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a coworker stole my spicy food, got sick, and is blaming me

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A reader writes:

We have a fridge at work. Up to this point, nothing I had in it was stolen (I am quite new, and others have told me that this was a problem).

My food is always really, really spicy. I just love it that way. Anyway, I was sitting at my desk when my coworker came running out, having a hard time breathing. He then ran into the bathroom and started being sick. Turns out he ate my clearly labeled lunch. (It also was in a cooler lunch box to keeps it cold from work to home, as it’s a long drive.) There was nothing different about my lunch that day. In fact, it was just the leftovers from my dinner the night before.

Fast forward a day and my boss comes in asking if I tried to poison this person. Of course I denied that I had done so. I even took out my current day’s lunch and let my boss taste a bit (he was blown away by how spicy it was even though he only took a small bite). I then proceeded to eat several spoonfuls to prove I could eat it with no problem. He said not to worry, and that it was clear to him that I didn’t mean any harm, my coworker shouldn’t have been eating my food, etc. etc. I thought the issue was over.

A week later, I got called up to HR for an investigation, claiming that I did in fact try to do harm to this person and this investigation is still ongoing. What confuses me is there was nothing said about this guy trying to steal my lunch. When I brought it up, they said something along the lines of “We cannot prove he stole anything.” I am confused at this. I thought the proof would be clear.

My boss is on my side, but HR seem to be trying to string me up. Their behavior is quite aggressive. Even if my boss backs me up, they just ignore everything he says. (As in, he would say “That’s clearly not the case” and the HR lady wouldn’t even look in his direction and continued talking.)

On top of this, HR claims that it would be well within said coworker’s rights to try and sue me. The way it was said seemed to suggest that they suggested this to him as a course of action.

How can someone be caught stealing my lunch and then turn around and say I was in the wrong? I don’t understand it at all! I don’t know what to do, I am afraid that I will loose my job over this. Is there any advice you can give me?

What?!

This makes no sense.

You are allowed to enjoy a unusually high level of spiciness (and as a fellow spice enthusiast, I commend you for it). You are not required to make sure that your own personal lunch doesn’t contain anything that might offend a coworker’s palate, as your coworkers should not be eating your food without any invitation.

The only way their stance could possibly make sense is if they’re alleging that it wasn’t your lunch at all, and that it belonged to your coworker and you secretly dumped a toxic level of spice into it. Is that what they’re saying? Because otherwise this is bizarrely illogical. And what’s your coworker saying in all of this? Is he trying to claim that it was his lunch all along?

In any case, I think the way to handle this is to go a bit on the offensive, which is warranted based on how aggressive HR is being. I’d go back to them — possibly to the boss of the person you spoke with earlier if that’s an option — and say this: “I’m extremely concerned by what’s been said about this. The food in question was my personal lunch, brought in for me and me only. The spiciness of my food shouldn’t be anyone’s concern, and I’m distressed that I’m being accused of in any way intending harm toward someone else because of what I pack in my personal lunch. I take my professional reputation very seriously, and I’m concerned that this bizarre story is impacting it. I’d like your assurance that the company does not intend to penalize me for eating spicy food at lunch.” I’d also put a similar message in writing and email it to them “to document our conversation from earlier today.”

Sometimes ridiculous people back down when they see that you take standing up for yourself seriously.

I’d also ask your boss what the hell he thinks is going on. Does he think you have anything to worry about? If he’s confident that you don’t (and if his judgment is usually pretty good), then I suppose you can just let HR’s weird spiciness policing play out and ignore it as best you can.

Your company’s HR is terrible.

a coworker stole my spicy food, got sick, and is blaming me was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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pfctdayelise
2 days ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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RedSonja
2 days ago
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I am gobsmacked.
MaryEllenCG
2 days ago
O_o

#SheHacks 2016

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This weekend I went to #SheHacks, a hackathon for women organised by Melbourne’s very own Girl Geek Academy. I had a blast! Despite working as a developer for 10 years it’s the first hackathon I’ve been to. (Well, I attended MelHack in 2009 which was a precursor to GovHack, and I’ve also been to plenty of open source sprints, but this is my first time doing the work-in-a-group develop-a-pitch-in-48-hours thing which ‘hackathon’ evokes.)

