenty-one vile "human beings" in Georgia were arrested for soliciting sex from children, a massive sting known as Operation Interception. Among those caught was a popular gaming personality who I, and many others, considered a friend.

It wasn't just an overwhelming feeling of disgust and betrayal at the actions of this person -- whose name I'm not giving the extra traffic/clicks -- that I felt. The more reports that began surfacing of his questionable behavior, the faster the room around me spun. I've spoken previously about how my complex post-traumatic stress disorder led me to obsessively study criminology and psychology in an attempt to understand how a person can perpetrate such evil deeds, to find some warning sign that I could cling to and ensure that it would Never Happen Again, either to me or anyone else out there.

What I have not spoken about freely is one of the major sources of my CPTSD. I tried to write a blog post about it multiple times. I'd get to the end and delete the whole thing once fear for my safety took over. I tried to submit an application to the RAINN Speakers' Bureau but never managed to hit "send," despite my desire to find some good use for what I survived. Once I even got brave enough to mention it in a tweet, but was instantly accosted by someone chastising me for saying such a thing because it could negatively affect my fiance's career and family. I ended up deleting the tweet and spent the next three days, sleepless, crying on the couch because I felt like I was a liability and a burden and would destroy everyone around me because of the actions of one disgusting adult when I was a young teenager.

Children of Operation Inception, I am speaking to you today as an adult survivor of sex trafficking. I am here to tell you that you can continue living after someone does something so unspeakable to you. I am here to tell you that there is hope, and that it is not your fault, and that although I can't make the nightmares and the hypervigilance and what feels like the complete and utter destruction of your soul go away, I can let you know that you're not alone.

The grooming process began when I was fifteen years old. I was already vulnerable thanks to reprehensible actions by my biological father, the very least of which was driving my prepubescent self past strip clubs and streets populated by sex workers and telling me "You'll end up there someday" (and trust me, it got much, much worse from there). I was otherwise very sheltered, raised in a conservative, pious family of either immigrants or first-generation Americans. I did not meet the European standards of beauty. I had spent my childhood being emotionally abused and used as a pawn in arguments between family members. I was born as the product of sexual coercion to a young mother who never wanted children but saw no other way to stop the various abuses of her husband. All I wanted was someone to take me away from my home life and love me the way I had always wanted to be loved.

It started like some kind of after-school special, on the internet. He'd found my chat profile and despite the fact that it very clearly stated I was underage, immediately began sending me sexually explicit messages and trying to convince me to engage in cybersex with him. I was absolutely disgusted and humiliated by what he was saying. I told him to leave me alone, that it was wrong for a man in his 20s to be going after someone my age. But he persisted. He wore me down.

I don't know why I didn't just block him. All I can say is that while Current Me, a woman in her 30s, is wise enough to reach for the "Block" button when someone is terrible, Teenage Me had no idea how to handle what I was experiencing. I didn't even know what half of the stuff he was referencing meant, it was so deviant.

In between the torrent of obscenity and descriptions of sexual acts he wanted to do to me so perverse they'd make the Marquis de Sade seriously consider a monastic life, he told me the things I'd always wished for: that I was pretty, that I was smart, that I was wanted. He'd also tell me I was worthless, that I was only good for sex, but then defend it by saying he was into BDSM and that was how you talked to a slave.

He told me he wanted me to come visit him. I lied to my mother because I knew she'd never let me go be with who, by that point, I'd been brainwashed into believing was the only person who'd ever love me and managed to convince her to let me visit a "friend" out of state.

I was a virgin when I met him in person for the first time. I consented to sex, but what he did to me was so rough that I could barely walk and couldn't pee for an hour afterwards. If I cried, he did it harder, and told me that he wouldn't tolerate being told "no" -- that he was doing to me what everyone does to whores. I later learned that this was referred to as "breaking in" a victim.

The games he was playing with my head increased once I returned home. He'd break up with me for displeasing him, only to suddenly message me two days later like nothing had happened. When I found out a year later that he'd had a local, serious girlfriend the whole time, he claimed it was polyamory and then started pitting the two of us against each other for his own amusement.

Remember that this whole time, I was still underage.

There are those who question why my family didn't step in or know what was happening. Reason number one is because at this point in history, I was a teenager with a computer of her own, a luxury that my parents didn't have growing up, so from a technological standpoint I was leaps and bounds ahead of my mother on what I could hide from her online. I never got into serious trouble as a kid. I was a handful, and at this point I was having some severe emotional and physical outbursts, but it was chalked up to typical teenage hormones.

Reason number two is because predators like this excel at convincing you that this is what you want. In reality, it is not what you want. Nobody could ever want this. Was I a typical teenager? Yes, and the majority of teenagers will lie to their parents and sneak off to see friends without having to worry about being turned into a sex slave. Hell, they should be able to do so. Testing boundaries and learning consequences for behavior is a major part of childhood development. But this is exactly what predators take advantage of. They know that kids are vulnerable and not yet wise to the ways of the world. They know that it just takes patience and persistence with the right kid, preferably one from a broken home or with prior issues of their own, to turn them into a sex slave.

Eventually convinced me to come live with him since now we could publicly be together. I still saw it as going off to a castle in the clouds with my Prince Charming. My relationship with my mother and her new boyfriend were at rock bottom. I thought I was escaping when in reality I was heading for something so, so much more terrible.

You see, now I was of legal age. I was less exciting, less interesting to him than I was when I was still a kid. Suddenly, "living with him" became "living with his friends" in a dingy apartment. I was only rarely allowed to visit his apartment or stay over, and if I did, he'd throw a blanket over me and tell me to stay quiet and still should anyone come to the door. He would tell them how irresponsible and troublesome I was to diminish my credibility should I ever try to complain. He would do things like lend them money, but then hold me responsible for part of or all of the debt, or "surprise" me with a cell phone I didn't ask for so that he could keep in contact with me 24/7 -- but of course, I was expected to pay the bill.

I tried working a part-time job at the mall. It simply wasn't enough money to pay rent and keep paying off the mounting debts I was handed.

I remember the day that he made his suggestion to me was a day he'd taken me out to lunch, in a rare show of affection. "I know a way you could put your talents to use and make some real money," he said.

The club he brought me to is no longer in existence. Turns out that since I escaped, it was raided and shut down by police. Given the fact that most of the women I worked with were desperate immigrants from South America who did not hold their own passports, who routinely disappeared to be taken to other, rougher clubs for bad behavior, and who would live with the club owner as his "girlfriend" for a time before he put them onstage and made another trip to recruit more "girlfriends," this was not entirely surprising. But when this is all being normalized for you -- when no matter how much your brain is yelling "THIS DOESN'T FEEL RIGHT!", you've got older, wiser people telling you that it's totally fine, and you've got nowhere else to go...

I was raped multiple times at the club by clients. Management turned a blind eye. I don't remember a lot of specifics about my time at the club. I remember managing to leave for what I thought was a reputable secretarial job I'd found in the classified ads, only to find that my boss was in tight with the owners of the club and the business itself was a front for other illegal activities. In retrospect, now I understand why they let me "get away" in the first place -- I wasn't going far. After they let me have my little bit of freedom, they fired me over a small typo in a document I'd produced, and I had no other options but to go back to the club.

No other options because at this point my breakfast was an 8-ounce glass of vodka and a cigarette, and I was having sedatives poured down my throat by the other girls who were trying to stop me from crying so that management wouldn't overhear and I wouldn't be sent off to one of the other clubs. I was strung out or drunk at any given time, so not exactly hireable. The predator who lured me there in the first place had lost interest in me at this point, claiming he couldn't be associated with a sex worker. He'd poisoned the tenuous relationship I had with my landlords in the first place, driving home the fact that I was nothing but a whore and an addict. They began destroying my property to punish me, emotionally abusing me, accusing me of trying to steal from them and demanding that I hand over more and more of my money. I couldn't have just packed up and gone home on my own. I was too far gone to know that I deserved anything else and I had no savings because of how much I had to pay out to everyone around me.

I had been in contact with my family via phone a few times to let them know where I was and that I was alive. They even knew what I was doing. When I got the courage to tell them, it had started as a cry for help. But I caved immediately afterwards. I swore up and down that I was happy with my lot in life while hoping that they would put their foot down and come get me anyway and then I would never have to admit how stupid I'd been, how much I'd been taken advantage of while still getting away. I fed the same lines to my friends who showed concern. To the doctors who expressed concerns about my constant kidney infections and physical appearance during exam.

