I decided a month ago to start a business. The funny bit is that my business partner and I had been collaborating for a while- we both worked closely at two different jobs, and many projects together, before deciding to “go legit.” We already had clients, even. We just hadn’t done the paperwork.
Between jobs last transition, I thought I wanted to start a business, but didn’t have any idea of *what* kind of business. I went to networking events, as a founder/CTO, hoping to be inspired. I went to a lot of them. I remained uninspired.
Then, like all big life transitions, you realize that it’s staring you in the face. I actually had clients that were still in the limbo state I had left them when I took my last job. So, we picked up right where we left off. I think, in retrospect, my last two positions were actually training grounds for this venture. In a weird way, it all cosmically made sense. Not that the road isn’t rocky. I was very down yesterday– I admit it– and wondering if this was the right decision at all. In a way that’s what makes partnerships great, he reminded me that we had such a great run of it recently, that this was a bit of start-up reality soaking in. Sometimes things don’t always go your way, etc.
And, it’s not all an accident or unplanned. I had conscientiously been building up resources and connections, people who I wanted to work with for x,y,z, all those things that prepare you. Now that we’re in the midst of it, it’s still overwhelming and there’s so much to do. So this isn’t some kind of triumph story, it’s definitely still a struggle. And I always question our value proposition, wondering if we should pivot, if we are viable, etc.
I don’t believe in the “you’ll find work doing what you love” life coach ideology- I would sit around eating cake and watching TV “for work.” I do enjoy helping people out with my skills, and building tight little good-looking prototypes.
Also, if you really want to do something, I do think everything ends up being easy. We had our first app launch, and I had a lot of jitters. I had to seriously convince myself that there was a small possibility everything would be fine… and it was. In fact, the users were more engaged than I’d hope, usage was higher, and we were able to live deploy about 5 changes during the launch. (Our strategy was to build an app that could be modified during launch).
Starting a business isn’t for everyone- I occasionally long for a situation where I can just show up at 9am and get paid, instead of wearing 5 hats. But it is nice to put into practice what we’ve observed, learning from errors and successes alike.
Last night I learned of the opening demo at TechCrunch’s Disrupt, “TitStare”. An app that takes a photo of you (and you are of course a heterosexual male) staring at a woman’s breasts with or without her consent, doesn’t really matter. Also, an app Circle Snake that ranks your (male) masturbation technique.
Got a voicemail from my boyfriend this morning offended and that I should write about it something like, “Anna Billstrom finds this kind of app horrifying…” (he tends to think I’m more influential than I am). My reluctance to tweet about it last night is perhaps another post altogether. Something about fatigue, desensitization, laziness in trying to find yet another way to talk about this issue. When it happens so often, is it new to you or other people, and therefore interesting anymore?
One switch up to this situation as compared to all the other conferences where I have to sit through boring brogrammer apps… there was a 9-year old girl presenting her app. Did the developers of TitStare or Circle Snake know that? If they did, did they care? Like me, did they assume all the audience was young, white, heterosexual men?
Well, how did these two offensive apps get in? The apologies from TechCrunch say that they didn’t screen or vet- the Twitterverse has been wondering how dumb they are to let “titstare” – even just in the title it’s obvious – get through.
To me, screening isn’t the answer. Diversity is the answer. Opening up the playing field. Because it’s really not a good competitive contest if it’s just one section of the population. When we start getting new, fresh ideas from other sections of the population- racial, age, gender, sexuality- then we start getting some interesting apps, interesting concepts, truly “out of the box” concepts. I’ve stopped going to Silicon Valley-only tech conferences. instead I like mashups with schools, museums, government, heck anything than *just* tech guys. Making it so the audience, the participants, the judges, everyone is a healthy mix of our population (and really, our eventual customers). It’s just so myopic and provincial to think geeky guys are the only consumers. For top bikes, yes. For Google Glass, sure. But for a mobile phone? Absolutely not. And technology, as we see here, is not what was offensive. Both of these apps were relatively simple technical concepts, but *applied* to a very narrow market.
The TitStare guys were followed by Adria Richard’s demo- Adria was well known for her blog post – also from a conference where guys behind her were opening making chauvinist remarks. Methinks these brogrammers like the attention. “Fun aussie hack,” the TitStare devs apologized. How is that an apology is beyond me #badapologies.