I arrived on Friday evening with some 35 other attendees. My group and I met on Friday and we started kicking around ideas, from Instagram hashtag analysis, crowdsourced clothing fit help, emoji-based game to create a linguistic data set, to Tiara’s idea for ‘Uber for sexual health products’. This reminded one of the mentors of a similar idea for putting out a discreet call to get a tampon in an emergency. From this we thought an event focus could help the app get enough traction to benefit from the necessary ‘network effect’, and the idea for ‘eventBFF’ was born.

Saturday we spent some time discussing the user flow, potential benefits to event organisers, what kind of items would be useful to request, and sent out a user survey to ‘test the market’ and see if there was interest in the idea. We came up with the name, a logo, mockups and the bare bones of a site. (I published a demo, but no promises about how long it lives.) Throughout the weekend there was a process of generating ideas and “we could do this…” and then whittling the possibilities back down to a MVP or “that could be in future iterations”. We settled on music/camping festivals as a target for a first type of event, while conferences and fan conventions could be two others that would have quite distinct needs.

On Sunday we crammed in as much as we could, getting some 20 screens designed, an inviting front page and bare bones of a web app, finalising the market research and readying our pitch slides. By 14:30 it was ‘tools down’ and we submitted everything we had and relaxed!

A little while later was the pitches, a brutal time limit of 3 minutes to four judges from VC and business. I was blown away by how professional and complete everyone’s pitches were. Stunning graphics and compelling stories in literally every pitch. I couldn’t believe these had all been achieved in just two days. I really hope some of them live in in some fashion because I wanna use them!

Sadly eventBFF didn’t net us any 3D printed trophies, but I think we all had a great weekend. I really enjoyed the experience to collaborate in an all-female team - a real treat. The mentors were really friendly, and it’s nice to meet senior technical women in Melbourne. The attention to detail in the whole event was 💯 from delicious food, fun breaks, freebies, oh and our very own Girl Geek Academy scarves! I will be signing up for SheHacks 2017 the very day they open rego!

Initial paper prototypes (by me)

Digital mockups (by Kim and Mary)

Screenshot of working prototype

Screenshot of front page blurb (by Gala)

Showing off my new Girl Geek Academy scarf! (and SheNova Fashion dress ❤️)

The SheHacks group! Photo from Charlotte Petris.

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pfctdayelise
3 days ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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pfctdayelise
3 days ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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My Weekend Crush

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Scully and Holtzmann sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. But, seriously, you guys – I want Scully and Holtzmann to kiss. I want them to kiss so much. As I continue my All Ghostbusters, All the Time Appreciation Week, here is my latest obsession. Earlier this week Gillian Anderson, yes GILLIAN FREAKING ANDERSON, tweeted out a picture of a young Kate McKinnon dressed as Special Agent Dana Scully along with some complimentary words for the “Ghostbusters” actress.

That alone would be pretty damn cool. But then The Internets unearthed an old interview of Kate back in her “The Big Gay Sketch Show” days when she was talking about how she knew she was gay. You guys, Gillian Anderson in “The X-Files” helped Kate realize she was gay. YOU GUYS.

http://dorothy-snarker.tumblr.com/post/147679093935

I’m not sure if I’ve ever shipped two real-life people so hard before.

Granted, Gillian Anderson probably helped countless lesbian and bi women realize they were gay. So now, one could see Kate’s portrayal of Holtzmann as just paying it forward.

If these two don’t start dating immediately the universe really is a cruel, pointless and hopelessly broken. Happy weekend, all.
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pfctdayelise
4 days ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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Searching For The Perfect Emoji For Any Occasion

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Like many people who are fond of texting, I spend a lot of time hunting for the perfect emoji. Although I’m particularly fond of the “loudly crying face” 😭 and fire 🔥 emojis, it’s often hard to find an image that precisely captures how I feel, especially in the moments I need one the most; when I’m feeling exhausted or angry or insecure, I usually don’t want to spend 10 minutes scrolling neurotically through over a thousand images to determine whether an upside-down smiley face or a taco best represents my emotional state.

Thanks in part to the massive popularity of emojis, several tech companies are exploring ways not only to make finding emojis easier, but to predict which ones you may want to use. Apple recently announced that the upcoming update of its Messages app will allow you to “emojify” your texts, by suggesting that you transform individual words like “beer” or “basketball” into their emoji equivalent. Another app, Dango, is going further, trying to use deep learning to predict which emojis you want to use.

