My Top Technology Purchases of 2017

Uncategorized

I’m an incredibly cautious (and somewhat indecisive) shopper.

Our UPS guy knows me by name thanks to all the packages I order and return. I think Nordstrom has me on some sort of blacklist for the same reason. Amazon has resorted to refunding my money and telling me to “just keep” whatever under-$10 item I’ve most recently been disappointed by (most recently: cedar sachets for storing my winter clothes). Bottom line: I’m a difficult lady to impress.

I hold all my purchases to an absurdly high standard, so when I feel confident recommending something, I’ll shout it from the mountaintops. That’s especially true when it comes to gadgets that have made my life significantly easier, safer, or more enjoyable.

In that spirit, here are three of my most recent technology obsessions:
 

1. BeatsX

For people who: Have experienced excruciating pain of accidentally dropping your phone and having your headphones yanked out of your ears. 

My experience: I can honestly say this was my best purchase in the past 12+ months. As you may have guessed, I consume hours of podcasts and music during the week and I like to multitask while I listen. I hated being tethered to my phone, especially if I was trying to work on a project at home that required me to move between rooms a lot — like when I’m vacuuming, although you’ll learn below that I have discovered a different solution for that. The BeatsX solve all of those issues: they sound great, they’re lightweight, they pair with (and remember) all of my devices automatically, and hold a charge for eight hours. Best of all, I can hit play and wander away without losing my connection or having my headphones unceremoniously ripped out. 

Any downsides? They may negatively impact your relationships: I don’t think I talked to Thomas for the entire first week I had these because I was enjoying them so much. They’re also on the expensive side ($150) — definitely the most I’ve ever spent on headphones — but after having them for a few months, I now believe they were worth every penny.
 

2. Eufy RoboVac 11

For people who: Have always dreamed of living in the Disney Channel Original Movie Smart House (1999).

My experience: Here’s the thing. Having a clean and tidy home is important to us, but not so important that we’re willing to spend ANY time cleaning. Our solution? A robot vacuum. The future is here. I am an obsessive researcher when it comes big purchases, so I hopped onto The Sweethome (I recommend bookmarking it right now). It’s a website that ranks the best gadgets and gear after weeks or months of exhaustive research and stress testing. Their Best Robot Vacuum ranking, for example, involved enclosing each robot vacuum into an area cluttered with several chairs, stray USB cables, a sock, a medium-lightweight area rug with tassels, and a tall threshold, plus 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour and 1/8 cup ground coffee spread across the floor and rug. Eufy was their top pick so we promptly ordered one on Amazon and our floors have never been cleaner, despite the exact same level of effort on our part.

Any downsides? As you’ll see from the Sweethome article, Eufy isn’t the smartest — it doesn’t get every room, every time — but it’s got a great battery life so as long as you keep running it, she (yes, we call it a she) will eventually get there. We also had a little trouble with it getting stuck on ~1″ surfaces like the base of our kitchen table, so we just added some low-profile feet to the table and that solved the problem. Also, Thomas has grown weirdly attached to Eufy, and has been known to follow her from room-to-room — which kind of defeats the purpose of having a robot vacuum.
 

3. SimpliSafe Home Security System

For people who: Listen to too many true crime podcasts.

My experience: There was a brief crime spree in Nashville that had me convinced we were going to be robbed, assaulted, murdered (or all three) at any moment. That, combined with their incessant advertising on This American Life, led me to invest in a SimpliSafe home security system. Fortunately, we’ve never had an intruder, but we have seen this system in action: Once, when our friends next door were out of town, Thomas went over to their shady front porch to sit in a rocking chair and read (he’s an old soul). Within 10 minutes, a police car had pulled up and officers were questioning Thomas while I watched through our curtains. Apparently, he’d managed to set off their motion sensors through one of the windows. Bad news for him — after a call to the neighbors on vacation, the cops let him go without too much of a fuss — but a great test for the effectiveness of the alarm system!

Any downsides? Our place is small and it’s only one floor, so I’m constantly worried about setting off the alarm when I get up for water in the middle of the night. Luckily, the way we’ve set up the motion sensor means that we can walk from bedroom to bathroom without a problem. (Please don’t tell any would-be murderers about that, though.)

