Category Archives: Work

Fighting Gender Inequality In the Tech Industry, Underwear-Style

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Was it a good idea to have women technology CEOs and coders pose in their underwear as a form of empowerment? Dear Kate, a company that sells “performance underwear for high performing women” has been dealing with this question since pics of its latest advertising campaign showing women techies in their undergarments were first released.

Some are not pleased with the campaign such as Elissa Shevinsky, CEO of the startup Glimpse Labs and author of the Business Insider article “That’s It—I’m Finished Defending Sexism in Tech.” She stated in Time Magazine that “[women] posing in [their] underwear undermines the message that [women] aim to be taken seriously as a technologist.” She added “This ad is like a parody,” and concluded. “I’m struggling to believe it’s real.” Natalie Matthews of Elle Magazine seems to disagree stating that “[t]here’s certainly no reason we should freak out over tech professionals embracing their feminine, sexual side…”

2014 Employee Gender Diversity Chart for 14 Tech Companies (Image: Fortune Magazine)

2014 Employee Gender Diversity Chart for 14 Tech Companies (Image: Fortune Magazine)

Dear Kate Founder and CEO Julie Sygiel came up with the campaign idea to help launch its Ada Collection, named after Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer. Sygiel sees these ads as part of its continuing efforts to promote real women, in this instance women in the tech industry.

Sygiel told Time “I think a lot of traditional lingerie photo shoots depict women as simply standing there looking sexy. They’re not always in a position of power and control” hence the ads showing the women coding in a tech/work environment. “In our photo shoots it’s important to portray women who are active and ambitious. They’re not just standing around waiting for things to happen.”

That may be true, but it doesn’t negate the fact that women have had a tough time in the technology industry, let alone reaching managerial echelons in the field. In the past few months several tech giants such as Google, Apple and Facebook finally released their employee demographics in response to grumblings regarding the tech industry’s lack of gender and racial diversity. As was expected the majority of tech employees are white and male (see side charts; other charts available at Fortune Magazine).

Combine the gender disparity with the ongoing misogyny in the field, women techies rightfully feel as if they are overlooked, underestimated and sometimes mistreated by their male counterparts in the industry.

But are these ads the right way to raise the issue of the lack of women in the tech industry?

When I first saw the ads the words ’empowerment,’ ‘awesome,’ or ‘sexist’ didn’t come to mind. I was mildly flummoxed about why these women were posing in their underwear with laptops. I was immediately reminded of commercials where I’ve seen young women talking about how they’re taking college classes online while in their pajamas. However, my bewilderment regarding the campaign turned into incredulity once I saw the other ‘Dear Kate’ images (where the women techies were still in their undies) with block quotes in which the women pontificated on the tech industry. This is where the campaign went off the unintentional deep end.

2014 Employee Gender Diversity By Leadership Team Chart for 14 Tech Companies (Image: Fortune Magazine)

2014 Employee Gender Diversity By Leadership Team Chart for 14 Tech Companies (Image: Fortune Magazine)

How can the quotes or thoughts of these women be taken seriously when juxtaposed with them in their undies? Sadly, it actually makes them seem vapid – like listening to a not-so-bright beauty queen discuss world hunger – which is exactly the opposite of the goal of the campaign. It’s as if the ads were trying to do a two-for-one-deal in showing that women should be proud of their bodies no matter what shape or size and that there are women breaking barriers in the tech industry.

But the problem regarding women techies hasn’t been about their actual bodies, in a general sense, but about the small number of women employed in the industry or in leadership positions. Also, why do women have to take off their clothes to show that they’re comfortable about their bodies as a form of empowerment? No one is expecting tech CEOs or leaders such as Apple’s Tim Wise, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Larry Page, Twitter’s Dick Costolo or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to drop down to their skivvies to show the tech industry that they are a force to be acknowledged and reckoned with.

Nevertheless, Matthew has a problem with the need or requirement that women should remove their sexuality from their professional lives. She says that the “idea that if women want to eliminate gender biases in STEM fields, they must first separate their sexual selves from their “serious,” professional ones” is a “double standard” that she views as “backward.”