I was, at least physically, an adult -- by this point I'd been so traumatized that mentally I was, and still am, closer to a teenager. This meant that every single one of them had no real choice but to take me at my word. If my family had stomped their feet and demanded I come home, sight unseen, they knew they risked losing me altogether because of how thoroughly my mind had been worked over.

Until my mother came to visit. I'd just gotten out of the hospital from a suicide attempt. She saw how skinny I was -- I didn't have enough money for food, so I was living off of whatever I could convince a client to buy me in exchange for sex, the only currency I had left -- saw the conditions I was living under, saw the hollow look in my eyes. She managed to get me on a plane to come home, and in doing so, saved my life.

We have never spoken about the details of what happened to me during that time in my life, and never will, because I know she will blame herself, even though none of it was her fault, and in the end she was the one who dragged me back from the brink without realizing it. I even warned her that I was making this blog post and that she should avoid reading it. Because the predators don't just destroy their victims; they decimate the families and friends of their victims. They torment people who have had similar experiences. They manipulate and ruin credibility and do everything they can to continue being able to pick off the proverbial sheep from the flock, undetected.

I never went to the authorities about what happened to me, and I never will. The statute of limitations has passed, and any evidence there may once have been is long gone, which is why I'm not naming names -- there would be no happy outcome where the predator ends up in jail and I get to move on with my life knowing he'll never hurt anyone again. He's not a celebrity. He's no one of great import. You wouldn't recognize his face in the crowd. I can't even prove that he ever did to anyone else what he did to me, although the statistics are pretty clear that offenders like this are rarely one-offs. If I gave identifying information, I'd likely just end up getting sued for libel with no way to prove my case.

I suffered for years trying to move past it and was only able to do so with intensive EMDR therapy. Even still, I occasionally have nightmares that I'm still at the club. I see the faces of the other women in my daydreams. At least I no longer see his. By speaking about the worst time of my life, I hope that someone else will realize they're not alone, that it is possible to survive. That this kind of thing happens every day, not in far-flung countries around the world, but right at home, in modern cities, in modern countries, under our noses. That you can have a real, fulfilling life afterwards, and that someday you will find somebody who really loves you instead of hurting you, and you will confide your past to them, and for the first time in your life, you will hear those precious words:

"It wasn't your fault."

7.29.2018

The Fatigue of War

Although I'm no longer playing World of Warcraft, I purchased the Battle for Azeroth expansion as a just-in-case measure -- I learned my lesson years ago when I neglected to buy Cataclysm until all of the collector's editions were long gone and we were on the cusp of Pandaria, something I've always regretted. The pre-patch has dropped and people are flocking back to the game to get as much stuff done before the new expansion is live in all of its glory.

And for just a brief moment my finger hovered over the "Play" button in my Blizzard launcher.

But the ugliness I've seen flooding Twitter and other social media sites, with some players taking the "pick your faction" promotion way past the point of good fun, made me sit back and really wonder why the World of Warcraft community seemed to be prone to so much toxicity versus other MMOs out there.

Numbers are a consideration, sure. When you've got a bigger sample size of players, you're bound to find more of the squeaky wheels out there than you would with a smaller MMO. But I've been playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn -- a game I've been playing on and off since its release, much like World of Warcraft -- and even with its comparable popularity, I've never known toxicity to be the norm.

One of the big differences between FFXIV and WoW is that there's no faction system in the former. You have Grand Companies instead, which are chosen purely for aesthetic/roleplay reasons, and are shown to work together rather than against each other. There's the Wolves' Den battle arena where you can play a friendly wargame while representing your Grand Company, but that's it for PvP options. The only "us vs. them" mentality that's heavily stressed is everyone's characters versus the baddie NPCs -- you fight monsters, not each other.

World of Warcraft has always highlighted the differences between the Horde and Alliance, promoting the separate factions as an identity choice since the get-go and returning to its red vs. blue roots with Battle for Azeroth. Yes, players fight monsters, but they're also encouraged to fight themselves, with Horde players boasting that Alliance are noobs and Alliance insisting that the Horde are the biggest jerks of all. While I'd wager that most players out there still consider it as tongue-in-cheek, the environment that it fosters is one of competition and supremacy instead of cooperation and acceptance.

And with the State of the Real World these days... good Lord, I'm just plain burnt-out on all of that.

This isn't intended as a piece to crap all over World of Warcraft and promote FFXIV. Ultimately I enjoy both games, though certainly less lately in the case of WoW -- and I'm definitely not suggesting that video games cause wars or school shootings. But in today's climate, I just can't handle any more divisiveness. I can't handle being told that my fellow players are somehow less awesome because they're sporting the wrong colors. In a way, I feel that game studios who continually release violent shooters or strongly promote faction as identity are being irresponsible with the power they have over us all. Video games can be a vehicle for so much; they're an escape for many, who see it as more than just an interactive story, but a second home. When that second home too closely echoes the home they're trying to escape from... well, you see where I'm going with this, hopefully.

This is why I've been spending my time playing hidden object and puzzle games, or walking simulators, or crafting games, or hack-and-slash games where everyone cooperates to smash the bad guys -- and why I've really thrown myself back into FFXIV, where people apologize for potentially being perceived as "unfriendly" and band together not just against digital monsters, but work to quickly shut down the very few trolls that pop up. These are the games that I feel we need more of, that will let us still explore all sorts of stories and situations while teaching us to work together. The way we interact with people around us in the real world is directly influenced by the messages that we surround ourselves with, so especially today -- why not make them good ones?

5.14.2018

A CPPNow Travel Guide

Disclaimer: This blog focuses more on the travel and community aspects of CPPNow rather than the technical side -- if you're looking for the latter, there are (or will soon be) many trip reports written by people far more intelligent than I who cover this. I feel that the atmosphere and inclusiveness of a conference is just as important as how good the content is; if you disagree, this is not the blog for you.

Last year I put together The Beginner's Guide to CPPCon detailing my unexpected but incredibly pleasant adventures in Bellevue. I figured that would be my last report until CPPCon 2018, but life has a funny way of surprising you, in the form of more C++ conferences.

I'd heard of CPPNow -- formerly known as BoostCon -- from Ben, who attended the 2017 conference, but I didn't know much about it other than it featured much more advanced C++ content than CPPCon. When I asked if I should attend, he inadvertently scared me off of it by telling me I probably wouldn't get much out of the talks because they were so high-level. So when he asked me if I wanted to attend with him this year, I was more than a little wary.

CPPNow 2018 was hosted at the Aspen Physics Center which is easy walking distance of the Aspen Meadows Resort, where most of us were staying for the week. I'd never been to Colorado so I wasn't sure what to expect beyond much cooler weather than what I was used to in Southern California. Stepping off the plane at the Aspen airport, it wasn't just the high altitude that took my breath away.

Spoiler: it was this freaking scenery.
So picture this: you get to spend a week learning about all of the amazing advances in modern C++, helping to shape the future of the programming language, and you get to do it in an impossibly beautiful place. I mean... you can't really lose.

I would describe the Meadows resort as the type of place you'd expect to find yourself if you were a billionaire with fragile nerves who needed to go away for a while to rest. It's set on 40 acres of meadows, streams, and mountains, with multiple modern art installations and rooms that are more like apartments. There are no street lights at night, no traffic noises, none of that -- just peace and quiet with a view of the stars clearer than I've had in over a decade. Downtown Aspen is about a mile and a half away. If you don't want to rent a car and are in good health (unlike me, who stupidly overdid it and ended up almost unable to get out of bed just three days in), it's easily walkable. There's also a free shuttle running from the resort to the downtown area so that you can experience the amazing local restaurants at mealtimes or go shopping. Emphasis on local, by the way; you won't find many major chains in Aspen, especially when it comes to food or retail. There are three grocery stores, all independently owned, and their selection may be shockingly small if you're used to massive Safeway or Albertson's locations. Price-wise, though, they were on par with or slightly cheaper than what I'm used to paying in Orange County -- although a few folks from less expensive areas found the costs a bit surprising. It's still cheaper than room service or going out to eat for every meal, however; the average cost of lunch at one of the more reasonable restaurants was around $20 for food, drink, and tip per person.