Let me know if you have any of these gadgets yourself or any you would recommend! Also, was anyone else as deeply affected by the movie Smart House as I was? I’ve honestly thought about it at least once a week since 1999.

Why I Stopped Reading The Skimm, Plus Four Great Alternatives

Uncategorized

I recently unsubscribed from The Skimm.

The decision was a long time coming. I signed up for the women-geared daily newsletter when I was a sophomore in college, feeling like the epitome of sophistication for having demonstrated any interest in the news at all.

Five years later (and after some much-needed personal growth), I was at the end of my rope with their irreverent, often irresponsible use of tone-deaf headlines that presumed the only way to maintain my attention was by couching every news story in a joke about Millennial women. There is more to us than white wine and “beach reads”!

It felt particularly uncouth in a news cycle that seems dominated by events like terrorist attacks, human rights violations, and natural disasters that deserve measured, thoughtful reflection — not cringe-worthy puns or references to brunch. This article, which I came across last week, captured a lot of the reasons behind that decision. Namely, that “some stories weren’t meant to be viewed through a lens of bottomless sangria.” 

Bottom line: Knowing a little can be more dangerous than knowing nothing at all, especially when it placates you into thinking you don’t need to dig any deeper. As I’ve gotten a little older, I’ve really begun to understand the importance of seeking out places where people who are smarter than me (this is key) are regularly reflecting on these things in more than 140 characters (also key) — not just politics but also culture, current events, and how they fit into our individual, national, and global narratives. 

Here are some of the places I like to hang out:

1. Past Present Podcast

Interested in the world around you but exhausted by partisan talking points? Me too! And this is the antidote. This podcast, which I was introduced to by my friend Kathryn Beck, brings together three historians and academics to discuss what’s happening in American politics and culture today within the larger scope of history. Hosts Natalia, Neil, and Niki choose three news stories per episode and “turn hindsight into foresight” by drawing connections between the latest headline and the long legacy of historical events that led up to it. It’s a good reminder that our current cultural climate is far from “unprecedented”; it’s part of an ongoing historical narrative that can provide us with much-needed context for today. 

Recommended Episode: Comey’s Firing, Teeth & Dentistry, and the Bachelorette (Episode 84)

2. Still Processing

Hosts Wesley Morris, a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, and Jenna Wortham, staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, talk every week about culture in the broadest sense. That means film, books, music, and Kanye’s mental health (worried about ya, bud) but also the culture of work, relationships, race, politics, technology, the internet and how those all fit together. Also, Jenna and Wesley are impossible not to love. They are incredibly charming, astute and candid in their discussions of these topics, ability to pull out the broader themes within them, and analysis of their effect on us both individually and collectively.

Recommended Episode: We Watch Trump TV with Emily Nussbaum

3. Pop Culture Happy Hour

Pop Culture Happy Hour is a roundtable conversation about books, movies, music, television, comics and their place in the zeitgeist. Hosted by “Monkey See” blogger Linda Holmes, whose writing can be found here, PCHH features a rotating cast of characters that provide diverse perspectives into whatever topic they’re discussing. Don’t let the name fool you, though: it’s more than just movie reviews. Because of their incredible bench of critics, every episode — even when they’re discussing the latest summer blockbuster — somehow becomes an in-depth analysis of what culture and art reveal about those who create and consume it. 

Recommended Episode: Get Out and The Americans

4. Code Switch

Code Switch, a linguistic term for when a speaker alternates between two or more languages, is hosted exclusively by journalists of color and it deals with the ways that race and identity intersect with (you guessed it) culture, politics, history and more. It’s unflinchingly honest, empathetic, and unafraid to make its listeners a little uncomfortable (don’t worry, that just means it’s working) all for the sake of amplifying voices and topics that don’t get a lot of airtime in mainstream media. No matter the subject matter, this podcast approaches it with curiosity and compassion in a way that I find endlessly entertaining, challenging and educational.

Recommended Episode: Can We Talk About Whiteness?