Adda Birner, Founder of Skillcrush, and one of the women featured in the Dear Kate campaign, said to Time “I speak to a lot of women who ask, ‘Is it possible to be a woman in technology and be happy and like your work and not be sexually harassed every day?’ And showing more images of the women who are working in tech and love it and are kicking ass and taking names is a really good thing.”

Maybe we’re over-thinking Dear Kate’s ‘Women In Tech’ Ada Collection campaign in that it’s not about empowerment, sexism or exploitation. Maybe it’s just about showing women who happen to work in technology, looking comfortable in their underwear while working.

Sygiel seems to think so, stating to Elle “I believe women should be taken seriously regardless of what we are wearing, and this should hold true for all professions.”

What Matthews, Birnir and Sygiel have said sounds nice, but the fact that we’re still primarily discussing seeing these women in their undergarments, and not their professional accomplishments in the tech industry is telling. It’s just another example that women still have a ways to go when it comes to optics not being the determining factor in how they are viewed by men and women, no matter Dear Kate’s female empowerment intentions. Then again, the company is in the business of selling underwear so they may have accomplished their goal, if not anyone else’s, involved in this campaign.

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What do you think about the Dear Kate underwear campaign? Below is a one-question survey to voice your opinion.

 

When Nepotism Is A Double-Edged Sword: The Case of Jay Paterno

Jay Paterno, former Penn State University Quarterbacks Coach (Image: CNN, undated)

Jay Paterno, former Penn State University Quarterbacks Coach (Image: CNN, undated)

Jay Paterno is still mad and he’s not going to take it anymore. The former Penn State University Quarterbacks Coach and son of the late Coach Joe Paterno is suing PSU to get what he thinks is owed him by those who have done him wrong.

In his $1 million lawsuit against the university which he filed last month with another former PSU coach, Jay Paterno is alleging, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he was “improperly terminated” when [he was] retained as an [assistant coach] by [former] Penn State coach Bill O’Brien in January 2012″ and that the university has [engaged] in civil conspiracy against [him]” which has made him “unemployable for other football coaching positions.”

In other words, Jay Paterno has been unable to get a coaching job since PSU cleaned its football house in early 2012. As you might recall, Jay Paterno’s dad, Joe Paterno and other head administrators were fired by the university in light of the 2011 child abuse scandal in which Former PSU Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky was accused and eventually sentenced to 30-60 years for 45 counts of child sexual abuse against ten boys.

Once the Sandusky case rocked the university and his dad’s less-than-stellar handling of one reported sexual assault by Sandusky came to light, Jay Paterno should’ve known his coaching days at PSU were numbered, especially once his dad died from the stress of it all or of a guilty conscience.

Yet he seemed shocked by the termination. I guess having been employed by your father for seventeen years; twelve years in a high profile position means never having to experience the ‘new coach = possible job termination’ phenomenon. Therefore when it happened to Jay Paterno courtesy of O’Brien it was probably a major kick-in-the-gut moment for him though he did receive a severance payment given to ‘Paterno Assistants’ who weren’t retained by O’Brien.

It would be hard to argue that the Sandusky scandal hasn’t been an impediment to Jay Paterno’s post-PSU coaching career. What university would want a coach on their team who might have turned a blind eye and/or deaf ear to Sandusky’s sexual assault of young boys (though it has never been alleged or proven that Jay Paterno had knowledge of the incidents)? Of course Jay Paterno’s last name has probably proved more of a hindrance than a help–which isn’t normally how it has worked for him. Hiring him might bring unwanted attention to a school regarding a topic or coach that they don’t wish to discuss.

However, there is another question that hasn’t been fully vetted regarding Jay Paterno’s lack of coaching offers. Is it solely because of  his ‘connection’ to the Penn State/Sandusky scandal that he hasn’t been hired or could it also involve something else, such as his own coaching history?

Underwhelming Coaching Achievements

Most of Jay Paterno’s college football experience has been playing and working for his dad. He was a member of the Nittany Lions football team for four years (1986-1990) though he was never a starter. In his final year he was a reserve quarterback for the team.

After he graduated from PSU he was a graduate assistant for the University of Virginia football team for a couple of years (1990-1992). Next up, he was the Quarterbacks and Tight Ends coach at the University of Connecticut for one year (1993-1994). His final stop before returning to PSU was a one-year term as the Quarterbacks Coach at James Madison University (1994-1995). From 1995-1999 he was PSU’s Tight Ends Coach and Recruiting Coordinator then became their Quarterbacks Coach in 1995 until he was terminated in 2012.

