The Real Jacqui

Don't be a drag, just be a queen

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The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.
(via littlelazer)

(Source: luvyourselfsomeesteem, via littlelazer)

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2013 in 1,483 words

Wow. 2013 is over, just like that. Where do I even start?

2013 was a transient year for me. Where I’ve ended up is vastly different than where I started. In work, in life, in personal development. For me, 2013 was kind of like moving out of an apartment after messy life event and into a new one: not something I want to do every day, but it was exactly what I needed when I needed it.

Some of you may know that I left my job as a senior editor at Ars Technica in May—a decision I took so seriously that it took me forever to make it. In all honesty, I had been ready for a good while, but it was difficult to pull the trigger thanks to my close personal relationships with everyone on staff. I loved my time at Ars, and everything that the site embodies will always remain a part of my identity.

My good friend and Ars EIC Ken Fisher graciously made me Editor-at-Large, so I bounded into the summer with a new sense of freedom and no steady paycheck. I had honestly planned to take off a few months and do literally nothing before even beginning to freelance—day drinking, wandering the city, and riding my bike along the lake, I hoped. But I was excited by what seemed like endless opportunities right in front of me, so the Steve Jobs plan got shelved.

Longish-form has always been my strong point in writing—my teachers never edited me down, so I got spoiled—but the Summer of Opportunity™ made me realize it tenfold. If there’s anything I truly love about writing nonfiction/journalism, it’s the learning process you go through as you research a piece, investigate it, report it out, interview people, and so on. Then you learn it all over again from a different angle when you sit down to write, because now you’re communicating your own learning experience to other people. To be able to do this on a variety of new and interesting subjects throughout the summer was a true pleasure. The published pieces include:

  • Wood Stock" at The Magazine. Truthfully, I am not a type person, which is why I took the assignment when Glenn Fleishman asked me to drive up to Wisconsin and check out the Hamilton Wood Type Museum. It was a joy of a piece to write and photograph, and it will soon be featured in The Magazine's hardcover book of the best stuff from its first year.

  • A Garden Grows in Cabrini-Green" at Modern Farmer. Modern Farmer is a new print and web magazine aimed at gardeners and smallish farmers in today’s new agey farm economy. As a gardening nerd, the magazine was already one of my favorites. I originally wanted to write a much longer feature on the urban farm in Cabrini-Green, but Reyhan Harmanci talked me down to a shorter piece. Whatever the case, I loved working on this one as well: Cabrini-Green is one of Chicago’s most notorious gang- and poverty-ridden communities, and I have been obsessed with this garden for years. I was able to chat with a number of youths working at the Urban Lights Farm, but most were so shy that they requested not to be named in the piece. Though the piece itself isn’t particularly deep, the reporting process on this one was one of the most meaningful to me in 2013.

  • Civic Summer at the Smart Chicago Collaborative. This was not a writing project but a teaching one. I’ll skip the flowery details since I’ve already written thousands and thousands of words on it, but working with Dan X. O’Neil and a team of amazing people from the trusts, Mikva Challenge, and Free Spirit Media was a great experience. Working with ~150 teenagers from all over Chicago for 6 weeks was an even greater one. I was an awkward teacher and completely new to writing a curriculum of any kind—the anxiety and stress I went through during this project was off the charts. But I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. Like the Cabrini-Green story, most of these kids are just a joy to talk to and be around, despite being considered “at-risk.” I still follow many of them on Twitter now and have been exchanging e-mails with some when they have questions or need advice. Some of them went off to college this last fall, which has been an exciting thing to watch from the perspective of social media. Anyway, I highly recommend doing something like this in your own city or town, especially if you have tech knowledge or chops of any kind.

  • What inner city kids know about social media, and why we should listen" at Medium. This was the Jacqui-writing distillation of my Civic Summer experience mentioned above, and frankly, it appears to be my 2013 crowning achievement in terms of exposure and coverage. I almost didn’t want to write it; I was a little afraid it would come off as too self-focused and possibly even offensive to some of the kids from the class. I don’t know. In any case, Evan Hansen is an amazing editor who pushed me to get it done, and I did. And then the praise for my work—oh, the praise—started flooding in. My ego can hardly take it. (Seriously, it hurts.) This piece was published in August but the tweets, e-mails, and other communications to me about it continue to flood in as if it were published yesterday. I truly had no idea what I was writing would reach so many people on some kind of deep personal level. I thought I was just writing a glorified blog post.