Now I’m curious to know: how do you stay informed? Is your preferred medium podcasts (like mine, clearly), print media, cable news (is that still a thing?) or something else?

…and please don’t report me to the army of #Skimmbassadors.

A Woman’s Worth: Hot Girls Wanted, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Rookie Mag

Uncategorized
 Brian Snyder / Reuters

Brian Snyder / Reuters

I have a bunch of new readers now and, since they’re don’t really know what to expect from me yet, I’m going to choose something lighthearted and palatable to ease them in, right? Nope.

Let’s talk about the commodification of women’s bodies and who profits from it!

Actually, though, let’s start by talking about personality tests.

I’m an ENTP, which Sixteen Personalities describes as a person who loves to exercise their “quick wit, broad accumulated knowledge base and capacity for connecting disparate ideas.” (…should that be the new description for my newsletter?) Anecdotally, my fifth-grade teacher smelled like maple syrup and told me that I was a lifelong learner.

This character trait serves me well as a writer, reader, and podcast fanatic. I absorb an insane amount of information during the week: from peer-reviewed scientific theories to pop culture phenomena to musings from the lifestyle bloggers that I still hate-read even though all their posts are #spon. Despite the wide range of topics, themes tend to emerge around one topic or idea and that’s what gets included here.

Over the past few weeks, there’s a topic that seems to be coming up in every little pocket of the internet that I explore. It’s something that feels so distant from my everyday (did you know women couldn’t even get a credit card without their husband’s permission until 1974?) and yet also very close (like all the accounts of sexual harassment that have come out of the tech industry in which I work). Here are a few of the ways that those ideas have been making me think, cry, and laugh lately.

1. Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On (Netflix)

I came down with a cold a few weeks ago and, after I’d blazed through every Netflix series that had been on my list, I clicked ‘play’ on a new release that looked promising (produced and directed by Rashida Jones of Parks & Rec fame!) called Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On. This series looks at the relationship between sex and technology across microcultures including dating apps, chat rooms, pornography, and social media. It’s fascinating, depressing, and provocative to see the power dynamics at play — all centered around women’s bodies in extremely male-dominated industries.

In a few rare cases, the women themselves are calling the shots (either as directors or business owners or on-screen talent) but, as the camera lingers on their faces just a few seconds after they’re done talking, it’s clear that selling sexuality comes with a price — and it’s the women, not the men, who end up paying it. The irony is clear: women’s bodies are simultaneously degraded, devalued, and dehumanized by the very same institutions that sexualize, idolize and profit from them. This is not a new revelation, of course, but it’s one that’s being reflected in pop culture in intimate and incisive new ways that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.

2. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

That same theme is particularly evident in The Handmaid’s Tale. This Hulu original series stars the indomitable Elizabeth Moss (Peggy Olsen from Mad Men!) as the lead character, Offred. Based on Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name, this show takes place in a dystopian version of the United States called Gilead where a new regime has divided women into categories that include Wives (who oversee the home), Marthas (who cook and clean) and Handmaids (who are forced surrogates for the high-ranking men and their “infertile” wives). Yet again, women’s bodies are the most precious commodity in this society, this time for their ability to bear children. Instead of being revered or respected, the Handmaids are stripped of their rights and dignity and relegated to “breeding stock,” right down to the red cattle tags on their ears.

As an antidote to its grim subject matter, it’s one of the most visually gorgeous pieces of cinema I’ve ever watched. Its columns of golden light and gorgeously intimate close-ups ensure that this admittedly dark show never feels too heavy. Still, it’s one of the only TV series that I’ve laid awake at night thinking about. It draws its inspiration from our own history: New England Puritanism, Saudi Wahhabism, the Third Reich, American slavery, and the East German surveillance state. It’s fiction, yes, but it’s also a vivid reminder of how quickly heretical ideas — especially as they apply to a human being’s value — can become the law of the land.