Developer Adria Richards was fired from her job after tweeting about sexual comments at a technology conference.2011, MSN
An Apology From TechCrunch 2013, TechCrunch
TechCrunch Disrupt Kicks Off with “Titstare” App and Fake Masturbation 2013 TechCrunch
*this* woul dhave been funny – an app for Forehead Tittaes, by Marion Cotillard
Really, I Have To Write This Article Again? 2013, Women2
How To Prevent Inappropriate Presentations 2013 SarahMei.com
This Christmas, close to 90% of shopping will occur on a mobile device. Companies are scrambling to get in-house developers.
Imagine you’re hiring an in-house team. You’re tired of outsourcing with contractors. You want to be able to walk to someone’s desk and ask them, “Can we do that on Android?” And, in this fantasy, the engineer lights up, does a few keystrokes, and voilà! Your new Android app does the dishes or your taxes, or some awesome feature. No long protracted meetings and $100,000 later you get a feature that doesn’t remotely look like what you asked for, and doesn’t even work that well doing something else.
I know these companies, and I understand their situation. They don’t have someone in-house to interview mobile. If they did, they wouldn’t have to hire them, ha. So here’s my opinion as a senior mobile developer and lead engineer, on how to interview candidates for mobile, as well as leadership roles.
1. Get rid of the fantasy that quick deployment will happen. Be realistic- two out of three marketplaces require review. Old software rules apply, that with good planning, iteration, and testing, you will get a great product. You can setup a quick deployment environment, but it’s not about the developer, it’s about your engineering group and how quick you release in general.
2. Mobile engineering is not rocket science. Complicated, obscure, and varied, yes, but mostly about getting up to speed on different systems and SDKs and hands-on experience. Put away the Google Questions, engineering exercises, and hypotheticals. Good design means thin clients to a single code repository on the server where you have the hard core engineers. Look for architecture chops- that limit the development on the client. If a mobile developer wants to “do everything on the client” that is generally a bad design. There are interesting problems on the client, but mostly around UI, caching and responsiveness. Hard-core developers in mobile are very tight with the operating system, or moving out of native and into web- HTML5.
3. More and more (and this is a good thing) the user interface and user experience are key elements to good mobile apps. Quick feature development is nice, but good and elegant solutions, from people who have done many apps are better. As an experienced iOS developer, my most intensive code is around a gradient button that I subclassed from the usual UI toolkit from Apple. Yes, making a button. And, it’s a damned good button. Also, my highest points from StackOverflow come from the blog post I made sharing the love on how to make gradient buttons on Android and iOS. So ask them about buttons. Ask them what apps they like and why. Ask them what is slow responsiveness, what is fast, what users can expect. Propose a problem and see how they answer it. Like, “What’s the best way to do a login and facebook login on the same app?” Have them whiteboard some mock-ups and screens. That is probably what they’re going to be doing all day- mobile mock-ups to communicate functionality. If you have an amazing design team, have them meet and interview the mobile developer. This will be a significant portion of their job. The right answers to “what is your favorite app”- one that you like as well. If you have different opinions, it’s probably not a match (or it’s a battle you’ll keep fighting during their tenure, if you want that.)
4. Hire someone who knows how to setup A/B tests for product design and customer feedback, analytics, and testing frameworks. That raises engineers from hobbyists to professionals. If they’ve been in a large engineering group, more the better. Working side by side with your API developer is key, key, key, to a successful internal mobile team. Can they “speak” to the server developer about how to access the API, or how to build one? Setup an interview with server developers and have them focus on data calls, modeling the server side, see if communication is good and they can work together. This will be approximately 30% of their workload, working with server engineers.
5. The “front-end” and “back-end” engineering roles of most web sites does not apply to mobile. If it does, it would be all front-end, but you need to handle memory management and work with a computer language that is Java or C. So, it’s a combination of a serious back-end developer, with user interface and UX interests. Hiring someone internally who is “interested in mobile” – I wouldn’t recommend this as it will be the blind leading the blind. There’s a lot of catching up to do, and while folks may learn fast, you will be their guinea pig, and all deadlines will be pushed out, or products released poorly. Without mentorship, I have seen this go very wrong. So, if you do hire a senior iOS or Android developer, or a lead, do train someone from another department if they’re interested. But don’t saddle them with product and feature deadlines, in a high pressure situation, right out of the gate. It is an expertise, and your business is important.
