But I’m A Creep….

I can’t count on both hands the number of conversations I’ve had with people about creepy creepers and all of the creepy things that they do…. but as I was driving to New Mexico the other day, I started thinking about all of the things I do that are creepy. Maybe they’re not objectively creepy, but reasonable human beings would probably perceive then as creepy…. or maybe I’m just lying to myself. I know I’m not the only one who worries about this, but I thought I’d put it all out there, because that is what I do. So, I’m Yael, and here are the creepy (or ideally, just quirky and weird) things that I do.

1.  I send people anonymous gifts.

The gifts are normal. I swear. But sometimes I’ll see a book or CD or something I want someone to have, but it would be weird if they knew I sent it. I don’t want them to think they have to send me something or that I have weird ulterior motives, so I’ll go to great lengths to send it anonymously. It’s becoming harder and harder since Amazon and Ebay totally sell me out, but at  least I can secretly and anonymously send people Reddit Gold. (Yes, that was probably me.)

2. I send people weird things non-anonymously, too.

I’m not as bad as my friend Billy, who once mailed me a doll he mutilated which he said was an art project when I told him we had to talk. However, I do have a tendency to send people strange things. Like, sometimes I use this comic book app to send people pictures of themselves as drawings, or I use Poetweet to create sonnets, indrisos, and rondels comprised of people’s tweets and then send it to them. I also sent someone a Unicorns Are Jerks coloring book to expose the cold, hard, sparkly truth, and I don’t know if he had the same reaction as I did when Billy sent me that deformed Cabbage Patch kid. I never know if people like what I send or are just too polite to complain about it. I also send people poems I’ve read that I think they’ll like, but nobody ever responds. So yeah. Probably creepy.

3. I’ve probably stalked researched you online.

Stalking is the new research, isn’t it? But sometimes I’ve taken this to extremes, looking at YouTube videos from 2007 or the 10th page of Google or those public Facebook pics from people who I don’t send a friend request to because we’re not actually friends. Whenever I find a new tool, I usually look up a dozen or so people I know on it. My “research” excuse is probably bullshit because I probably don’t need to know about an MMA fighter’s traffic tickets to interview them about an upcoming fight… (But I was trying to paint a picture! Yeah, no.) If you know me, I’ve probably looked you up on Crystal to figure out how to better word an email. I’ve also probably read your out-of-print book, if you have one, or even your ex-girlfriend’s book. I may have read your dissertation. I try to keep this on the DL because people would probably be totally weirded out if you knew how much I knew about them, but probably keeping it secret is even creepier. On very rare occasions, people have told me all sorts of things because they thought I’d know anyway, and they were wrong. So even writing about my, uh, research problem is probably creepy.

Oh, and it gets worse. In the past, I’ve used ToutApp and other tools to tell me when people were clicking on links I sent them or opening emails I sent. I’ve stopped doing this now because I write about privacy and people would kill me, and because it made several of my friends uncomfortable, but I think I still have the creepy gene that compels me to do this.

4. I hold onto my phone will showing you pictures and take my laptop to the potty.

Not only will I bore you to tears with photos you probably don’t even want to see, I’ll also make you feel like a criminal by holding onto my phone while doing so. I’ve also had a lot of strange looks and questions about why I’ll leave my wallet and such out on a table but take my phone and laptop to the bathroom with me. I guess you could call it being security conscious, but I figure if someone steals my wallet, it affects nobody but me. I mean, you don’t know what else is on my laptop or cell phone, or what it’s been on..

5. Oops, I called your cell…

Yesterday I called someone’s cell phone number rather than his work number. I would’ve been creeped out. I don’t even know how I got his non-work number on my phone, but there it is. He said it was okay but it was super creepy and I felt bad. Anyway, this is one of the creepy things that I accidentally do. Then I apologize for it profusely which is even more awkward and creepy. I’ve also been known to call what I thought was a work number at some weird hour hoping to leave a voicemail message before I forgot and gotten a real person. Oops.

6. I am super awkward.

When I’m not making jokes that people don’t understand or find funny, I’m taking things that aren’t literal way too literally. When there aren’t awkward silences, I’m rambling way too much. I’ve been known to stumble over my words, splain basic information to experts by mistake while trying to make conversation, and so forth. Good thing I can make a living writing from the confines of a secret, soundproof closet. I’ll lock myself in.

7. Remember that thing you said in 2009?

Sometimes I bring things up from ages ago. I remember tiny details people have forgotten about, much to their dismay. I mean, who does that? SO creepy.

8. I put 2+2 together. Oops.

One time I asked a housemate where she was hiking, since I noticed her filling up a water bottle and she only did that right before going on a hike, and it really freaked her out. I am often completely oblivious about things that should be obvious and figure out the hard ones, in my quest to fulfill the archetype of the absent-minded professor. (Are those guys creepy, or what?)