3. Rookie Mag & Rookie Podcast

Let’s end on a lighter note. As a pre-teen, I acquired a subscription to the now-defunct CosmoGirl. I liked it because you could usually flip past the beauty tips to juicy little bits about french kissing and thong underwear. Looking back, it was probably a lot more informative than the co-ed “health” class I took in which we learned about anatomy by holding index cards up above each other’s head and having our classmates SHOUT clues at us until we got it right. I went first. My clue was “sack”, hollered at me by a pubescent teenage boy. I guessed the answer (“scrotum”) right away and promptly began researching schools to transfer to. 

Rookie is the resource I wish I’d had back then: it’s honest, funny, responsible, and whip-smart about all the topics that teen girls are actually interested in (because, as I demonstrated with my CosmoGirl research, they will always find answers somewhere). The Rookie podcast is hosted by creator Tavi Gevinson and features interviews with everyone from Winona Ryder to Lorde to George Saunders, all about “what it means to be a person” and, inherently, how to determine your own value and self-worth. My favorite segments are Life Skills, like how to correct someone when they mispronounce your name, and Ask a Grown Man/Woman, in which semi-qualified adults (including favs like Rashida Jones, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ira Glass and Kumail Nanjiani) answer questions from teenage girls with surprising wisdom, honesty, and empathy.
 

I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve had a chance to watch, read or listen to any of the things I mentioned above — it can be heavy stuff to process, so let’s do it together! Leave a comment to let me know what your favorite teen mag was as a kid or share your most scarring sex ed experience (so I feel less alone). To my new readers: it was nice knowin’ ya. 

For Emergencies Only: Lessons on Personal Finance

Uncategorized

My Personal Finance 101 journey began freshman year of college when my dad gave me a box set of Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” CDs to listen to on my seven-hour drive to school. He told me if I listened to one CD every hour, I could buy myself lunch using the For Emergencies Only Credit Card he’d reluctantly given me.

The month after I graduated college, I cut up that credit card, filled an envelope with the shards, and sent it to him in the mail.

I’m lucky that I’ve had people in my life to teach me the basics and prevent me from making any catastrophic mistakes — but I’m still learning and adjusting as I go. I have a folder full of bookmarked resources, essays, and podcasts all about money: knowing your value, why it matters, and how to ask for it. Here are three of my all-time favorites.

“How Can I Make More?” 

And other questions you didn’t know to ask about work and money. I devour career-related content and I can confidently say that this is the most comprehensive, practical guide to discussing money that I’ve ever come across. It goes beyond the initial job interview to the negotiation process through yearly reviews, raises, worst-case scenarios, promotions, and beyond.

Why I Love It: Two of my internet friends (@alexlaughs and @juliaccarpenter) sourced this guide from a private Slack group we’re part of called #PayUp. It’s a community dedicated to helping women in tech earn what they deserve through fostering conversations about the gender wage gap. The women I’ve met there are a source of endless inspiration to me — and I’m thrilled their wisdom is being shared with the world!

The Story of a F*ck Off Fund

File this one under subjects that aren’t taught in school but should be. It’s amazing how many of us lack basic financial skills even after graduating college. This piece shows exactly how financial independence doesn’t just mean that you can cover your rent, groceries, and utilities — it means that you have the freedom to know what you deserve and not settle for less.

Why I Love It: “You wait to pay the electric bill while you’re gathering up the half you owe, and the lights go out. On your phone you see the email about the $50 late fee. Your boyfriend asks how you could be so stupid. ‘I am not stupid,’ you say. You would never be with someone who called you names, but you would never be able to make first, last, and deposit right now, either.”

The Call Podcast

The Call is a podcast from Man Repeller in which former political strategist Erica Williams Simon hosts intimate conversations with women who have answered their own professional and creative callings. She delves into the nitty gritty of what making these leaps looks like in real women’s lives: What is the journey actually like? What were the steps they took to get there? How can the rest of us do it too?

Why I Love It: It’s not just inspirational, it’s practical. My favorite episode so far has been with Jenna Wortham, a technology and culture writer for the New York Times and my current career icon. Jenna talks about how she got her first job as a writer, what she did to make money before landing a full-time gig, negotiating her salary, why she plans her life by quarters, and what she’d tell other women who are just starting out.

If this post inspired you, feel free to cut up your credit cards and mail them to me! Alternatively, just share it with a friend. Sign up to get posts like this sent straight to your inbox before they appear on the blog.