His football coaching experience amounts to 19 years with 17 of them at Penn State working under his dad. Not exactly a prolific coaching road he’s traveled. Nevertheless, Penn State’s bio of Jay Paterno lauds his quarterback coaching work at the university.

[Jay Paterno] has been instrumental in the development of Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin, both of whom have delivered school record-setting performances. Paterno was influential in the development of two-time first-team All-Big Ten signal-caller Daryll Clark. Co-winner of the 2009 Big Ten Silver Football (MVP), Clark was 22-4 as a starter, breaking Penn State records for season (24) and career (43) touchdown passes, season passing yardage (3,003) and season total offense (3,214), among others. Under Paterno’s guidance, Clark gave Penn State a 2,000-yard passer for the fifth straight year. Paterno was instrumental in the development of record-setting quarterbacks Anthony Morelli and Michael Robinson, the 2005 Big Ten MVP. Robinson broke Kerry Collins’ Penn State season total offense mark en route to finishing fifth in voting for the Heisman Trophy. Paterno also coached Zack Mills, who owned or shared 18 school passing and total offense records, including the game passing (399 yards) and total offense (418 yards) marks.

Sounds like he’s done some solid work molding successful quarterbacks, but I doubt any of the above QB names beyond Collins (whom he only worked with for one season) rings much of a bell to most NFL fans and with good reason. Yes, some of his quarterbacks broke a few Big 10 Records and two of them finished in the Top 10 of the Heisman Trophy Race during their PSU years (Kerry Collins and Michael Robinson). But if you’re a well-known football program what you hang your hat on is how many of your players make it to the NFL.

JayPaterno.QBsCHART

Under Jay Paterno’s coaching tutelage only three of his QBs  have made it to the NFL, with one of them playing as a wide receiver. Also PSU quarterbacks during his tenure didn’t exactly do a lot of passing during their games, with only Zack Mills and Matt McGloin cracking the 150 yards per game average. Yes, PSU has traditionally been known for its running game and producing linebackers. However that doesn’t mean PSU wasn’t interested in putting up large QB numbers, especially since it was in the Big Ten. For the eleven quarterbacks whom he coached at PSU during his 12-year period they only averaged 144.4 passing yards per game. You stack up that data against other well-known or Big Ten quarterbacks during that time period (Kyle Orton, Tom Brady, Chad Henne, Drew Brees) Penn State’s signal callers suffer woefully in comparison, let alone their QB Coach.

Neither Penn State or Jay Paterno attracted big-time quarterbacks and they definitely didn’t produce them. Is it any wonder that college football programs haven’t been clamoring for his quarterback coaching services?

Grasping At Career Straws

Cover of 'Paterno Legacy' 2014 book written by Jay Paterno (Image: Amazon.com)

Cover of ‘Paterno Legacy’ 2014 book written by Jay Paterno (Image: Amazon.com)

Due to a lack of college coaching offers Jay Paterno had to find another career path. Maybe he could’ve stepped back a level and done some high school coaching or become an athletic administrator at a smaller school, sensible decisions to most people, unless you’re a Paterno.

Instead, he decided to run for public office. In a somewhat ‘go big or go home’ political move he announced in February 2014 that he was running in the Democratic Race for Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania. As to be expected,  his campaign was practically over before it started. The validity of the 1,000 signatures his campaign collected to have his name officially put on the ballot became a legal sticking point. In addition, he had zero political experience, was running against six other politically-seasoned candidates and the issue of him being accused of trading off his family name for votes was a salient one. Inevitably, on March 28, 2014 he dropped out of the race.

Luckily for him he had another career back-up plan. While he was running for office he had been working on his first book Paterno Legacy: Enduring Lessons from the Life and Death of My Father, which was released this summer. The books’s purpose in so many words is to remind others that they shouldn’t allow the Sandusky issue to define Joe Paterno’s life and football legacy. Jay Paterno has always defended his dad’s actions surrounding the Sandusky child sexual assault scandal, stating that “in no way shape or form would Joe Paterno have put anybody in harm’s way” though the Freeh Report which investigated PSU’s actions regarding the Sandusky matter stated otherwise. Nevertheless, the book will probably do well among PSU Alumni who still strongly believe that PSU should honor Joe Paterno for his service to the university, if no one else.