9. I try to interpret all those offhand things you say.

I am happily married, and my incredibly patient husband will always humor me and explain the minutiae to me of why he selected one word over another and why it may not mean what I think it means. This doesn’t stop me from obsessing over random things other people say, trying to figure out the hidden meaning. I’ll go to great lengths to try to determine the specific meaning of slang from other countries, ask people in similar professions if there’s another way to interpret something someone said, and so forth. I don’t do this all the time or with everyone, but some glitch in my brain makes me susceptible to this, and my close friends get to hear all about it. At least they accept me for who I am…

10. I really want to be OMGBFFs with people who don’t like me.

I took a StrengthsFinder test once and it told me that my biggest strength was WOO, which stands for winning others over. I personally think it’s my biggest character defect. I have this running list of people I think are really cool that I sense don’t like me. Maybe I think they’re cool because they don’t like me. Maybe we just don’t resonate, but I still want to be friends with them anyway simply because I can’t. One time a tech writer whose book I read blocked me on Twitter (long story), so I stalked him on LinkedIn, sent him a typo that I found, and tried to convince him that we should be friends (or at least to unblock me). One time I was at a Brazilian jiu-jitsu class and my teammate was talking smack (I thought playfully) and I gave it right back and he said we shouldn’t train together anymore (I swear I was joking). I spent the next few months trying to win him back over and finally asked him to train again and promised not to talk. We’re cool now, but I still have about three people on my list right now. I have no idea why I do this, but there it is.

I was hoping that by writing this, I’d make quirky but well-meaning people feel less creepy themselves, or even worry a little less about my own quirks. I’m not sure it worked, but…feel free to share some things on your list with me, either publicly or privately. Some of my best friends can be creeps, I swear it.

Check Out This Deal For Stock Photos

imgresI don’t usually post ads on here, and perhaps I’d stick to social media if I wasn’t running out of topics on day 17 of the blog challenge. But this is such a good deal that I wanted to pass it on. You can buy 100 stock photos for $39 on AppSumo while supplies last. It’s from Depositphotos‘ Standard License images, and you’ll end up paying 39 cents per image. If you use it as an Editorial image, you’ll need to provide attribution, but headers, graphic designs, social media posts, etc. can be used without attribution.

There are other subscriptions that may make more sense for you if you want to download images all the time, so check those out, too. Or check out the AppSumo deal while it’s still around. (Not an affiliate link.)



Asking Technical Questions The Smart Way

185508448_7f247723f5_zWhenever I spend any amount of time playing with sophisticated new software, I usually break things or maybe never quite get them working properly in the first place. Luckily, I can tap into the expertise handful of incredibly patient people who spend a considerable amount of time helping me put them back together again (or get them working in the first place).

When telling a friend that a lot of people are incredibly generous with their time but I secretly wonder if they all hate me, he shared this post explaining how to ask technical questions the smart way. This incredibly thorough post, incidentally, is not all that dissimilar from books like the Hamster Revolution or advice I’ve gotten from friends on what to write in emails to score interviews with busy people.I recommend reading the whole post, but here are some suggestions that stuck out to me…

  • Drop the sense of entitlement. Nobody owes you an answer to your questions, even if you have problems and they have the ability to solve them. Don’t act like anybody owes you anything–they don’t. And asking for pointers or resources is preferable to asking for exact answers.
  • Do your homework before asking questions. I think we can all relate to someone asking us a question that they could just find the answer to online or in free resources we offer. It’s frustrating and time-consuming and doesn’t have good prospects for actually helping the person in question, who comes across as lazy. When people feel technically inept, they often forget about this. Before asking for help, try to help yourself by reading the manual, using the Google machine, looking through the archives of the list you want to post to, experimenting, asking skilled friends, or reading the source code (if you can grok it). If you’re going to post on a forum or list, make sure you’ve spent some time researching it and are reasonably sure that it is the correct place to ask.
  • Mention what you’ve done ahead of time and what you’ve learned from it. This is a mistake I’ve made, often saying things like “I spent 30 hours on this” or assuming that it was a given that I’d spent a lot of time trying to fix something before approaching someone for help. Instead of talking about how I’ve been working on trying to fix something forever, I could explain what I read and why it didn’t apply and what I may have gotten out of it. I’ve also made the mistake of trying to diagnose problems, instead of just describing what I tried and what happened to, you know, an expert who would actually be able to diagnose the problem.
  • Write good subject headers. If you’re posting on a mailing list or forum, subject headers are important for getting the help you need. Make sure they’re specific and technical. The post explains that object-deviation subject headers are best, ones where you describe the thing that’s broken, followed by how it is broken. I’m thinking even if your contact with someone isn’t through an email list, having good headers (or asking the initial question in a logical way) would be just as important.
  • Put some thought into your questions, and be sure to ask them in a logical order. I’ve found that throwing out multiple questions, even if well-researched, can be really frustrating for someone who wants to approach a problem in a linear and logical way. (Usually they’ll just say “STOP” and redirect the conversation, but delicate snowflakes like me probably want to avoid this from happening in the first place.)
  • Be crazy specific. Just because you’re asking your questions in a logical way rather than delving into a prolonged monologue about Still Life With Laptop doesn’t mean that you can neglect to include all of the pertinent details, so make sure to describing the symptoms, when they occur, what you researched, what steps you’ve tried and the results, any relevant changes in your computer or software configuration, and how to reproduce the problem, if possible. Describe the symptoms in chronological order.
  • Follow up to let people know (and say thank you) if something works. Jotting off a quick note to people who spent a lot of time helping you with a solution solution means they won’t feel like their work is disappearing into the ether.