My “Holy Grail” Beauty & Skincare Products

Uncategorized
  via Glossier

via Glossier

When I was a teenager (and well into college), it was a feat just to remember to wash my face before bed. My freshman year roommate took it one step further: in order to sleep in as late a possible — but still make it to class on time — she would apply a full face of makeup the night before and just lie perfectly still on her back for 8 hours. 

Now, I think we can all agree that my roommate was a genius. However, now that I’m in my mid-twenties and my skin doesn’t “spring back” quite as promptly, I’ve had to adjust accordingly. In the process of learning to fully remove my mascara every night, I’ve really come to love my morning and evening rituals. Nothing makes me feel more grown-up than a complicated yet luxurious skincare routine and makeup bag full of my “Holy Grail Products.”

Here’s are some of the things that make it so enjoyable, along with a personal anecdote that I hope you’ll take with you to your grave:

The Ordinary Skincare Line

If you’ve hung out with me in person at all in the past eight weeks, you’ll have already heard about this line of high-quality, low-cost miracle skincare products. You may have even been asked to stroke my baby-smooth face for further evidence of their effectiveness. The Ordinary is a brand that’s dedicated to promoting pricing and communication integrity in skincare (a.k.a. “Why Should a 1.7 Oz. Serum Cost $100+?”). The most expensive product I’ve purchased from The Ordinary was $9.80, yet their products have worked better than any of the super-expensive department store serums I’ve tried. 

My recommendations: Advanced Retinoid 2%, Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, and Rose Hip Seed Oil. Insider tip: this line is also sold at ASOS, which might have faster shipping than ordering straight from the website.

  via NewBeauty

via NewBeauty

Glossier

I know, I know. You’re probably already tired of the Instagram hype around this brand, and sick of being told that their brow gel will instantly transform you into a card-carrying “cool girl.” I was too. But then I visited their showroom and it’s ALL TRUE. Their products really do create that dewy, flushed look that I’ve been chasing for over a decade. Have I told you guys about the time that I used Benefit’s Benetint Lip & Cheek stain before a first date? Pro tip: If you wait too long to blend it in, it will just dry like that, and then you’ll have to go on the date with stripes across your cheeks and, when he asks about it, clumsily explain that it was part of your pre-game hype up routine. Anyway, back to Glossier: highly recommend.

My recommendations: Stretch Concealer, Boy Brow, Generation G (I loved the color “Zip”), and Cloud Paint. Insider tip: I had always considered ordering them online but I was nervous about choosing the right colors for my complexion. Feel free to comment if you want a totally non-expert consultation.

Cuyana Makeup + Toiletry Bags

I wish I could say I was the socially-conscious one in our relationship, but it’s definitely Thomas. He read one account of what it was like for the women who make our clothing overseas and hasn’t purchased an unethically-made product since. The search for more transparent companies led us to Cuyana, a brand that is committed to empowering local craftsmen from around the world. Their philosophy is “Fewer, Better”: buying less things, but at a higher-quality. Thomas gave me their Travel Case Set for my birthday and it is gorgeous: beautiful pebbled leather and gold hardware with a sophisticated silhouette. This little one fits all my makeup and I use the bigger one to tote around my skincare products when we travel. I know I will use these for decades to come. 

My recommendations: If you’re in the market for something like this, you can’t go wrong with this set! The price tag on this one might look a little high, especially since we’re all so used to $9.99 fast fashion “deals” — but remember that if you’re not paying for a product, someone else is. Insider tip: Support companies that care about their workers. Bookmark Cuyana for next time you’re looking for a special gift, but start doing a little digging into the supply chains of your favorite stores. Here’s a great resource to get you started.

I hope this gives you some ideas for fine-tuning your AM and PM rituals. Alternatively, you might have learned about a fun way to save time getting ready in the morning, thanks to Laura Leigh. Either way, I’d love to hear what you thought and what else I should add to my (already absurdly complicated) skincare routine.

Want to read these posts before anyone else? Sign up for my newsletter and get them delivered straight to your inbox, every Saturday morning.