  • The Shape of Sex Toys to Come" at VICE’s Motherboard. This piece is more in the style of something I might’ve written for Ars in the past, but on a topic that ended up being a good fit for Motherboard. It’s really a piece on usability and prototyping, overlaid on human psychology and physiology. The comically bad usability of sex toys is actually a common brunch topic among myself, my husband Clint Ecker, and our close friend Cesar Torres. We’ve laughed about it for many years over eggs and Bloody Marys, and this story pitch was born out of my habit to write down funny topics on my iPhone’s notepad titled "Drunk Story Ideas."

I also had the great opportunity to give the keynote talk at the 2013 MacTech Conference in Los Angeles—another stressful experience, but one that I’m glad I did. Earlier in the year, I gave a talk at the Macworld|iWorld Expo in San Francisco about how to protect yourself from stalkers and participated in a panel with Dan Moren, John Gruber, and Christina Bonnington about the future of Apple. I also did a SocialMediaWeek panel on how to pitch reporters via the Internet—a fun one, if only because it seemed like everything I said was met with gasps of horror from the audience. (It’s true: no one reads your press releases.)

And now 2014 is almost here. As some of you know, I was recently named the new Editor-in-Chief at The Wirecutter and The Sweethome. Wirecutter founder Brian Lam is another friend of mine who I’ve known for a little over 7 years thanks to the bizarro world of tech reporting. We met at one of many Apple press events in San Francisco and Brian became my de facto dinner companion every time I was in town for years—all my best SF restaurant recommendations are because Brian made me go there. Up until the time I met him, I had a harsh (and fairly typical) experience dealing with other tech writers, bloggers, and reporters. Brian was one of the first people I met in the industry (aside from my fellow Ars Technica cohorts) who was willing to just plain be nice. It stuck with me.

But he and I also found a commonality in how we think when it comes to work. “Same brain,” as Brian says. Since the beginning of November, I’ve been editing at The Wirecutter and The Sweethome, and it fills me with the same excitement I felt when I first joined the Ars family. The editors and writers at Wirecutter are such a pleasure to work with, I can’t wait to see what we can all do together as we go into the new year. Working with Brian is something I’ve been wanting to do for years, so I’m excited to have that opportunity now. I think we’re going to do something great.

As for my personal life, it’s a beautiful disaster. A mess that will continue to spread out over the years, like the universe after the Big Bang. But things are (slowly) cooling down, and life is OK. Great, even. 

Happy New Year.

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The Magazine: The Book (Year One)

My work (writing + photography) will appear in The Magazine: The Book. But only if it gets funded on Kickstarter. Please help make it happen! As I said on Twitter, you know you want to see that ish in print. 

The piece I wrote is about the trials and tribulations of the Hamilton Wood Type museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Clint and I drove up along Lake Michigan to do the photography there, and the museum/working wood type shop was really a sight to behold, even though they weren’t open to the public yet at their new location. This is easily one of my favorite pieces of mine from 2013.

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The Best Travel Mug

I spent many, many hours researching and testing the best insulated travel mugs. This was a really fun piece to do cuz I like nerding out on everyday things, so check it out. The Zojirushi model that I picked is now my favorite thing ever. I heart it. 

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Grocery shopping and meal planning on one week of food stamps

Panera’s CEO Ron Shaich has become the latest public figure to embark on a challenge to find out what life is really like living below the poverty line by restricting his daily food budget to roughly $4.50 (or $31.50 per week). That is the amount that the average single adult living on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) received in 2012—also known as the “food stamp” program. SNAP is the only way millions of Americans are able to feed themselves and their families every month, even moreso now thanks to a bad job market that makes it possible to hold a job (or two) and still not be able to make ends meet. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 72 percent of SNAP participants are families with children, and more than a quarter are households with seniors or the disabled.

Shaich has only been doing the “challenge” for four days now and wrote that he “can’t stop thinking about food.” Indeed, living on $4.50 per day is hard (actually, the numbers come out to more like $4.45 per day, or $31.14 per week, although most SNAP participants get the whole month at once). “When is my next meal? How much food is left in my cabinet? Will it get me through the week? What should I spend my remaining few dollars on? What would I eat if I had no budget at all?” Shaich wrote on his blog this week.

Unfortunately, Shaich is only continuing this “challenge” for a week, which is not nearly enough time to feel the true effects of being on food stamps. One week for a CEO who knows he’ll be going back to his comfortable life in a few more days is not really a lot more than a half-assed “diet” on his part, but I appreciate the sentiment behind his actions. The real people who live on the SNAP program don’t have the comfort of knowing that in a few more days, they can go back to buying wild-caught salmon and figs. They barely have the comfort of knowing that they’ll even have SNAP benefits again next month.