Really, I figured I'd be spending most of my time on my own. I had met lots of folks briefly at CPPCon but I hardly expected they'd remember me, and there were still plenty of attendees who I hadn't met. What actually happened was I walked into the reception area, had a bunch of people wave at me, and then ended up pulled into conversation with people I'd never seen before in my life but were all quite happy to introduce themselves and welcome me into the fold. Whereas you might think a smaller conference like CPPNow, with an average of 150 or so attendees, would be clique-ish, this was absolutely not the case. The only way you can end up eating lunch at a table alone at this conference is if you choose to do so. Otherwise, people will wave you over and insist you sit with them and make you feel like a member of a wonderfully nerdy -- and actually fairly diverse -- family. One of the regular attendees had a birthday during the conference week, and everyone chipped in for a huge birthday cake to surprise him with at the meet-and-greet barbeque.

All in all, there was never a time at CPPNow where I felt unsafe or unwelcome, even though I'm still a C++ novice and more of a hobbyist than a career programmer. Tired, yes, since we were all up at 7 or earlier and usually not in bed before midnight or later, but it was well worth it.

I didn't get to attend all of the talks, but the handful that I did were very impressive indeed:

"Easy to Use, Hard to Misuse: Declarative Style in C++" by Ben Deane. Look, full disclosure: this is not just any Ben, it's my Ben. I try very hard not to be biased -- but it did win Best Session at the conference, so clearly I'm not the only one who thought it was amazing. I've always felt that one of Ben's strengths as a presenter is his ability to provide clear examples of easily implementable methods for improving your code in addition to showing off innovations in the code itself. He manages to give concrete explanations in a context where the information offered is often vague and open to interpretation; whereas other guides to declarative style may be full of buzzwords and meaningless statements, this talk gives actionable feedback on how we can make our code more readable and efficient if we only change our way of thinking about what we write. I'd wager that even less experienced C++ programmers could benefit from this talk, since I truly feel that the easiest way to learn best coding practices is to do so as close to the beginning of your education as possible in order to avoid being caught off-guard by dramatic shifts in expectations later on down the road.

"Making Your Library More Reliable with Fuzzing" by Marshall Clow. I've loved hidden object games, word searches, and other similar types of puzzles since I was a child. It should be no surprise, then, that testing and security are actually my two favorite aspects of programming. Thanks to Marshall, you, too, can learn more efficient and reliable ways to break things with the end goal of making a better library! This was one of the shorter talks at CPPNow, coming in at around 45 minutes, but it certainly was effective. Marshall gave a great overview of some of the more popular modern fuzzing tools out there and how to use them for maximum benefit. He's an engaging and passionate speaker who clearly knows his topic inside and out, and so is a very reliable authority, eager to answer questions as they pop up. I wish I'd seen this talk about a year and a half ago when I was still implementing automated tests as part of my day job -- it would have saved me an awful lot of confusion.

"Secure Coding Best Practices: Your First Line is the Last Line of Defense" by Matthew Butler. Honestly, this was the talk I was most looking forward to, and Matthew did not disappoint. With his security background in law enforcement and the military, he's definitely someone who knows what he's talking about when it comes to keeping your code shored up tight. I was relieved to see that he didn't sugarcoat the reality of the battle to ensure your infrastructure stays safe -- the reality, of course, being that there is no such thing as "completely safe" and that we must stay two steps ahead of malicious individuals out there looking to compromise our systems and information. Matthew excelled at pointing out common areas of vulnerability and how something that seems innocuous or like it's not a big deal can lead to severe consequences if left unchecked. To drive home the point, he executed a quick and simple buffer overflow attack during the talk; it should be pointed out that the particular method he used would only be effective against machines from the early 2000s or earlier, but even with modern architecture it's still a potential attack surface, and the results are just as devastating. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he writes a book someday, because I haven't been this excited about security matters since the first time I read Kevin Mitnick's The Art of Deception

The lightning talks. Twice during the week, there was a special evening session from 8 to 10pm of very informal lightning talks. Subjects ranged from the mindblowingly technical to the comedic -- Odin Holmes's extremely literal "lightning talk" springs to mind -- but there was also one by JeanHeyd Meneide, a.k.a. ThePhD, that spoke bravely and honestly about what it was like to grow up as a "smart kid" of color and feeling stuck between two worlds for a long time as a result. I'm anxious for video of that talk to come out on YouTube because it was a very valuable and necessary representation for any programmers of color who have ever felt similarly and goes a long way for promoting inclusiveness in tech. As far as code goes, Jeff Trull's live demo and demystification of the GDB Python API for debugging was a real favorite of mine, since I'm a proponent of combining my two favorite languages, C++ and Python, in all sorts of exciting and usable ways.

The main difference between talks at CPPNow and other conferences is that audience participation is almost a requirement. Rather than holding questions and challenges until the end of the speech, attendees are quick to -- very respectfully, I should add -- point out flaws in the presented code or suggest alternate methods for achieving desired results. Speakers at CPPNow need to be on their toes and ensure that they have a deep understanding of the subject they're discussing, but I want to emphasize that none of the "live feedback" was cruel or anything other than constructive. This is a conference for people who want to learn and discuss, rather than memorize the algorithms shown to them on a screen. Even after the sessions were officially over, the atmosphere at the reception center's social gathering was more reminiscent of listening to Socrates on the steps of the Parthenon than simply a party... although, of course, there was plenty of that, too.

Going home after a week of learning and socializing in such a great environment was hard. I'm counting down the days until the talk videos (and one episode of CppChat filmed at the conference itself!) are put up for viewing on YouTube. Will I be attending CPPNow 2019? Absolutely yes! It's become my favorite conference of the year. But until then, I've got CPPCon 2018 around the corner to keep those C++ fires burning.

PS: const west or die trying -- sorry, Jon!

3.15.2018

The One Decision I Never Thought I'd Make

You're unlikely to see me streaming World of Warcraft anytime in the near future.

Wow. There's a sentence I never thought I'd write.

I started playing in February 2005 after seeing my boyfriend at the time running around Stranglethorn Vale on his gnome rogue. "That looks like a fun game," I said. He rolled his eyes and gave me the most condescending smirk ever. "Yeah, right. You probably wouldn't like it." Of course, this made me even more determined to play it, and after 13 years of frolicking through Azeroth and a few years working for Blizzard itself, I think I can safely say screw you, dude.

I've seen the game evolve over the years and it's always been my Main Game, the one that I always end up running back to no matter how many other MMOs I've tried -- and there have been a whole heck of a lot of those -- and the one game where I've immersed myself in the minutiae, learning everything I possibly can about the mechanics and the lore. World of Warcraft is a big part of what lured me into the games industry in the first place. If ever there was a game for which I was proud to have my name in the credits, it was that one.

There's only been one other time I've thrown my hands up in the air and walked away from the game, and that was at the end of Wrath of the Lich King, when they announced that they were totally redoing Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor in Cataclysm. Nostalgia was running so high for me at that point that I was almost mortally offended over the idea of flooding Thousand Needles and changing the bosses in Deadmines. (Side note: I'm actually still mad about that last one.) But when I finally came back down to earth and gave it a chance, I realized there was really more good than bad with the changes to the world in Cataclysm -- both Plaguelands were actually fun now! -- and I solemnly swore that I would keep an open mind to any future changes, no matter how shocking, until I evaluated them myself.

I maintained a fair degree of neutrality when they announced leveling changes in preparation for the next expansion, Battle for Azeroth. After all, something that sounds odd on paper or computer screen still has the potential to succeed on actual implementation. I wasn't against the idea of slowing down the leveling process at all. In fact, I was often frustrated and felt slightly overwhelmed by the whirlwind tour of the questing zones that had me moving from one to the next before I could really finish the local storylines or get my gear all on the same level. It was appealing to think that I might be able to catch my breath and enjoy the scenery for a bit while I played. I also wasn't initially bothered by the concept of increasing mob difficulty to minimize the chance of one-shotting whatever you were fighting at level, as long as that difficulty increase wasn't severe enough to impinge on a player of average gear and skill's enjoyment.

And that's where the disappointment kicked in.

I finished the starting area quests for my death knight right before the patch with the leveling changes dropped, figuring he was as good a candidate to try out the new and hopefully improved experience, since death knights have in the past been notoriously "facerollable." If I couldn't make it on a death knight, I probably couldn't make it on anything.

I couldn't make it on the death knight.

The increase to the amount of experience required to level up wasn't bad at all. In fact, I thought that increase was incredibly reasonable. Scaling content level to the player's level in order to ensure you could actually complete a zone before out-leveling it felt great. I was excited to see that the quest rewards were also scaling accordingly. On the surface, everything seemed fine until I got about halfway through Outland.