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Like emoticons before them, emojis serve as valuable signifiers of tone and feeling in digital spaces — environments that obscure emotional nuance more than they encourage it. Now a tool such as Dango wants to help us use these idiosyncratic and sometimes sentimental little icons to communicate better and more expressively. By asking us to consult an algorithm to figure out how we’re feeling and what we most want to express, Dango aims to be something of an emotional oracle, a body that can intuit and translate how we want to communicate in a digital language. It’s an experience both delightful and unnerving, particularly when applied to our most intimate interactions.

Initially, Dango provided only very simple emoji predictions, such as the ones Apple plans to offer: Type “happy” and it predicted a smiling face 😄; type “pizza” and it predicted a delicious digital slice 🍕. Although this worked well for one-word substitution, it couldn’t predict relevant emojis for phrases or sentences that were more than the sum of their parts.

“It would fail in all kinds of cases where the individual words in isolation don’t convey the full essence of the sentence,” said Xavier Snelgrove, the co-founder and chief technology officer. In order to predict emoji for a phrase like “you got it” or “see you later,” the app had to be able to understand both the combined meaning of those words and how people use the visual palette of emoji to express it and respond to it.

In order to teach Dango how people actually use emojis, its developers turned to deep learning, a type of machine learning that uses algorithms to recognize and learn from patterns in data. Dango uses a recurrent neural network — a computing system inspired by the structure of biological networks like the brain — to examine over 180 million messages containing 300 million emojis on platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. Neural networks have produced major breakthroughs in helping computers understand and translate language, and they enabled Dango to transform both words and emojis into what computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton calls “thought vectors,” numerically defined points that capture both their meanings and relationships to each other.

To predict which emojis people might want to use, the neural network first learns how to distill the English word, phrase or sentence into a representation, and then tries to determine which emojis also map nearest to that semantic space. “We’re taking techniques from machine translation, but we’re using them to translate [English] into emoji,” Snelgrove said. “If you think of emoji as another language, it’s almost the same idea.”

The Dango team created a graphic that tries to visualize this semantic mapping:

Despite their widespread usage, emojis are still sometimes dismissed by traditionalists as infantile or feminine because of their simple imagery and focus on emotion. A 2015 column in the men’s style section of The New York Times fretted about whether “grown men” should really use emoji, while other hot takes have claimed that emojis are tiny clip-art word murderers intent on killing the English language and “dragging us back to the dark ages.”

But Dango helped me understand just how little those critiques fit with my own thinking. Emojis’ popularity stems in part from their ability to mirror text with cutesy pictures but also to enhance digital interactions in ways words alone cannot. A winky face can signal sarcasm, for example, or a smiley face can blunt a potentially harsh series of words. Emojis can also serve as emotional placeholders that convey a sentiment when you have no words to say — such as a heart sent without text that nonetheless signals presence and support.

While using Dango, I was delighted to find many of these usages floating to the surface: Potentially sarcastic phrases like “yeah, sure” produced both sincere thumbs up symbols 👍 and dubious faces looking askance 😒. Entering “how dare you” and “I hate you” produced not just angry faces 😠 and middle fingers 🖕 but also a cactus 🌵, another less-than-literal interpretation that conveys a distinct emotional prickliness. It was a usage I’d never considered before, but one that felt intuitive. Talking about “haters,” meanwhile, can evoke the nail polish emoji 💅, which can be used to convey a sassy indifference or nonchalance, as though one were admiring her own manicure rather than listening to a naysayer.

Sometimes these intuitions feel almost magical when they touch on the perfect image, though results vary, and at other times they can seem bizarre or abstruse. Slang and subcultural references can also make their way into predictions; for example, typing “that’s none of my business,” a phrase associated with a meme in which Kermit the Frog drinks iced tea, inspires frog 🐸 and teacup 🍵 emojis — predictions that would seem inexplicable without cultural context.

“I think Dango can have moments of delight, though it’s also going to have a lot of head scratching. How much head scratching is probably going to determine whether people use it,” said Tyler Schnoebelen, a linguist and data scientist who has worked extensively with natural language processing and wrote part of his Stanford dissertation on emoticons. “ ‘He kicked the bucket’ gets a skull [💀], but what are tears-of-joy [😂] and fists [👊] doing in there?”