Despite all this, I’ve been meaning to make a post for a (very) long time now that outlines a healthy but strict grocery budget for a single adult that can be done on the $31.15 weekly SNAP budget. This is not at all meant to show that poor people can totally bootstrap it and/or that they shouldn’t need any more assistance, because I definitely believe that they do need more. However, as both an enthusiastic home cook and thrifty shopper myself, I have helped numerous people online who are struggling with money figure out a way to make meals for themselves and still get a decent level of nutrition. A lot of times, people need help with budgeting AND help with meal planning; most Americans don’t cook very much anymore, which is part of why this can be a very large two-pronged problem.

While I have mentioned my own background in some past posts, I actually used to live on a grocery budget of about $30/week when I was in college (I was saving aggressively for a vacation), so I spent two full years shopping and cooking on a very similar budget. I, of course, did that voluntarily, so I did not experience the same struggles as the people living on SNAP. But I also wasn’t starving to death, so I obviously figured out some way to be both a savvy shopper and a decent home cook.

Anyway, this morning I put together a grocery budget for $30.99, leaving me with 16 cents leftover. It’s hardly the most exciting week of meals in the world, but it’s food and squeezes healthy options into every meal. And there are fruits or vegetables in every meal, too!

The strategy

Again, the purpose of this isn’t to prove anyone wrong on anything. The purpose of this is to help people—perhaps even some of you reading this—figure out how to make ends meet in a hard economy while not eating ramen noodles every day. I based the prices off the store where I get my groceries (Peapod), which is actually sort of known for having higher prices than most. (Though when I went to compare prices for some of these base items against the prices at Aldi, like dried beans or bananas, the prices were actually the same at Peapod. So there, Peapod haters!)

When in doubt, I erred in favor of paying/buying too much—that way, if things are cheaper in your store or you want to buy less of a particular item, you have even more “extra” money to play around with. And there are certain items that won’t all be used in a single week, like a 3lb. bag of onions or an entire pound of butter, so you wouldn’t necessarily have to spend money on those same items the next week. (A pound of butter can last me well over a month in my normal cooking, and I use butter more than most people probably should.) As such, you’ll get some savings there too if you were to put together a different shopping list for another week.

(I also bought way more chicken than I think one person needs in a week, but that’s from my perspective. I tried to give a little extra to the people who might really need those extra calories/protein. This list includes 52 ounces of chicken, which averages out to almost 7.5 ounces per day. That’s actually kind of a lot.)

The shopping list

Again, these prices are based on what I found at Peapod. Some items were “on sale” at Peapod, but the sale prices ended up matching that of Aldi, so I kept the prices as they were. Your own supermarket prices may vary, hopefully by being lower. (I often find rice and beans for VERY cheap at local supermarkets, especially at the Mexican and Chinese markets.)

Oh, and I didn’t necessarily go for the organic chicken because it’s organic (although I do when I shop for myself today), but it was actually the cheapest chicken at the time when I was “shopping.” In real life supermarkets, I often see chicken for as cheap as 99 cents a pound (the organic chicken in my list was $1.29 per pound), so you may have some luck there too.

White rice: 32oz bag: $1.99

Black beans: 16oz bag: $1.49

Eggs: 1 dozen: $1.50

Onions: 3lb bag: $2.49

Bananas: 1 bunch: $1.79

Organic chicken drumsticks: 1.5lb: $1.93

Organic chicken thighs: 1.75lb: $2.26

Generic oatmeal: 42oz: $3.49

Carrots: 1lb bag: $0.99

Generic wheat bread: 16oz: $1.00

Deli turkey: half pound: $2.49 <—- deli meat is actually very expensive per pound! Considering cooking chicken or turkey on your own and cutting slices for sandwiches instead

Fresh spinach: 10oz bag: $1.99

Butter: 1 lb box: $2.09

Apples: 3lb bag: $2.50

Potatoes: 5lb bag: $2.99

Total: $30.99

The “menu”

Like I said, it’s not the most exciting menu in the world, but when you’re on SNAP, just getting enough to eat and getting enough nutrition in each meal is the main concern. I sorta planned this out so you’ll never be cooking a meal at lunch (since people might be working 7 days a week), but you can certainly swap any of these meals around. There ain’t no rules on what you have to eat at different times of the day.

Day 1

Breakfast: oatmeal w/ butter and a banana

Lunch: Sandwich with wheat bread, deli turkey, fresh spinach. Apple on the side.

Dinner: Chicken drumsticks and mashed potatoes w/ butter

Day 2

Breakfast: 2 eggs and a banana

Lunch: Sandwich w/ turkey and spinach, carrots on the side

Dinner: Black beans and rice, Cuban style (also involved in this recipe: butter and onions)

Day 3

Breakfast: Oatmeal w/ butter and apple

Lunch: Sandwich w/ turkey and spinach, carrots on the side

Dinner: Roasted chicken thigh + roasted potato (butter!)