Typically, if I die on a character I'm leveling, it's because I did something stupid, like went AFK in an unsafe place or ran off of a cliff. Once I started noticing the mobs' numbers going up, I was going down hard. Any quest that had me fighting a non-elite named mob guaranteed me multiple deaths in a row. Eventually I was unable to progress through the zone without Ben hopping onto his rogue and being my pocket assassin. I'd manage to get my gear to a certain agreeable plateau where it seemed more balanced against the damage output and toughness of mobs in the zone, and then just as quickly as that zen was reached, it all became a Sisyphean task again.

At first I thought I was just playing a death knight wrong. I talked to guild members who suggested the exact rotation and stat priority I was using. Closer inspection revealed to me that the real issue was gear not scaling as quickly as the mobs were. Yes, the item levels were going up, but the stats themselves were still not high enough to counteract the tougher mobs. The gear I needed to defeat them was the gear that the quest to defeat them was supposed to reward. The leveling process hadn't just slowed down; it had stalled.

Conversations with other players in the community have reinforced the idea that it isn't just me suddenly becoming useless at the game I've spent over a decade playing with six of those years spent in hardcore progression guilds. Once you hit Legion content, you're golden, because the power of the artifact weapons you get right off the bat is high enough to compensate for all but the very worst gearing issues. Getting to Legion, however, is so painful and unrewarding at this point that were I a more suspicious individual, I'd think it was all a conspiracy to drive Character Boost sales.

The workaround right now is to spend lots of time running dungeons and basically twink out your character -- load them up with the most optimal gear available for your level -- which theoretically allows you to survive leveling without too much trouble. The problem is that the experience gained in dungeons is lackluster at best, and the dungeons themselves now take longer to complete at level due to the mob difficulty increase, so for folks like me who don't have the opportunity or want to invest a lot of time into alt characters, it's an exercise in total misery.

My main character, the retribution paladin, is sitting at maximum level and is pretty well geared. She's killed Argus outside of LFR. She's gotten tons of transmogs and cool achievements and vanity items. I have one of each of the other armor classes -- leather, mail, and cloth -- at that maximum level as well so I can farm their transmogs if I have the urge to do so. At this point, the only reason for me to level those other alts is to finish out my desire to have all of my profession bases covered and to be able to boast about having every class at max level.

But given the time, aggravation, and effort required to get there? Meh. I'd rather play any of the other hundreds of games sitting in my Steam library, or maybe binge more shows on Netflix, or double down on my reading goals for the year, or any number of things I can do in my free time that make me feel like I'm actually accomplishing anything at all.

I'll definitely be back when Battle for Azeroth is live. I pre-ordered it, after all, and I should be on even keel with the new content it'll bring at least on those four characters. Unless another patch drops before then that improves the content scaling and brings it back down to acceptable levels, though, I can't see myself returning much before then, except maybe when the urge to farm more vanity items arises.

2.14.2018

Remote = Control: Taking Back My Life with Remote Work Opportunities

Despite putting on a brave face about it, and knowing in my heart that leaving behind my career in the games industry to focus on my health was absolutely the right move for me, admitting that I'm too ill for traditional employment has been one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

A lot of well-meaning people express envy over my ability to spend the day in my pajamas and binge Netflix. On the surface, this does sound admittedly great -- for about the first two weeks. When you're someone who's used to being the smartest kid in her class, or the standout employee; when you're the person who technically started working before they were even old enough to do so legally, selling crafts and original fashion designs or picking up odd jobs here and there; and most of all, when you live in a society that emphasizes how much you can produce over everything else, the switch from doing something to doing nothing destroys your self-esteem and feeling of worth.

As unhealthy and irrational as the belief that a person's worth is linked solely to their productivity may be, I still felt like a burden to Ben because he was now the sole breadwinner. I kicked my perfectionism into overdrive, trying to compensate for not working by throwing myself into home improvement and cooking projects that would make Martha Stewart feel inadequate. I would have panic attacks every morning that I slept past 9 a.m., chastising myself for being a lazy, useless lump while not even stopping to accept that the reason I was so exhausted was because I was having a flare-up. I got so used to being sick without having any of the answers that now, despite finally having them, I still forget that yes, I am really chronically ill. I got so used to hearing people tell me I was clearly just faking it to get out of work, or that I was trying to get attention, or that I "looked fine" that I started internalizing it and believing it myself, even if it was wrong.

Before I left my career I had inquired about remote work opportunities, even if I would only work from home on the days where I was really too ill to make it into the office. I was told that those opportunities did not exist. And so my hand was somewhat forced into making my ultimate decision to stop working, because at the rate I was going, my already weakened body --and mind, thanks to the associated brain fog and depression -- did not have a bright future ahead of it. I got into streaming to try and keep my mind active, and while that helped a little bit, it's certainly not a steady source of income that would allow me to feel like a member of society again.

So I sat on my couch, feeling terrible physically and mentally, until I couldn't take it anymore. I made an offhand tweet about being available for freelance writing projects, since writing is something I've been doing for most of my life and is possibly my strongest passion, expecting absolutely nothing to come out of it.

Thing is, I'd spent so much time using social media as my sole connection to the outside world while unwell that I've ended up connecting with a lot of people. Within an hour, a longtime follower and friend, Michael, had contacted me with an offer for a role as a writer and consultant for the startup he co-founded. The best part? It was a remote position.

Remote positions I can do. Remote positions don't care if I've been able to grip a hairbrush enough to make myself presentable, or if I'm laying on the couch to work from a mobile device, or if I need to do an hour of work, take a break, and then do another hour. I have a prioritized list of tasks that need to be done. I can set my own schedule, saving the work for days when I'm healthy enough to crank it out, and not feeling guilty for the days that I'm not. Working with a team of like-minded people who understand and accept and don't consider me any less of a coworker just because some days I forget how a doorknob works has restored my humanity and given me a real drive to get out of bed and do my best, even if my best is simply existing for another day.

I am constantly baffled by the vast number of companies out there who don't seem to think it's important to offer even just a few remote positions. Office space is always at a premium, especially for growing companies. Sometimes it's not feasible to find additional property to build on, and for small companies, having to pay a lease can really cut into profits and make it more difficult to succeed in the long-term. Having remote employees can also mean that's so many workstations you don't have to pay to set up if a requirement of the job is having even a mid-range PC that can connect to the internet and send email, which so many of us have these days. Eliminating as much overhead as possible is a godsend when you're trying to get started with a business, but it's also not exactly a bad concept for a major, established company -- who out there is really going to turn their nose up at getting to keep more money within the business? I don't think there is such as thing as "rich enough" to turn down a situation where you lower your costs without negatively affecting your current income.

There is a huge potential workforce in people like me. We're sick, and we can function enough to do something, but maybe not well enough to make it into an office every day. I'm friends with lots of stay-at-home moms who are perfectly capable of doing something from their living room, at the very least while the kids are at school or after they've tucked them into bed, if only those positions existed. Housing shortages are becoming a reality in places like Orange County, where I currently reside; the market for single-family homes here is extremely competitive despite restrictive HOAs, Mello-Roos, and sky-high property prices, simply because there are so many tech companies here. The same can be seen in other areas, probably most famously Silicon Valley, whose mortgages and monthly rents make Orange County's look like pocket change. Imagine a world where people aren't limited by what they can afford to pay for housing or how much they're willing to sacrifice their standard of living, where they can work for the company of their dreams while still being close to family and friends, where the length of the commute doesn't matter because all you have to do to make it to work is walk into your living room and turn on your computer.

Offering remote positions not only benefits businesses, but boosts the net social gain at an unbelievable rate. I cannot tell you how much my state of mind and my energy levels have raised in the short time since I was brought onto the team as a remote employee. I'm damn happy to go to work, to devote the time and energy I have to something again and feel like I am contributing. I have money in my account to go out with friends, to buy new clothes that make me feel better about myself, to donate to charities to continue that cycle of improving the world and giving others opportunities they might not have otherwise had. And yet I'm still able to focus on my home life and my personal care, the two most important things in my life; it's great to be able to write a press release in the morning and be able to still cook a healthy, delicious dinner for Ben and I that evening without being rushed or exhausted.

"But what about security concerns?" I've heard before. If a business takes the time to develop good security policies -- complex password requirements, changing those passwords every so often, reliable firewall or antivirus/antimalware protection, teaching employees best practices for security -- it shouldn't take much more effort to extend those to remote workers, too. Things like only whitelisting certain IPs to connect to company networks or mandating that certain tasks must be performed on a hardline instead of a wireless connection can help, too. There is a misconception that major companies rarely, if ever, experience leaks or security breaches on-site; if this were true, there would be no pressing need for a Red Team on their staff. In fact, as someone who's done plenty of shady things on the internet in her time, I can honestly tell you that the number one weakest link in any organization is not hardware or software, it's the people. Social engineers don't care if you're at home or sitting in a high-rise office building. Something as minor as a publicly accessible company directory can be all that's required to illicitly obtain information or convince someone to bypass security software to install a piece of malware on a company system. It already happens every day to on-site employees at big, sophisticated companies across the world on at least a small scale.