Interpretations and associations for different emojis can also vary widely, with different usages (or perhaps even “dialects”) emerging in different countries, subcultures or platforms. The “prayer hands” emoji 🙏, for example, usually expresses gratitude for Japanese users, but is sometimes interpreted as a high five by Americans. And there’s also a technological issue: Emojis can look very different depending on where you see them. Although the Unicode Consortium decides which new emojis get added to the list, each platform is allowed to create its own renditions of each concept. The “grinning face with smiling eyes” emoji 😁, for example, displays as a smiling face on Android but a pained, grimacing face on iOS; users sending messages between different platforms are essentially using the same word to communicate contradictory meanings. Other inconsistencies include the “cookie” emoji 🍪, which tragically looks like a couple of dry Saltine crackers on Samsung devices. “These sorts of usages start to break down because the synonym use of the emoji only works in one font,” says Snelgrove.

Despite their imperfections and limitations, it’s still early days for emoji prediction and emojis themselves. By offering us shortcuts through this strange, charming system of emotive ideograms, apps such as Dango strive to facilitate our emotional intelligence in online interactions and develop an artificial emotional intelligence all their own. It’s a technology that promises — however imperfectly — to give us the visual vocabulary to express what we feel in the moments when words alone fail us. Or when we want to say something without having to say anything at all.


This was an edition of If Then Next, a new column that explores how algorithms intersect with culture and our everyday lives. Got feedback, suggestions or a news tip? Leave suggestions in the comments section or tweet to me @laura_hudson.

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pfctdayelise
5 days ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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Questions for our first 1:1

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In the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of kicking off lots of new reporting relationships with both engineers and engineering managers. Over time, I’ve learned that getting some particular data during an initial 1:1 can be really helpful, as I can refer back to the answers as I need to give a person feedback, recognize them, and find creative ways to support them. Most of these I’ve stolen from some really amazing Etsy coworkers.

I usually keep an Evernote file for each person I manage, and the answers to these questions start that doc. This is a high-level list, but I usually add a little color to each when I’m in the room. Also: it’s never too late to ask these. Just tee them up with, “I’d like to ask you some cheesy questions to help me better-support you.”

Grumpiness

  • What makes you grumpy?
  • How will I know when you’re grumpy?
  • How can I help you when you’re grumpy?

I flat out stole that first question from Mike Brittain. He asked me that during our first-ever 1:1 when I started at Etsy in 2013. He said he’d never asked it before. I don’t believe him; it’s SUCH a great question. “Grumpy” is shorthand for so much stuff, but it still keeps the question light and funny and easier to answer.

Feedback & Recognition

  • How do you like feedback - the medium (IRC, email, in person, etc.)
  • How do you like feedback - routine like in 1:1s, or as-it-happens
  • How do you prefer to receive recognition? (public or private)

Have the answers to these questions WAY before you need them. Few things are harder than trying to give someone feedback; doing it in a way that you think they’ll be most able to hear it is invaluable.

Also, knowing how someone wants to receive recognition helps to ensure they’re able to enjoy the moment rather than feel really uncomfortable. For example, for a big-deal promotion, I once gave an introverted direct report a handwritten congratulatory note and a loaf of banana bread—his favorite baked good—which he chose to share with his teammates. His celebration, his terms.

Goals and Support

  • What makes 1:1s the most valuable for you?

  • What are your goals for this year? And for the next 3 months?

  • What do you need from your manager?
  • From your team? (this one is good if the 1:1 is with someone who manages people, but is typically relevant for IC’s, too)
  • From your peers? (outside the team)

I often ask follow-up questions to the answers to these questions, to help me really clarify and understand.

The Wordy Question

  • Human learning and growth requires the right amount of four things: new challenges, low ego, space to reflect and brainstorm, and timely and clear feedback. How are these four going for you? Is there one you need more or less of?

I only use this question if we get in the flow and it feels natural. I straight up ripped this one from the brilliant Learning and Development team at Etsy, originally created and led by Paloma Medina. Hire her if you want to make your whole life better.

The Most Important Question

  • What’s your favorite baked good?

This one is CRUCIAL. I have a long document full of coworkers’ favorite baked goods. You never know when you might need to congratulate or thank somebody in a special, meaningful way. (Mine is not donuts, btw. ;)

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pfctdayelise
7 days ago
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Love this!
Melbourne, Australia
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awilchak
7 days ago
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Bookmarking in case I am ever a manager someday
Brooklyn, New York
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