Jay Paterno must think being a writer/author will be a good career move. Besides his bi-monthly column for StateCollege.com his official website (formerly his campaign website) mentions that he is working on a second book tentatively titled ‘School Colors’ that will “take readers inside a year of big-time college football.” Guess he’ll be speaking from personal experience.

 Assessing Blame

Jay Paterno may believe that Penn State has sabotaged his coaching career because the university is trying to run as fast as it can from all those who were employed by Joe Paterno and/or connected to Jerry Sandusky. Given the fact that Jay Paterno has never been accused of having knowledge of Sandusky’s actions it would seem that maybe the scandal hasn’t tarnished him as much as he alleges.

Jay Paterno (Image: Mark Pynes, PennLive, July 24, 2014)

Jay Paterno (Image: Mark Pynes, PennLive, July 24, 2014)

What seems to really be at play in Jay Paterno’s post-PSU work history is good, old-fashioned nepotism. He worked twelve years as the quarterbacks coach for his dad churning out mediocre talent at best with a couple of bright spots. Given his coaching record with his quarterbacks he wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long if he was at another college football program. The only reason why he did is because of his last name. He knows it and so does the college football coaching community. His short-term dive into politics (which was probably his first truly obvious attempt to trade on his family’s name) was, to be blunt, a vanity-filled, waste-of-time. In this instance, nepotism and politics weren’t on friendly terms. As for his writing career, maybe he will become a successful author, but given his track record it seems unlikely.

In the end Jay Paterno might be good at only one thing – being the son of Joe Paterno. Can’t blame Penn State, Sandusky or O’Brien for that – only himself.

Missing the Big Picture: What Yahoo’s Work-At-Home Ban Really Means

Yahoo logo outside Santa Clara, CA office (File Photo/AP/May 24, 2011)

Yahoo logo outside Santa Clara, CA office (File Photo/AP/May 24, 2011)

Yahoo! Incorporated has been all over the news these past of weeks due to its decision to ban  telecommuting. Its CEO, Marissa Mayer stated in an HR memo to its employees, which was leaked to All Things D, a tech industry blog, that starting in June staff will be required to work in a Yahoo office – a move that appears to be a part of the company’s rebooting efforts.

Of course this news has not gone over well with its 11,000+ employees or those in favor of work-at-home. Proponents of Yahoo’s decision have decried the removal of this type of work flexibility; claiming that it’s demoralizing or harmful to families, especially working mothers. While opponents have supported and applauded Mayer’s tough-but-gutsy decision, saying that it’s about time that Yahoo! employees, in fact all employees, stop abusing this benefit and realize that work is done best in an office; interacting with colleagues.  In the midst of this brouhaha has been comments about how Mayer doesn’t understand the financial and familial benefits of working-at-home since she a) has an estimated net worth of $300 million;  b) might receive close to $60 million from Yahoo during her tenure and c) paid to have a nursery built in her office so that she could bring her infant to work.

What has become lost in the midst of the work-at-home battle has been one major question that has not been asked of Yahoo. What does it say about Yahoo, a multinational internet corporation, that it apparently can’t manage its employees who work-at-home?

Dilbert cartoon on telecommuting (United Feature Syndicate Inc. 1997)

Dilbert cartoon on telecommuting (United Feature Syndicate Inc. 1997)

It should seem obvious, maybe not to Mayer, that if you have slacker employees (i.e. unproductive, unreliable, unable to adhere to project or work schedule, etc.) who are partial or full-time telecommuters they will more than likely continue to be slackers, just now they’ll be working in the office instead of at home.

What will Yahoo’s supervisors/managers do to combat these employees’ bad work habits? Do these managers have the training and experience to deal with these type of employees? Keep in mind, if the managers were unable to manage these unproductive employees as telecommuters, what makes Yahoo think that they will be able to manage these individuals in-person while simultaneously turning them into collaborative and responsible workers?