If you're looking for a remote position that isn't just a thinly-disguised multi-level marketing scheme or other type of scam, check out We Work Remotely for job postings that are updated all the time. In the meantime, start tightening up your skills and putting yourself out there -- connect with people on social media, make sure your online resume or LinkedIn profiles are up to date, and join in on conversations. Networking is key no matter what position you're going for, or where your home base will actually be located.

We live in a time where technology has made cloud services and tools for remote collaboration inexpensive and easily accessible. I'm hopeful that as time goes on, remote positions will eventually become something that's no longer considered "cutting edge" and will instead be part of the status quo. In the meantime, I'm thankful for all of the businesses who have opened their eyes to see the undeniable perks of welcoming remote team members into the fold.

1.06.2018

New Year, New Stream

I've been on hiatus from streaming for close to a month now. My next stream is slated to go live on Wednesday, January 10th now that we're past the holiday whirlwind; typically that time slot is dedicated to my World of Warcraft guild's Ret Pally Rehab raid team as we blast our way through whatever dungeon is hot right now (Antorus, at the time of this posting). I love my guild and I love the community and I love the privilege of gaming with everyone live and on-camera.

I hate that damn stream.

It sounded like a great idea at the time, and I think a lot of people even consider streaming in the first place because on the surface it sounds incredibly easy. Step one: open broadcasting software, step two: open game, step three: pewpew with an audience, right? Anyone could do this all day!

But a big part of streaming is keeping up your energy. Part of that is making sure that you have people in your channel to chat to you while you play and give you something to do, an audience to play to and with. Even when you have that, the longer your stream goes on and the more there is for you to need to focus on -- as there is when you're raiding -- those energy levels start spiraling downward faster than you'd expect. It's a constant battle of wanting to be social, but also wanting to be the best raider I can be to help my guild reach their goals.

(Insert joke about why choose to be a ret paladin, then, here.)

My energy levels are also a bit lower than usual because of major depressive disorder. I had a severe breakdown over the holidays and am getting the help I need to start walking down that road to recovery, but that also means I need to take time for myself and do what I can without pushing myself over the edge of the proverbial cliff. Three hours of bouncing my attention between Discord, the game, and Twitch chat, in addition to conversations off-camera that just happen naturally... well, I hope at least a few of you can see how that could get overwhelming and tiring very fast.

Ben's schedule has him getting home for the raid pretty much just as I'm about to go live. We like each other an awful lot and enjoy having time together, which is something that makes raid night extra special for us since we're able to indulge in a hobby we both enjoy. Dinner is a sacred thing to us; it's the first time all day we've had a chance to sit down together. When I'm streaming our raid, I often don't even get to eat dinner until our break at the halfway point since I don't want everyone to see me shoving food in my face on camera and I'm really terrible at eating and gaming at the same time. I could eat earlier in the evening, but that goes against my desire for Ben and I to have that Mutual Pizza-Devouring Time. Once the break happens I have about ten minutes to scarf down my whole meal, so I can't even really enjoy it. Then, since the raid goes till 9:30 at night and Ben's up early for work in the morning, we don't get that much quality time together afterwards. I go to bed exhausted, feeling like the whole evening was wasted and that I didn't even get to see him at all.

So this all leads to the question of why do I stream at all?

Easy answer: the people.

I don't stream to show off my prowess at a game, although I have a lot of respect for the professional gamers and hopefuls who stream for that purpose. My days of hardcore progression raiding ended right before Icecrown Citadel dropped and I realized that it had gone from being fun for me to being a job or a chore; I don't want to ever let it get to that point for me again. I stream because I want to chat with cool people on the internet and do stuff with them, to have a safe spot on the internet for people who love videogames to talk about the action onscreen and even in their own lives, a haven where we can all kick back and be friends even though we may be thousands of miles apart. I want to have fun. I want us all to have fun. I feel guilty when it takes me a minute or two to notice that someone's sent a message in Twitch chat because the audience is my priority.

After all, without the audience, I never would have made Twitch affiliate, and I'd be missing out on a lot of amazing friendships, some of which have even spilled over into the offline world! Without all of you fabulous people out there I'm just playing alone in a small corner of my apartment, talking to myself. That's nowhere near as fun as the alternative and I want to be able to focus on that.

So I'm not ditching the Wednesday stream, and there may be some Wednesdays when I'm feeling exceptionally perky and want to stream the raid -- but that's going to be separate from what I'm officially christening Wildcard Wednesday. The stream will happen earlier in the afternoon, between 3 and 4 pm PST, and it may be me cruising through D3 or getting smooshed in Hearthstone or doing vanity runs of World of Warcraft, but ultimately, it's going to be what I want to do, which I feel will help me be a happier and better host to my audience. Just thinking about it is making me want to stream again instead of filling me with the existential dread that often popped up on Wednesday morning, which I'm taking to be a very good sign, indeed!

You can catch the action on my Twitch channel and keep up-to-date on when I'm going live by following me on Twitter and Facebook. I really hope you'll join me in making 2018 a year of fun, friendship, and games!

12.16.2017

Finding Your Zen for the Holidays in Spite of Everyone Else

I'm really fortunate in that this year I will be spending another Christmas with my amazing significant other, and doubly so that his family is joining us for the New Year. There's even a good chance that my parents will be here, too, and while in the past this may have been something of a mixed blessing, I'm proud to report that we are all in the process of checking ourselves before we continue to wreck ourselves, so this is now something to celebrate, although it's slightly terrifying that my mother and I are now each other's Sane Person.

In short, it's shaping up to be a good holiday. A busy one, and I'm trying to avoid thinking about what it's going to be like to make menus and cook and clean for that many people without incapacitating myself, but as the anxiety starts to rise it really helps to remind myself that they're good folks, Brent, and they're not like my first ex's family who hated me largely because I was Jewish.

...Let's just say I've had plenty of crappy holidays before this point.

I'm still trying to come back from previous years. It's all a matter of re-learning that just because my ex-mother-in-law called me trash for microwaving frozen vegetables and I once had my head put through a wall for daring to have chipped nail polish during a religious holiday service does not mean that's going to happen again. For a long time, I hated the holiday season and just wanted to hide in my room until the festivities were over; it simply wasn't safe to do so before then.

There is still one person in my life and the lives of my loved ones who I sincerely wish was not there. Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to remove them, although I would love to do so, preferably through a plate glass window on the top floor of Nakatomi Plaza. They will not be coming to our home for the celebrations, but I will still have to see them at least in passing, and their continued existence on this planet is enough to send me into heart palpitations. I have lost sleep over how much I despise this person due to their abusive, narcissistic behavior and the way that they keep being rewarded for it. Yes, I am a tiny ball of anger with a history of going what scientists refer to as "ape-shit" on those who cross me or the people I care about. I tried a yoga-and-meditation class once and had to leave early because everyone seemed so smug about how peaceful they were that I was feeling that familiar twitch in my right eye (I have since determined that I was just in the wrong yoga class for my personal needs). The thing is, I would probably not do well in federal prison, and chances are that neither would you. So how do you keep it together without the felony assault charge, especially during the holiday season, when stress levels are sky-high and you're face-to-face with whatever bigoted uncle or body-shaming aunt has tormented you since childhood with nowhere to go?

I'd like to point out here that I'm not a mental health professional, nor do I claim to be, although I'm pretty sure I've paid for college for the children of several of them during my lifetime. These are simply things I've found that help me, and maybe they'll help you, too.

The Most Important Thing: Someone Sees You, and Your Feelings Are Valid

Sometimes it feels like you're screaming into a void, especially when you've made your feelings about a particular person known and you still find them on the invite list for Christmas dinner. How many times have people told you you're being ridiculous or that you just need to calm down and count to 10, as if either of those things have ever actually brought anyone back from the brink at any point in time ever?