6. Ask them if they’ve ever versioned an app, and how they did it, and what they recommend or lessons they’ve learned. This will prove that they were involved in the architecture and implementation of a released product. The right answer is that they’ve done it before and can easily explain it to you. There are different flavors, but mostly it’s just whether it’s been done.
7. For developers who point to a lot of iPhone apps in the store that don’t list them as the creator, ask what role they had in the team. Many folks claim apps that are in the store that aren’t theirs, and understanding how they worked with their teammates, and the roles they had, and if they can justify certain code or decisions. Ask them how it got started, what their invovlement was. Were there any changes along the way? Did feature get dropped, if so, why? Sniff out bullshit here, and ask if you can get a reference from another team member. Developers are pretty territorial and will make sure that their work is theirs.
8. Points if the candidate has done packaged/downloadable software (application developers) are good candidates for mobile- the versioning is similar (vs. web), as it’s released software to devices. The problem with web developers who want to do mobile… the movement to HTML5 and mobile web is a great transition in the mobile space, but not completely done at this moment (to be in the store you still have to do a native wrapper app). The modal style of development for applications is still more application (vs. web). Application developers have been solving similar problems as mobile, just with bigger monitors. Web developers have two dangerous tendencies: live updates (not on a release schedule), and easy to create interfaces. Mobile development has a structured, timed release, and the user interface elements are more complex (longer to build) than web.
9. If you happen to land yourself a very senior mobile developer that you’d like to lead your group, the key elements to interview for, in my opinion:
- Ability to code for Android *and* iOS, and gravy if they can do mobile web
- Experience in the server language, or, structural and architectural understanding of the rest of your site and/or product.
Having architecture expertise, and proven experience in developing for multiple platforms, will place them in a unique situation to understand what the clients need to have responsibility for, and what others systems the clients need to interact with. Then, you can start doing the fun work of lining up all those cool features you want to develop.
Tucson, Arizona sunset
I took the Coast Starlight to Los Angeles, then the Sunset Limited from LA to New Orleans, and then back again 4 days later. A total of 10 days, mostly spent on the train. Coach class to Los Angeles, which was 13 hrs, and then sleeper (smallest/cheapest) to New Orleans, which was 2 days.
The Slow Pace
I loved the timing- slow. You were forced to slow yourself down. 3 hours, before the trip, I could cram with errands and tasks, emails, conversations, work. During vacation, 3 hours meant looking out the window. Picking up a book, putting it down. Getting coffee. In First Class (sleeper) we had meals included, so we were almost timed to the schedule of the dining car and reservations. I didn’t go online at all, if but to post the occasional photo on Facebook. Staring out the window, playing gin and chess, and drinking a cocktail or juice, those were my biggest activities. Or, napping, sleeping, chatting with other travelers. It was almost like you were taken back to a pre-digital/pre-car era.
One could say that baby-boomers brought us Viagra and IRAs, hippies brought us whole grains and hot tubs, and slackers (my generation) brought us the Internet and WFH. For no apparent reason, some of my friends have been dwelling on the question: “What Have Hipstesr Brought Us?” This is the current list:
- Berlin Beer Pong
- Biking in your regular clothes downtown is cool
- Better cocktails
Photo from: “How Hipsters and Irony Have Ruined Everything”
writing this post was inspired from many conversations with Kevin, but also, “A Very Gentle PSA To Anyone Writing a Trend Piece about Millennials” on Jezebel
Probably one of the hardest things to coordinate was getting the piano out of my mom’s house- which she had finally sold- and up to my apartment. 150 miles, from a large Victorian in Pacific Grove, to a small 1-bedroom in San Francisco.
First, I read an email in line at Trader Joe’s from my Mom that she needs x,y,z moved out of her house, including, the piano. Could I? The crazy idea of having a huge antique piano in my tiny apartment. Almost everyone I told thought it was crazy, for my under-700 square foot apartment. Granted, the reality is that as I write this, I’m sandwiched between a coffee table, an end table, and a media shelf destined for GoodWill.