I’m sure Mayer’s actions are also Yahoo’s way of getting rid of ‘dead weight’ and/or reducing costs by forcing employees to quit due to location or commute hardships. However, I doubt every bad WAH employee is going to resign from his/her position as a result of the ban. Again, how does the ban help Yahoo deal with its apparent or perceived culture of crappy telecommuters? Also, will Yahoo have to secure additional office space to accommodate these now in-office employees? This could add to Yahoo’s bottom line, thereby defeating somewhat the goal of supposedly cutting costs by eliminating employees via the work-at-home ban.

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! Inc. on Feb. 20, 2013 (Photo/Peter Kramer, AP)

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! Inc. on Feb. 20, 2013 (Photo/Peter Kramer, Associated Press)

Most importantly, what about those WAH employees who weren’t abusing this perk? Who were actually productive and reliable? What about future applicants who might (or were) interested in working for Yahoo prior to the ban?

Yahoo has been so busy banning WAH to get rid of bad employees (and create a work community atmosphere possibly similar to Google or Facebook) that it appears they weren’t really thinking about the good employees who would be hurt by the ban or potential applicants who might go elsewhere because of it or what the ban signifies about Yahoo.

As many managers can attest, just because an employee shows up for work doesn’t mean that he or she is actually working, let alone being productive. Yahoo’s WAH problem isn’t just a telecommuter problem, it is also a managerial and human resources issue as well.

Slashing the work-at-home option may have immediately shown Yahoo’s investors, financiers and employees that it’s serious about turning the company around, in that it plans to become a major internet player again.

However, when a company makes a decision that will have a long-range impact, the last thing it should want is that decision to bring about more questions than answers. As it stands, Yahoo’s work-at-home ban seems to have created more of the former than the latter.

Not exactly a great way to ensure everyone that you really mean business.

Lies, Damn Lies and Unemployment Numbers

On August 5th the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) via the Department of Labor announced that there wasn’t much movement in the unemployment rate (from 9.2% to 9.1%) and in the number of unemployed persons (13.9 million) since April. However,  117,000 new jobs have been created since June with most of the job gains in health care, retail trade, manufacturing and mining. Not such great news.

Whenever the U.S. Department of Labor announces the nation’s quarterly unemployment rate I always double it. I believe my mathematical adjustment better reflects the country’s true unemployment status of its citizens.

The gathering of unemployment data has been incomplete and under-reported. In other words, the unemployment numbers are utter bullshit.

Who are they counting?

Every day I hear and read about people who have been unemployed for years; living on their savings to get by. I see obviously unemployed 20somethings roaming the malls or riding the metro. I’ve been in DC libraries in the afternoon where I see people between the ages of 30-60 using the library computers or personal laptops looking and applying for jobs. I talk to people who have family members who were laid-off from their $70K+ jobs who are now working part-time for $8/hour at some retail store. I know people who have been underemployed for almost four years and have been looking for full-time work for just as long. We see some of these people every day. Does the BLS see these people?!

If the BLS numbers were a true reflection of the nation’s jobless rate–which is probably closer to my suggested 19.2% instead of 9.1%– Americans would be stunned. They would also be very scared if  they came across this tidbit on  the BLS website which states that “UI information cannot be used as a source for complete information on the number of unemployed.”

The UI (unemployment insurance) is the number of people who apply for and receive unemployment benefits. The reason why this data isn’t a complete source because it doesn’t calculate a) unemployed people delaying to apply for unemployment benefits; b) those who are underemployed and 3) those who have exceeded their unemployment benefits and have given up looking for work. Most importantly, this data, unlike the unemployment rate isn’t collected monthly; normally it’s done quarterly or biannually.

Yet the the BLS numbers are used as the source for unemployment data; constantly reported as gospel. How can BLS data be reported as factual when its own website implies that some of its data is incomplete?

History of Unemployment Data

The BLS has been reporting the nation’s unemployment numbers for over 70 years since 1933 during the President Franklin Roosevelt’s Administration. These numbers are what keep the nation going. Financial decisions ranging from corporate investments to whether to buy a new home are sometimes determined by the reported unemployment rate.