Feelings are not the enemy. We all have the right to feel whatever we please. We are not weak for being scared or sad, and we are not broken for being angry. If someone or something sets off those alarm bells inside your head that say "DANGER, DO NOT WANT," there's a reason for that, and it is a valid reason. Period. Why some people want to tell us otherwise is beyond me, but I imagine back in caveman days, their ancestors were the ones telling Glorg to stop freaking out because there were definitely no hungry wild animals hiding in the tall grass and were then summarily mauled to death while Glorg high-tailed it back to his cave to stress-vomit for another day.

You're not alone, as you may have gathered from my lead-in. I get it. In addition to the current source of toxicity in my life, I've cut multiple friends and family members in the past from my life for similar reasons, although not without a lengthy waiting period and plenty of suffering around it. I know what it's like to be in that limbo and I know what it's like to not have anyone you can go to about it. If you have nobody else you can talk to, talk to me. There are contact links at the top of my blog, or you can leave an anonymous comment, however you're most comfortable. I'm here for you.

You Don't Owe Anyone Respect

The corollary to feelings being valid is that unfortunately, we cannot go punching people in the teeth all willy-nilly. The only thing we need to control is how we express those feelings. While going up and over the table at Racist Aunt Millie may feel pretty cathartic in the moment, the consequences to those actions will cause us more trouble than they're ultimately worth.

Note also that I'm saying us and not them. If someone has treated you like crap for your entire life or makes you feel unsafe or bad about yourself, they do not deserve your consideration. Consider yourself. Go with the bare minimum of civility. Put Vaseline on your teeth if you need to keep a polite smile up. Do exactly enough to keep yourself as far from the center of any drama as possible; remember, if you're the one who's being polite and not ranting and raving, you aren't the one who looks like the jerk.

We're taught as kids that everyone older than us automatically deserves respect and that rebelling against them makes us Bad People. The problem with this mentality is that it's too general. By that logic, we're doing something wrong by standing up to abusers or making our own choices about who we want to allow in our lives. I use a modified version of it: everyone starts off with my respect, and then keeps it or loses it based on their actions. Once respect is lost, it's incredibly hard to get back -- as it should be. If you don't want to talk to your biological father because he was and still is a violent drunk, and you have determined that forgiveness is not in the cards, that is completely your right and your decision, and you are not a less kind person for it. Being kind does not mean being a doormat.

Worst case scenario, I grew up in the South. "Bless your heart" and "I'll pray for you" are two of the most devastating insults you can throw at someone while maintaining the guise of politeness. If, however, your family is Southern, the magic here is sadly lost and you should not say these because they'll know you're really telling them to go pound sand.

You Are (Probably) Not Under Any Real Obligation To Go

Guilt is a harsh, harsh motivator. My grandmother is the master of the Level 3 Guilt Trip. I understand that not everyone has a passive-aggressive old Jewish woman from Queens to help them develop an immunity to guilt, so let me put it bluntly: unless your life would be in danger by not going to dinner, or they're threatening to cut off vital assistance if you don't go, or a very tiny number of other edge cases, you do not owe anyone the pleasure of your attendance.

There are plenty of good excuses that don't involve flat-out telling someone that they suck and you hate them:
  • I'm too sick to go -- that holiday flu is awful, you know
  • I have to work a mandatory shift
  • I already made other plans which I can't cancel
  • It's too far to travel (probably only works if they actually live far away and not, like, down the block)
If you're confident enough to take a stand and tell them exactly why you don't want to go, good on you. Do it. They will huff and puff and stomp their feet and act much like a child throwing a temper tantrum, and then they will get bored when they realize that they're not getting their way or the attention they so desperately crave and move on.

In the event that you do really need to go, reach out to a trusted friend. Let them know the situation and ask if they can be your rescuer in case things get really bad. Worst case scenario, leave early, even if that involves having them call you with a pretend work emergency or something similar to give you the excuse. I've walked out of a bad home situation and walked down the side of a major freeway while sobbing to a friend to please come pick me up on more than one occasion. That's the great thing about friends: they're friends.

And honestly, if you can't get past the guilt and go anyway? That's okay. You are not a loser, or a failure, or weak. You are doing what you need to do to survive no matter how awful it is, and that is an admirable thing.

Remember That We Get What We Give

Warning: this one is easier said than done.

Call it karma if you want, but terrible people who do and say terrible things usually do not end up having happy lives in the end. It may seem that they're getting everything they want out of life, but eventually the sort of folks who are absolutely awful to other people will do something to screw up their own lives. It may take a long time to happen, but trust me -- it will. 

Some people may say that's a terrible mentality to have, but I say it's a worse mentality to chastise victims of abuse or harassment for being upset with the people inflicting that sort of suffering upon them. This is not Minority Report, and there are no thought crimes. If there were, there would be nobody left to police them, because I guarantee you there is not a single person on the face of this earth who has not seen someone doing or saying something awful and at least thought "Man, I hope every single Chipotle order they make from here on out is dry and unsatisfying."

So if it helps you remember to breathe, by all means, put your faith in the universe to take care of its own. If you want to expand that to be a specific deity you follow, that's great, too. Or if you simply want to remember that even the most skilled manipulator can only keep their mask up for so long and that it's only a matter of time before their own horribleness gets them into trouble because that's how deception works, yep. Do that. 

Ask For Help

Maybe you've done everything you can possibly think of to cope and things are still bad, and you're having trouble keeping your head above water.

That's where the best of humanity comes in.

Please, if you are having trouble this holiday season, here is an international list of suicide hotlines staffed by caring people who really want to help you make it through this. If you have anxiety related to talking on the phone, you can hit up the Crisis Text Line or 7 Cups of Tea, which is online chat-based. If you're in the US and are deaf or hard-of-hearing, there's a TTY crisis line here. There's also the Trans Lifeline which covers the US and Canada.

If you're in a good situation this holiday season but know someone who isn't, please pass these phone numbers on to them and let them know that you're there for them. A simple hug or a friendly face can go a long way to remind someone that they have someone in their corner -- be a beacon in the darkness they're dealing with.

I Love You, You're Fantastic, and I'm Proud of You

I just really wanted to get that message across in big letters so nobody misses it.

11.15.2017

Wrangling Ghosts and Fighting Evil

Good lord, has it really been almost two months since I last updated my blog?

There's been a lot going on -- mostly good stuff, thankfully. I found accidental success with my CppCon trip report, raised $800 out of my $1000 goal during Extra Life for All Children's Hospital, and tried to get started with NaNoWriMo. I'm sorry to report that the last one on the list has not been going particularly well. It's just too difficult for me to write on a deadline, especially with my current schedule. At the moment, plans are to write that darn book for sure, but to do so bit by bit and on my own time. 

In addition, I managed to unlock Affiliate status with my Twitch channel! This means that viewers can now subscribe to me for a couple of bucks per month, and in doing so they get exclusive emoji, immediate access to my past broadcasts, double entries for giveaways, and my undying love. Originally I was on a three-a-week schedule, but literally the same day that I got my Affiliate email, I was also asked to join up and volunteer with the Zonta Southbank club, which I very readily accepted. Through the power of social media and making our voices heard, we are fighting for equal rights and empowerment for women from all walks of life around the world. It's a cause I feel strongly about and well worth scaling back on the streams for a little while during the spin-up period.

Yet in the midst of all of this excitement I've also been feeling a little sluggish. I've had words in my head begging to be put to paper -- or LCD monitor, I guess -- but finding the motivation or coherence to do so has been nearly impossible. I've had multiple flare-ups of my illness, probably due at least in part to trying to do everything at once, which has led to another mild bout with depression. The silver lining here is that I'm not suicidal or completely non-functional during this round, I'm just numb. I feel like I'm viewing everything through a lens covered with Vaseline at half-speed.

Folks, from here on out, we're going with a pretty massive trigger warning for domestic violence, rape, murder, all kinds of stuff. Here's a link to the fantastic Wholesome Memes Twitter account which may be a better option if you are sensitive.

I'm fairly certain that I've inadvertently triggered myself with a social media campaign that I created and am currently running for the Zonta Southbank club, primarily on Instagram. As part of the larger Zonta Says NO campaign, we're featuring a profile and photo on a different woman who has died from domestic violence. It's a way to bring something to light that so often happens in the shadows or warrants nothing more than whispers, and a way to make sure that these stories -- typically buried under other articles deemed "more important" or "less morbid," or only show up in search results under their murderer's name and not their own -- are heard, and seen, and that these women are not forgotten yet again. But sifting through story after story of women being beaten, hacked, or burnt to death has affected me because it reminds me of my own past.