All of my older siblings have passed up the piano. They have pianos, sure, but they are smaller and in tune. This piano is old, it’s quirky, it’s got a deep tone but it’s inherently flawed- a shifted part means it will never be 100%. I do really like the sound it makes, but I know that in the hard light of day, it needs some serious tuning love.
We always had music lessons growing up- piano at home, and an instrument for band or orchestra in school. A perk of being the youngest is that I got good piano lessons earlier than the other kids, and I got lots of material to learn on. Lessons were wasted on me when I was a young kid. For some reason at 16, I ended up paying for piano lessons, which seems weird to me now. I don’t know why I didn’t put that money towards cello. My cello playing was pretty good, I was proud of being first cello in our regional orchestra.
In college, I lived next to the big house that was the music hall. So I could play on any of the 10 grand pianos any time of night. And, I could hear from older students criticizing my playing, which was new to me, coming from the loving fold of adoring family. Moving out onto my own, I thought I’d got to practice studios but never did. I joined a band, tried other instruments, but as a renter, never really considered owning a piano.
I’m not a great piano player- my teacher used to comment on how I was into “certain music” (romantic) and to her credit, she got me into some more weird modern pieces that I like now. My hands are pretty small, with barely any span. I have a very subjective (ha) relationship to rhythm. I can read really well, but never learned to improvise well or play jazz. I get nervous when I have to accompany people. My favorite times are playing in the afternoon, when there’s a lively conversation in the other room. I like to get in that zone of half-hearing, half-paying attention, when I’m going along with the notes, figuring out the phrasings, the melodies, pleasantly surprised by some new thing I’ve learned, but not working too hard.
Back to the practical: moving the piano. I have learned there are specialists, and they are incredible. In mid-day traffic near Lombard Street, three guys stop the truck, raise the back, move the piano out, ride it down the ramp, push it across the busy traffic with the light, push it into my building, up the elevator, down the hall, do a tight turn, and plant the instrument right in the cubbyhole. In about 15 minutes. 750 pounds.
The piano is a Kranich & Bach, made in Harlem, NY. Five years after being a foreman at Steinway & Sons, due to labor strikes & disputes, Kranich left and formed a cooperative with 11 other ex-Steinwayans, the New York Piano Forte, Co. In 1874, he struck out with a colleague Bach, the cabinet-maker, to form Kranich & Bach. It was during this time, pre-1900, that my model was built (I can discern from the serial number). Known for its rosewood and mahogany, and other fine woods, they started making these adorable baby grands. Not quite respectable now- considered by many Honda of old pianos- the piano company was bought over and over again, and yes, at one time manufactured in China. Some consider pianos from this earlier period collectible. I don’t know anything about the original owner – my folks bought it used so my mom could relax (her words). At that time she was a young bride with a new son. Then, they moved it to DC, various houses in the LA area, to Monterey, to San Jose, and then back to PG. The only piano move I witnessed, was when my dad tried, by himself (and perhaps a sibling or two) and broke his wrist. It was in a cast from his neck to his wrist, for months, it seemed.
When I told my mom I was moving the piano, and it looked like it was really happening (yesterday, that is) she was so excited and relieved. I feel like it was one of the first times I could really do something nice for her. It consisted of a day and a half of bureaucratic paper shuffling, phone calls, arranging insurance, insurance riders, coordinating people who are harassed and busy all day. Thank god for email ( no more faxing!) and a flexible workplace where I could make phone calls. I found out that one mover, for 50% less, could do it if it was tomorrow. I had to make room, make sure folks were there at the pickup site on time, available at my apartment, coordinate the move, etc. And, I had to finally dejunk the little alcove that has collected computers parts and paperwork for 5 years. Correction, cough, 9 years.
The hardest part of having it is being OK with being loud. In city living, we make more compromises, and I love how quiet my building is. I broke into the new piano by playing my favorite piano piece, “Confidence” from “Songs Without Words,” by Mendelssohn. Then, “Remembrance” another small piano piece by Schumann. I stumbled a few times, noticed some new out of tune keys, realized how grungy the keys were. It was 5pm, I hoped I wasn’t interrupting my neighbor’s kids’ naps. Let’s hope.