The unemployment numbers are based on the Current Population Survey (CPS) a monthly survey conducted by the U.S. government that calculates the rate of unemployment in the United States. The survey does not interview every American which would be unwieldy, but a sample of the population. That sample amounts to 110,000 individuals (60,000 households) at least 15 years of age that are surveyed per month. The samples are grouped geographically so as to represent each state and the District of Columbia.

CPS is the largest survey conducted and claims that its numbers are right “90 out of 100 times” meaning that there count is probably off by “290,000 people.”

All these caveats and qualifications to their data, yet their unemployment numbers are still repeatedly cited as an economic bellwether.

It’s not only their data which is  a tad suspect, but how it defines employment and unemployment is also food for thought.

Employed vs. Unemployed

According to the BLS website “People with jobs are employed. People who are jobless, looking for jobs, and available for work are unemployed. People who are neither employed nor unemployed are not in the labor force.”

Sounds simple enough, but labor statistics are not that clear-cut, though BLS’s data seems to suggest that it is.

BLS attempts to do its best to provide factual and erroneous-free data stating that its interviewers “do not decide the respondents’ labor force classification.” The BLS sites states that interviewers (U.S. Census workers) are instructed to “simply ask the questions in the prescribed way and record the answers.” Then “based on information collected in the survey and definitions programmed into the computer, individuals are then classified as employed, unemployed, or not in the labor force.”

Let’s take a look at those definitions which help decide the nation’s unemployment rate:

  • employed – The BLS numbers that contribute to the unemployment/employment rate doesn’t specify whether your employment is part-time or full-time. It doesn’t go into details about whether you’re job is a minimum wage job that you had to take because you were laid-off from your $60,000/year job. It doesn’t worry about the fact that your full-time job was switched to a part-time job with less money. It doesn’t account for the fact that your part-time hours were cut from 30 hours to 10 hours per week. As long as you are employed in some capacity, no matter how untenable or financially debilitating it is, the BLS considers you to be employed.
  • employed/length of employment – The BLS will also classify you as being employed if you’ve worked at least 5 weeks during their quarterly reporting periods. In other words, as long as someone works at least 20 weeks out of a 52-week period they’re considered gainfully employed. Some of these people may actually be underemployed, but not according to BLS.
  • unemployed – This number is based on those people who have filed and received unemployment benefits (UI). The emphasis should be on ‘filed’ because as far as BLS is concerned if you are unemployed and not receiving unemployment benefits then you’re not on their unemployment radar. Some of us know people who have been laid off from work whose unemployment benefits have run out and have been looking for employment for months, sometimes years. The BLS doesn’t have a classification for these individuals, but they are out there
  • not in the labor force – This antiquated description is for those who are 16+ who have never held a job or looked for a job. People who have not worked or no longer work due to a disability. One of BLS’ examples mentioned on their site is named ‘Linda Coleman’ who is a homemaker who is “occupied with her normal household chores” and has “neither held a job nor looked for a job.” According to the Business Insider, teen participation rate in the workforce has been on the decline since the 1950s. As of January 2011 teens represent only 3% of the workforce though there are 74 million teens in the U.S. Surely the unemployment rate would increase if it had to account for an influx of fresh on-the-job market teens looking for work.

The job status for many Americans is not as clear-cut as it used to be, yet BLS still gathers its data based on the definition of employment that was established during the era of the FDR presidency and the Great Depression.

Truth in Numbers

It is impossible to survey every person in the United States about their employment status, especially if you’re trying to report this data on a monthly basis.

However, there has to be a way for BLS to track those people who no longer receive unemployment benefits, to find out about their employment status post-benefits. We need to know if these individuals have found a full-time position with comparable salary and if they’re underemployed or unemployed. If they’re still unemployed are they looking for work or have they taken a temporary or permanent break from job hunting?

Back to the 9.1% unemployment rate. It does paints a semi-rosy picture, even though several job prognosticators and economists see it as an arbiter of even more bad news to come. The fear is that if the nation hits double digits then we will be in worse shape, than expected. The fact is many Americans are already there, some have been experiencing the worse for quite some time.

Sophia Koropeckyj, a labor economist at Moody’s Analytics a credit analysis and financial management firm said, “Clearly, the 9.1 percent does not at all reflect what is going onabout the unemployment rate.

You can’t get much clearer than that. Too bad BLS’ data can’t do the same.

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