I made it out of multiple physically, sexually, and emotionally abusive relationships alive. I was one of the lucky ones. But that's not what this post is about. As tempting as it is to name names and bring all of the horrendous details to light of what it was like to be beaten, tortured, and raped countless times over the span of nearly a decade, I'm still afraid to do so. One of my abusers tracked me down a couple of years ago and attempted to "remind me" that he still had control and ownership over me. Another, a family member, is still lurking in the shadows, every so often attempting to get information as to my current whereabouts or contact information through others; he's the reason that the name on my government-issued ID card is completely different from the one on my birth certificate. There are people I love dearly who still don't know the details of what I experienced and I'm not sure that I ever want them to, because I know it would destroy them, and if I'm going to go "nuclear," so to speak, it won't be for them to find on a public blog post.

This is about why, if it's so difficult for me, I still continue to run these campaigns; why my bookshelves are full of titles on criminal psychology, true crime, the worst of the worst as far as murderers and rapists and thieves go. For most of my adult life I've had people accuse me of being morbid or weird. My own boyfriend winces every time I crack open another book with a crime-scene photo on the cover, and I have to wait until he's out of the house to fire up any of the crime documentaries on Netflix that I like to watch because he's squeamish about those sorts of things. I suppose most people are, and maybe I should be.

These books and films are about the darkest parts of humans, about what is often classified, simplistically, as "true evil." They're not shocking to me because these are things I have seen and experienced already. I know what horrible things human beings are capable of, and while I am nowhere near desensitized to it, I'm no longer surprised by its existence in the world. Angry about it? Saddened by it? Of course. And as long as I can still feel those things, I think I'm okay.

No, I'm trying to figure out why the men who did the things they did to me did them in the first place. I don't want to understand it to empathize with them or make excuses; I want to understand them in the hopes that new ways to prevent these terrible things from ever happening to anyone else can be discovered. I'm trying to find new ways that I can make more people care that these things are happening -- often right under their noses -- and bring them into the fight to stop them. I want other survivors to gain some sense of closure, to at least understand that what happened was not their fault, because I remember that guilt and how hard it was to shake off all on my own. I want to fight back against the evil that was done to me by using it, against its will, for something good.

I have been left with many things: damage to my hips, some physical scars, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, a pervasive obsession with seeing justice done. I am not the same person that I was before the first event took place. After around a year of regular, intensive EMDR therapy and building a solid support network, I am more myself than I have been in a very long time, but I will never be 100% who I once was. That is one of the awful things that I don't see talked about much; you may be alive, physically, but there is at least a part of you that is killed in the process of surviving. For a long time I was terrified that I had turned into a sociopath or a psychopath as a result of what was done to me. I had -- and still have -- dark thoughts, and what seemed like immense amounts of rage swirling around inside of me like some awful, burning mist. It was thanks to my EMDR therapist and subsequent research into psychology on my own that made me understand that no, the fact that I was distressed over such a thought meant I was nowhere near what I was afraid I'd become. In fact, the clinical definition of a psychopath states that feelings of anxiety, fear, or true remorse rule it out completely.

And this is part two of why I surround myself with this troubling media -- to understand that the way I am now is perfectly normal, and to identify what I'm feeling and why to keep that "darkness" in check. Survivors are expected to be superhuman levels of strong and cheerful; we're never allowed to point out that maybe we are anything other than sunshine and rainbows after our experiences because it "makes people uncomfortable." I went through a period of my life where I let it overwhelm me in the form of self-medication and some truly awful behavior. I still struggle with the anger, and in fact I think it's a large part of what drives me to keep fighting; as long as that anger isn't directed at myself or the people I care about, as long as it doesn't consume me completely, I feel I've got it down to at least an uneasy alliance where I work with it as best as I can, but am always keeping watch on it out of the corner of my eye.

I am sad that I'll probably never have the opportunity to go to school and get a degree in something like forensic psychology. The extreme financial burden that comes with higher education in the US and the unpredictable nature of my illness makes it highly unlikely that I'd ever be able to make it through four years or more of full-time study, and then I'm not sure what I'd be able to do with it -- I certainly wouldn't be able to manage a traditional career. Criminal justice, I've come to realize, has been my passion all along; in kindergarten, I wanted to move to Canada to be part of the RCMP, then I wanted to be a forensic pathologist, and then a regular police officer, then a detective, and now a forensic psychologist or researcher in that field. Now if only I could find a way to parlay that into game development, I'd be in good shape.

9.30.2017

A Beginner's Guide to CPPCon 2017

When we last left our heroine, she was just stating that although she'd be accompanying Ben to Seattle for his talk at CPPCon 2017, she wouldn't be attending the actual conference...

There were a few reasons I didn't intend to go. For one thing, I'm very much a C++ novice, just wading my way through the beginning of my education. I assumed that there would be nothing there for me, and although the conference is quite reasonably priced -- less than $1k for a whole week of content! -- I was unsure as to whether it would be a waste of money for my skill level. Plus, there's that pesky impostor syndrome that sneaks up on me with a less-than-friendly reminder that I'm highly unintelligent and that should I dare darken their doorstep I would be swiftly exposed as the fraud I really am.

Indeed, I had planned a whole week of excursions and exploration in Washington State when Ben invited me to dinner with him and a few colleagues from the conference.

My experience as a female programmer has made me incredibly wary when it comes to meeting my male counterparts. I've implemented entire automation frameworks and spearheaded learn-to-code initiatives only to have the credit ripped away from me and given to a random guy on my team. Once in a while I've even run into the dreaded brogrammer, the type who reads manifestos detailing why women are supposedly unsuitable for engineering jobs and agrees with every word. If I had a nickel for every time I've been talked down to or talked over, or a sentence to me started with "I don't know how much you know about code, but..." I'd have fled the country and bought myself a lovely estate somewhere in Devon by now.

Thankfully, not a single person I met during the past week fell into that category.

Instead, I was surrounded by programmers of all education and skill levels, genders, races, and areas of expertise. It was an environment that inspired collaboration and the exchange of knowledge, encouraged friendly debate and intellectual discussion, and made me feel truly welcome and safe. CPPCon has and enforces a zero-tolerance policy of harassment or other bad behaviors, which is more than some other conventions and conferences out there can say for themselves.

I expected to put in an appearance as The Significant Other of Benjamin Deane and quickly find myself left out of the conversation or otherwise cued to leave. Quite the opposite happened -- I was treated as an equal, offered multitudes of invaluable advice on my own programming efforts and fighting back against impostor syndrome, and reinvigorated with regards to my personal projects. For a long time I was so demoralized that I stepped away from code. Suddenly I felt like the world was shiny and new again, and that I could do this, I wanted to do this.

At the encouragement of my new friends, I ended up attending the evening lightning talk sessions, which were open to the public, and I was hooked. With just five minutes to present various food-for-thought topics related to C++ and general programming, it was a smorgasbord of brilliant engineers from a wide variety of industries. Although some of the concepts were definitely above my current expertise, it was still easy to recognize the value of those I didn't yet have context for.

As it turns out, Friday, the final day of the conference, was open to the public. Ben kindly lent me one of his dev shirts -- I was entirely unprepared in this regard, since I never dreamed I'd be brave enough to attend a programming conference, after all -- and off I went, a small Bunny in a world of very smart giants.

Choosing which talks to attend was harder than I imagined it would be. My sole complaint about the conference is that there were several equally fascinating talks by major players in the C++ world in conflicting time slots, and the only two talks given by female engineers were also slotted against each other. The good news is that videos of all the talks from the current year and previous years are made available on the official CPPCon YouTube channel shortly after the conference ends, but it's not quite the same as being in the audience for the live presentation. Unfortunately, it may be somewhat unavoidable with a limited number of days for the event and so many quality presentations to offer.

Undefined Behavior is Awesome! by Piotr Padlewski: I'm a huge fan of edge cases and learning how to avoid common coding pitfalls, so attending Piotr's talk was a no-brainer for me. Not only were some of the most pervasive undefined behavior sins outlined here, but tips and solutions for their mitigation followed each case. This invaluable information was presented with exactly the right amount of humor -- enough to keep it interesting, but not so much that it cheapened or drowned out the point. My main takeaway is that compiler optimizations are an awesome way to save us from ourselves (and the neverending hunger of Clang), and I'll definitely be toggling a few of them on before I start any projects!