Check out the full post here: How To Ask Questions The Smart Way. Also, my comments are working again; feel free to leave yours.

Lead image by Marcus Ramberg


Music To Write By

Last week I waxed poetic about Brian Eno’s Ambient Music for Airports as the perfect soundtrack for high-pressure projects with tight deadlines. This week’s selection is Cyberbully Mom Club, another recommendation from a Twitter friend. It’s comforting, relaxing, gentle, and genuine… Take a listen.

Monkeys, Music, and Mayhem: Yael Writes’ Weekly Wrap

10329203_484081391725892_2009436025575136953_nWeek two of the Freelance Success/WordCount Blogathon is now in the books, and I’m actually typing this up in advance, hoping that I’ll have time on Sunday to rush to my laptop and throw in the appropriate links before this goes live. (That’s what happens when you schedule posts in advance, just in case.)

Week two was another exercise in the versatility of blog posts, but no food porn or house hunting or advice for freelancers this week.

Blogathon Posts From This Past Week

  • June 11: Monkey Business. An old 2-min. video I took of a capuchin monkey in the wild.

Some stuff I wrote or contributed to:

Beyond PowerPoint: Livening Up Presentations (Dice Insights)

Migrants Gone Missing: Healing and Closure for Families, Thanks to Forensic Science (TakePart)

Security News This Week: The NSA Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop (Neither Will Israel, China, or Britain) (WIRED)

Coming Up This Week

I still want to write about herbalism and science, about online courses/MOOCs for writers, and yet another app/tool roundup, as well as the thoughts about “processed” foods (and what that means), and have been toying around with a piece on when writers are most vulnerable.

I’m open to suggestions, so please feel free to contact me!

Scrapbook Diaries: How To Use A Phone

Scrapbook Diaries is a series where I attempt to share personal thoughts based on pages of a scrapbook I kept while in college. 



It’s always blown my mind  how difficult-to-assemble items come with impossibly dense pictograms, but easy-to-use items apparently require detailed instructions…so we’re stuck trying to put together Ikea furniture based on these weird line drawings, but I sure am glad that 22-year-old me received a thorough briefing on how to make a phone call.


Monkey Business (Video)

Five years ago, I brought my now-husband to Costa Rica to meet my parents, who were living there at the time. We went on a hike at Parque Nacional de Cahuita, and got to meet some capuchin monkeys up close and personal. Here is a couple of minutes video footage of one of them.

How Not To Respond to a Public Records Request

The ability to file Freedom of Information Act requests can be a powerful tool for reporters and citizens alike. It can be met with resistance and even outright hostility. It’s also a challenging tool that takes a lot of patience and strategy.

But sometimes the best public records requests start out as a whim. One time I wondered which client Perkins Coie was talking about on their website in a tweet I read, which led to a full-fledged article. And once I wondered what happened to a Pima College police officer who harassed me when I was getting a fingerprint clearance card quite a while ago, and whether other complaints had been filed against him before or since.


Sometimes people don’t like it when you dig up their public records. They might even, it appears, get friends to try to discredit documents before anyone has even written about them.

It took six months, but I found plenty. 30 pages of complaints to be precise, including allegations of bullying, harassment, inappropriate comments, and even failing to respond to a dangerous, high-risk incident of a man pointing a gun at a passerby; apparently the police officer in question chose to meet with a union rep instead and did not properly communicate that he was busy over dispatch. The complaints started in May 2006, with additional complaints on July 2006, December 2007, March, September, and December 2013, and July 2014.

Oddly enough, Pima Community College counsel Jeffrey Silvyn said that none of the complaints, save the one about failing to respond to an armed assailant, were substantiated. This doesn’t fit in line with my own experience, because one of the complaints was mine.

It was from when I was getting a fingerprint clearance card for teaching back in July 2006. Apparently trying to get someone to rub up on you while taking their fingerprints and later blockading them in a bathroom does not rise to the level of sexual harassment/hostile environment under federal law, but the fact-finding did in fact support the allegations as presented by me. It was in fact considered a hostile educational environment and the allegations were found to represent behavior that was in breach of College policy and procedure. And, in my situation, there were consequences.  The officer in question had to attend one-on-one training with the EEO director, viewed videos on sexual harassment, read a book, and wrote 4 papers on the topic after viewing the videos and reading the book.