Day 4

Breakfast: Omelette made w/ 2 eggs, onions & spinach inside

Lunch: Sandwich, same deal, banana on the side

Dinner: Black beans & rice with shredded chicken thigh & sauteed onions mixed in (or chicken thigh on the side, or no chicken if you prefer)

Day 5

Breakfast: Oatmeal w/ butter and a banana

Lunch: SANDWICH TIME (let’s do turkey, spinach, and sliced apples in the sandwich this time). Carrots on the side.

Dinner: Roasted root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions), chicken drumsticks

Day 6

Breakfast: Let’s do the omelette again, maybe you can even use some leftover chicken or something, or just spinach/onion

Lunch: Sandwich with apple on the side

Dinner: American fried rice! Rice + a little bit of chicken + egg + onion + butter (for greasing things up in the pan)

Day 7

Breakfast: Oatmeal with whatever fruits you feel like using up

Lunch: Saaaaaaandwich with carrots on the side

Dinner: Roasted chicken, sauteed spinach (if you have any left), sauteed onions, and rice

I would not expect to have spinach leftover (and you shouldn’t either, cuz it doesn’t keep very well after a week), or carrots (just eat them all! They’re cheap). I would expect to definitely be out of deli meat once this week is over.

Things that I would expect to have left over after this week: maybe half a bag of onions, a lot of potatoes (probably a couple more weeks’ worth), more than half the canister of oatmeal, probably at least 3 of the 4 sticks of butter, and probably a few apples. There would probably be a few eggs left over too, and about a half loaf of the bread. The rice and beans could vary depending on how much you cooked, but I would expect to have at least half the bag of beans left over. If it were me personally, I would also have a good amount of chicken leftover, because I just don’t eat all that much meat, but your mileage may vary. (Oh, and I hope you save chicken bones for stock, because then you can make your own stock for use in soups and other recipes without having to spend a single extra cent on it.)

All these things can and should be used the next week, if you can, but since you already bought them, you can buy a bunch of new ingredients the next week to make different food combos. If I were to add different things to the mix for a week 2 menu, I would add things like a bag of bell peppers (which you can get for pretty cheap sometimes), more rice, more eggs, maybe a different kind of deli meat (ham?), peanut butter, celery, a bag of flour, things like that.

Things you could be making with your leftover stuff from week 1 plus the things I just mentioned: stuffed bell peppers, black bean soup (see? You need that free chicken stock), peanut butter and banana sandwiches, casseroles, your own bread and pancakes and any other stuff you can make with flour, etc.

Is this an assholish thing to post or do you want more?

When I help people online with this kind of stuff, they usually want more. In addition to the crippling poverty that affects so many people in our country, a complete cultural disconnection from food and cooking can also make meal planning very daunting. But I know that posting something like this on a Tumblr might seem out of context to anyone who follows me normally, and might come off a bit presumptuous. I totally get that, and I’m OK with it. A lot of my peers have problems with the word “privilege” for various reasons, but I recognize that I’m a privileged person in some regards, so that’s obviously the perspective I’m writing from.

That said, if enough people are interested, I could keep this going and put together shopping lists/general menus for a SNAP budget for an entire month. If that’s the case, erm, tweet at me at @ejacqui or shoot me an e-mail to jacqui@digitalmeow.com. I can’t guarantee I will respond, or that I can even do it forever, but I will certainly try!

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The Shape of Sex Toys to Come

I wrote a piece for Motherboard/Vice because I wondered whether adult toy companies have UI/UX people. The process of finding out the answer was like going down a rabbit hole.

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Meditation in the shower

(I’m trying this thing where I don’t have to write an entire 2,000-word missive every time I want to write my thoughts. It’s like the year 1997 again when blogs were still a thing people did!)

Meditation is something that I, like many average people in American culture, passively knew about for most of my life, but did not understand or practice. The average person tends to think that meditation is simply “thinking about stuff,” which is sort of true, but simplifies the practice too much.

Anyway, I’ve been involved in yoga for about two years now thanks to my partner Clint. As it turns out, yoga has been phenomenal for my mental and physical well-being. It’s the mental part I didn’t expect when Clint first dragged me into it; the yoga we do with our amazing instructor at Cheetah Gym, Silvita Diaz, is both exhausting and meditative.

The yoga opened the door for me to explore other forms of meditation. Around this time last year, I began to take meditation much more seriously, partly because of stress I was imposing on myself from my job, and partly because of some major traumatic events that occurred in my life at that time.