Traveling the Solar System with C++: Programming Rocket Science by Juan Arrieta: Rocket science. ROCKET. SCIENCE. How could I pass this one up? Juan is an engaging speaker who worked on our dearly departed Cassini at JPL and used that experience to bring us a fascinating overview of what it takes to power a spacecraft with code. If I had to choose a single favorite talk, it was this one. As soon as the presentation videos are uploaded to YouTube, I plan to watch it a few more times. Juan starts with a brief history of what we know about the universe and then gives some easy-to-grasp examples of not just the code itself, but some very unique considerations that must be made when programming for space exploration. I'm sad to say that the slides for this talk haven't been uploaded yet, but if you ever wanted to be an astronaut as a kid -- heck, or especially as an adult -- do not miss this talk once it's made available! Also, Juan, please write a book, because I would love to read it, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Curiously Recurring Bug Patterns in C++ at Facebook by Louis Brandy: Another chance to learn about all of the interesting ways that code can go wrong! Louis was quick to point out at the beginning of the talk that he wouldn't be covering some of the more arcane bugs in his talk, and while I'd love to see a second presentation to go over those, it was a choice that added much more value to this one -- after all, it's much more useful to be made aware of mistakes you might actually make than the one-in-a-million errors unlikely to ever happen. Like Piotr's talk about undefined behavior, solutions were offered alongside of each case study. ASAN is our friend and we should not fear it. The bugs selected for discussion are also not exclusive to Facebook's architecture; these are the types of simple errors that any C++ engineer at any company in any industry could make. All in all it was an entertaining and extremely well-curated presentation.

Unbolting the Compiler's Lid: What Has My Compiler Done for Me Lately? by Matt Godbolt: Yes, THAT Matt Godbolt, the angel who brought us the Compiler Explorer tool. Ever wanted to see under the hood of your compiler for various architectures? Compiler Explorer lets you do that. I'm not ashamed to admit that a good chunk of this talk felt a bit over my head, as I'm not yet developing anything in C++ to the point that I need to worry about compatibility testing my code against multiple chipsets, but there is something oddly enticing about assembly language and being able to access it so readily. If you're feeling generous, please support Matt and his Compiler Explorer project on Patreon, because in addition to creating a really useful tool that's being used heavily in the programming community, he's just a really nice guy.

Building for the Best of Us: Design and Development with Kids in Mind by Sara Chipps: Teaching the next generation to code from an early age is so important, especially when you focus on girls. Our society doesn't encourage girls nearly enough when it comes to STEM, and Sara is working to change that with Jewelbots, friendship bracelets that can be programmed simply in C++ using the Arduino IDE. Not only did we hear from Sara herself on the challenges surrounding designing a programming project that's easy enough for kids without dumbing it down to the point of losing educational value, but we were honored to hear from two brilliant young ladies, Sumeya and Eleanor, who have jumped right into their own Jewelbots projects. I teared up a little hearing them talk with such passion and professionalism about code -- I wish I had grown up during a time where something like this would have been available to me. I truly hope that the day comes soon where we'll be seeing their talks at CPPCon! I'd also like to admit that as a fully-grown woman, I want a Jewelbot for myself, although based on whispers I heard in the audience, I'm not the only one. Jewelbots is an open-source project, so if you have experience with Arduino and/or C++ and want to contribute to encouraging girls to code, wander on over to their GitHub and commit a few things!

So was it worth it for me, as a beginner, to attend this conference?

Absolutely.

I can't stress enough how grateful I am to the C++ community members I met during the dinners and lightning talks and event for restoring my faith in the programming community and inspiring me to get back into my IDE. I don't feel like an impostor or like I'm not good enough or that I'll never be able to achieve anything after talking to these folks; instead, I feel like the world is my oyster, and my goal is to submit a presentation to CPPCon 2019. In the meantime, I'm already planning how I might make it to the full week of 2018's conference, and look forward to seeing everyone there!







9.20.2017

Streaming for Good and Other Scheduling Tidbits

The first of September kicked off what is almost always my busy time of year -- hence my blogging has been sporadic at best for the past couple of weeks and may or may not continue to be that way through the holidays. In the past, it was due to the extreme content push that accompanies every BlizzCon. This year, it's all stuff that I actually want to do and enjoy doing, so while I'm still unbelievably exhausted, I'm at least falling asleep with a smile on my face!

At the beginning of the month I visited my parents in Northern California and got a brief tour of the Super Evil Megacorp offices in San Mateo. If you're not familiar with the name, they're the masterminds behind the mobile-friendly MOBA Vainglory which is starting to make some serious waves in the esports scene. It was great to see a studio full of such passionate individuals and see all of the growth they're currently experiencing! They were also kind enough to give me this incredible T-shirt to commemorate my trip, so now I guess I need to get some mad Vainglory skills to replace the "free kill to all other players on the map" ones I'm currently sporting.


That trip was the first time I've traveled by myself in about a decade, a testament to exactly how far I've come in conquering the agoraphobia and anxiety caused by my CPTSD. I dealt with one flight cancellation and multiple delays without even batting an eye and now I'm afraid I've been bitten by the Adventure Bug that's making me want to hop more planes to more places.

I won't need to wait long for it, either; in a few days I'll be on a plane to Seattle, accompanying Ben on his travels to CPPCon 2017. He'll be reprising the amazing talk on constexpr magic that he gave with Jason Turner at this year's past C++Now conference in Aspen. I won't be attending the conference myself, but I'll be serving as his executive assistant, handling day-to-day details so that he can focus on C++ deliciousness instead. Since there will probably not actually be any details to handle, I'm planning to visit a few friends and explore Bellevue -- this is my first trip to the Pacific Northwest and I'm thrilled because it's a place I've always dreamed of visiting! I've already been warned about the cool temperatures and frequent rain because apparently a lot of people consider that a bad thing. Weirdos.

A week or so after we return to Southern California, we'll be hosting a couple of his family members who will be visiting from England. For some, this would be a nightmare, but I happen to adore everyone in his family, so I'm quite happily dashing around trying to make sure all of the necessary arrangements are made for a fun few days! I don't often get to see them due to the distance, so I'm excited for the chance to do so twice in one year.

Then I'm celebrating my five-year anniversary of participating in Extra Life! Extra Life is a charity gaming event benefiting Children's Miracle Network hospitals. Participants pledge to stream games for 24 hours, either all in one shot or broken up over the span of a few days, with the goal of raising funds for the CMN hospital of their choice. I'll be streaming from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific time starting on Monday, October 16th and going through that Friday, which is actually almost double the 24 hour requirement, but it's for such a fantastic cause that I'm pleased to make it my full time gig for that week! The stream will happen on my Twitch channel each day, and donations can be made directly to Extra Life via my fundraising page -- only the hospital I'm supporting, All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, FL, will be able to touch that money. Donations are tax deductible and many employers will match the amount, so even just $5 (cheaper than a pumpkin spice latte) can do some serious good! If you're unable to donate, please feel free to share the link to my fundraising page and help me get the word out.

In case you missed the link to the fundraising page in the paragraph above, it's here.
November brings with it NaNoWriMo, which I haven't actively participated in since before I started working at Blizzard -- I just didn't have the time to devote to it. This year I'm jumping back in the saddle by writing a salacious historical romance novel so steamy that I fully expect it will bring shame to not only my family, but the families of anyone who reads it or associates personally with me. In keeping with the event's rules I haven't written a single word of it yet, but the working title is Master of the Moors, there will be scullery maids and brooding aristocratic widowers, and I'm so sorry, mom.*

* = Actual regret content is less than 0%

Beyond the firmly scheduled upcoming events, I've also got a lengthy to-do list:
  1. Keep working towards Twitch Affiliate status
  2. Figure out some social media platform art (headers, et cetera) and a logo -- and then how to pay someone to make them for me because artists do not and should not work for free
  3. Take a refresher course on crochet
  4. Reopen my old Etsy store, or more than likely just create a whole new one
  5. Flesh out some short story ideas that are kicking around
  6. Actually self-publish my dirty book on Amazon
  7. Maybe self-publish the short story ideas in an anthology if I get enough of them written
  8. Complete a full-stack web development bootcamp
  9. Put together a weekly Diablo 3 stream co-starring Ben (his request!)
  10. Put together some sort of nice, supportive weekly gaming stream where I can focus on the community, tentatively titled A Nice Cup of Tea and a Smackdown
I'll admit that I've got a lot of ideas I'm excited to implement, and I'm always trying to figure more out -- but it's a little overwhelming at times. It's hard to focus on just one of them at a time because I want to do them all right this minute even though I know that's impossible, especially with my constantly lengthening schedule. When you're working for yourself, it's easy to get distracted and lose motivation. My hope is that by blasting it to all corners of the internet that I'm doing stuff, it'll keep me honest and on the track to eventual world domination.