I would hardly call a complaint about an incident which was found to have taken place, was against policy, and had repercussions to be “unsubstantiated.” If I had to guess, I’d assume that many of these other “unsubstantiated” allegations, well, weren’t. Therefore, I have further requested additional documents, including reviews of allegations, fact-finding documents, and resolutions, along with a personnel file. I’ve also asked for some complaints that appear to be missing. The College anticipates that there will be 300+ pages of documents, which may turn out to be very interesting indeed. Stay tuned, because I plan to scan them just for you.

Other than avoiding misleading language easily disproven by the very person filing the public records request, how should you respond to requests about complaints alleging intimidation and harassment? Well, avoiding further attempts at intimidation and harassment might be a good start. Of course, anyone can create any name they want on a message board, so it’s possible that DJ Mikey Godovchik and Pima College trades/maintenance specialist Greg Reddoch are uninvolved. But anyone who thinks that typo-laden ranting online will do anything to dissuade the person filing a request, or will draw attention away from documents,  had better take some Dexedrine and open up them eyes.

On Reading The Comments

215267578_5715694683_zI have a confession to make. Despite the advice of mentors and colleagues, I read the comments on articles and posts I write.

A lot of writers don’t, and I can see why. Comments are often brutal. There are ways to make them less so–active moderation, clear and consistent ground rules, and a really good community that essentially moderates itself. But often editors and site owners see that as just another item on the endless list of things to do, and steer away from it. And writers who feel they get very little benefit from a stinking pile of online abuse often throw their hands up and give up.

Far be it from me to tell other writers what to do, but for me, that’s the wrong approach. I’d prefer it if there were algorithms or tools on place to help comments surface to the top, or active moderation where I felt that a website had my back. But accuracy is also very important to me, so I try my best to suck it up and read the comments. I don’t always engage or respond, but I do take note of what readers had issue with. Some people have minor quibbles. Others are willfully ignorant and argue about things I never wrote. Some take issue with someone I interviewed or a study I cited. And every once in a while there’ll be legitimate critiques that help me understand how an article was perceived, which improves my writing in the future.


I find that I’m often a lot harder on myself than I am on fellow writers while reading the comments. If someone’s mouthing off about an error in someone else’s post, I don’t think less of them as a writer. But readers finding errors in my writing have led me to be a bit more accurate in future work. And even though corrections on the bottom of  was embarrassing at the moment, it is better than having the error still stand on a post with one’s name on it. I’ve noticed posts with errors written by fellow writers who have not noticed–because they don’t read the comments.

I do think readers who mouth off in the comments are sometimes unaware of the tremendous amount of time pressure writers and editors are in. Print magazines, at least the good ones, go through an excruciating and drawn-out fact-checking and revision process. Web posts are sometimes hastily thrown together and quickly edited in a race against the clock. Mistakes are bound to happen.

And some so-called mistakes really aren’t. Minor quibbles about the definitions of words, people who want to argue with points never made, accusations of bias from both sides of an issue, people decrying posts as inaccurate if they draw conclusions or summarizes research that they dislike, brands who feel slighted because they have a similar product that wasn’t mentioned, etc… these are all worth ignoring. Sometimes waiting a few days or a week to read can help one feel less close to their work.

Reading the comments not only helps me make corrections, but also helps me realize what parts of a piece spoke to readers, and get to know the audience of the sites I write for a little bit better. And that’s not even mentioning that comments aren’t always bad. Although the internet’s given critics and bullies a forum for their opinions, it also allows for a tremendous exchange of information.

And any reminder to verify the accuracy of my work is always a good one.

Lead image by Duncan C.


Music to Write By

musicI am perpetually looking for new tunes, as most of you who follow me on social media are probably well aware. Never is this so obvious as when I’m sitting down to finish a project, especially a stressful one.

Sometimes it seems impossible to find music that works. It has to be interesting, but not distracting. It can’t be too catchy, or too relaxing. Typing in random moods in Musicovery has been fruitless. Sometimes I resort to Songza soundtracks, the sound of rain, and other people’s cafe soundscapes.

A couple of friends told me to check out Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports . I listened to it when I was on a tight deadline on a complex breaking news story for a new-to-me editor writing for a site I really care about. Obviously, worrying about the possibility of  making career-ending errors won’t prevent them. Something about Music for Airports helped me move fast without rushing and took some of the edge off of the process. So consider checking it out next time you’re putting your best effort into a difficult task with the deadline looming, and see if it helps. And, as always, please send me your best music suggestions… Like I said, I’m always looking for new tunes…