Without going into gruesome detail, I found myself at a point in my life where I was in a mental and emotional free-fall—one that I would experience for the next several months, and continue to experience today (thankfully in a lesser form). At the time last year, I could see the ground coming at me quickly, and I knew myself well enough to know that nothing could be off the table to try and pull out of what I saw as an inevitable conclusion. Not even some hippie dippie meditation hoo-ha.

On a whim, I read the book Awakening Joy by James Baraz. The full title sounds tragically like a self-help book from the clearance bin, but it’s not. Baraz is a meditation teacher who writes in a way that makes Buddhist philosophies accessible to the average person who doesn’t know or care about Buddhism. I highly recommend this book to anyone who feels intimidated by the more philosophical and intellectual challenges in learning about Buddhism. This is just plain spelling out the tools you can utilize in your own, everyday life that can help put you on the path towards peace. I think everyone could benefit from reading it, but I digress.

Baraz’s book prompted me to give meditation a chance—again, when it looks like there are no solutions, pretty much any solution seems worth trying. I started incorporating an unbroken amount of meditation time into my day, sometimes 20 minutes, sometimes 90. It was not an overnight change in my mental and emotional state—there’s a reason they call it “practice”—but the meditation time was something that I began to value not long after starting.

Now, almost a year later, I am still a novice. I barely have cracked the surface on what is possible in your own mind through meditation. But I no longer think of it as a silly hippy thing; I definitely believe in the value and power of meditation practice. 

And now for the entire reason I began to write this post: my favorite meditation spot in the house. I really like to meditate in the shower, in the dark. It sounds really bizarre—I usually sit on the floor of the bathtub, naked, and turn the shower heat wayyyy up so it’s like a raining sauna. The lights have to be off and the doors closed so it’s pitch black. The bathroom fan can be on if I feel like the steam is going to ruin the paint. (See, I’m still anal retentive.) Then I just sit there in lotus position, in the dark, while the shower rains down on me and sort through my shit until I’m ready to stop. It’s the most peaceful feeling in the world.

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"Dear Jacqui…" Call me with questions!

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A long time ago, in a land far, far away, I was almost commissioned by a major media outlet to write a tech-focused advice column. What kind of tech advice are we talking about? Not “which portable hard drive should I buy,” or “what’s the best USB microphone.” We, as citizens of the Internet, have sites like Ars Technica and Wirecutter to answer those kinds of questions for us.

The tech advice column I almost did was meant to address questions like “My friend keeps complaining when he sees me check in at a certain bar without him, what do I do?” or even, “What gadgets do you use when you travel?” Years later, the idea of that column might be making a comeback, but not in the format you expect.

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you might know that I’ve been experimenting with a new podcast of my very own. I’m not ready to announce it yet, but the technical term for what I’m doing is “messin’ around.”

So, here’s what I’d like you to do. Call in and leave me a voice message with a question that you’d like me and an awesome guest of my choosing to answer on a future podcast episode. It can be the type of question I mentioned above, or it could be something completely different. For example, people have asked me (either in person or e-mail) all of the following questions in the last month:

  • What’s your favorite kind of cheap boxed wine?
  • How did you happen upon so many Twitter followers?
  • How does a regular person get into blogging for money?
  • Why don’t/shouldn’t you geotag the photos taken with your smartphone?
  • Maintaining public and private Twitter accounts: why?
  • What are some of the worst things PR people have done in an attempt to get you to write a story about their company?
  • Why are tomatoes from the store so bad?
  • Are you really married to Clint Ecker, and what is that like?

Just a few ideas to get you going.

If you have Skype, call the user “dear_jacqui" (yes, with an underscore), or if you want to use a regular phone, call (773)683-2227. Say your name (can be first name only if you’d like, or just make up a pseudonym), where you’re from, and what your question is. (If you fill up my inbox with bullshittery, I will publicly shame you!)

THANK YOU!

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What We Learned in Our First #CivicSummer

Here’s a post I wrote about the work I did this summer with the Smart Chicago Collaborative and Daniel X. O’Neil. Please read it!

We put together a six-week data & technology curriculum for students in Chicago (the first of its kind!) and although there were some bumps in the road, the outcome was awesome. I wrote a bit about the lessons we learned from #‎civicsummer.

For me personally, this project was very meaningful. I learned so much about the students and myself during the process, and I can’t thank Dan enough for putting on the pressure to get involved in a civic project like this. 

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App Chat: The latest and greatest summer eating apps

I did a segment with KPCC out of Los Angeles (an NPR member station) talking about summer cooking/eating apps. There’s text and audio at the link above.