Antique Piano Shop
video of someone playing a Kranich & Bach, similar tones to mine
Dr. Kranich, Your Piano’s Ready… I’m Afraid It’s Not Your Dad’s
Look how many women are at Google I/O – this is my world. Let’s change it.
I was recently on a call with a developer (woman), and a colleague who was her supervisor (male). This colleague is *very* well-intentioned and the last thing he wanted was to alienate, silence, diminish, humiliate, or shame the developer. He truly wanted to know what she thought, and to collaborate on a touchy timeline estimate we were building.
Throughout my career, as a woman and working with diverse teams, I’ve noticed a few things that made me think that women, as well as people from other cultures, minorities, or any “other” in the American technical workspace, may be contributing in a style different from what we expect. American business style is a certain way- and I can see the effectiveness of it- but for more diverse teams, there are other techniques to getting the strongest collaborative product out with all resources available.
Ask open-ended questions, and wait for the answer.
Don’t predict or propose a solution or statement. Instead, ask an open-ended question, to find out what they think. Wait for them to actually complete the entire thought. I feel like the American discourse style promotes initiative, assertiveness, and directness, and this is not taught or supported in other cultures (in France, for example, I was routinely told to downplay initiative). So by asking open questions, and creating clear interval or silence where you are listening for the response, helps bring out opinions from others that may be intimidated, or generally not as forceful speakers.
Ask leading questions
Contrary to above, ask questions that posit a strawman or a certain attitude or potential criticism. Then, key to this, is to wait for the full answer to complete.
Your point is stronger knowing the other collaborators’ opinions
You may know the right answer. You may have solved the problem. But your argument, eventually, is far more persuasive if you have heard more opinions from the team, and know how it fits in with your final argument. Listening to as many individuals in a team as you can get- regardless of seniority or experience- strengthens your position.
Ask before you posit your own opinion
It sets bias to say what you think, before asking for a response. Especially if you are senior or in a position of more strength than the person you’re asking. So always ask first.
I learned a lesson in one of my first workplaces- about goodwill- that has proved itself over and over again.
I had a colleague that was much older than me, and knew almost everything about our little software animation shop (4 people, including 2 co-founders). Classic startup- I worked the phone, customer service, accounts payable, product management, and (cough) engineering. Whenever I had a question, I asked him. He got tired of this, and stopped wanting to help me. What I was told by my boss (the president) was that I “hadn’t built up goodwill.” Regardless of whether it was in this guy’s job description (my argument), I had to still help him. I had to make it worthwhile for him to help me.
How goodwill relates to the collaborative process: communicate what you have learned in gathering opinions, for example. Communicate to the developer how her opinion is backed up by other investigations into the problem. Reveal and contribute, where you can, to help her be part of the solution. In the future, she will be more ready to contribute and offer resources to the solution. Sure, it’s in her job description, but showing the final goal and how she contributes to the goal is how you, as a senior person, can give something valuable back to her. Take an opportunity to help her if you know a way of researching a problem she has had. Unsolicited help, or asking if she needs more eyes on a problem. Offer to pair, or contribute feedback before she submits her next pull request.
You’ve seen them- large, ghost-like double-decker buses, careening around the narrow streets, in the Mission, or North Beach, picking up nicely dressed young people and carting them off to hinterlands of Silicon Valley. Is it a sign of exclusivity, of belonging, being part of a bigger machine, the companies that can afford their own bus lines. They can ride in Wi-Fi comfort, above the rabble and pee-smell seats of Muni. With only a dreaded coworker to avoid instead of some crazy homeless guy.
The problems with private busses- including Academy of Art, Electronic Arts, Yahoo- is that they are creating these overlays of stops and routes on top of our city grid. In a way, it’s similar to the days before our public bus system, when a dozen or so streetcar companies competed for patrons. But we’re not allowed on these- only the workers of Google, Facebook, etc. I also wonder how much the city is being deprived of potential investment in transit. If all these workers took public transportation, or bitched and complained and lobbied for more direct and faster routes, would it clean them up? The separation of their commute- they only see their coworkers, no neighbors, no kids along the block, no ex-boyfriend or recent crush, no barista from your favorite cafe- makes it this cocoon of privilege and in a way, isolation.
I’ve always thought it’s ridiculous to have long commutes. Either live near where you work, or vice-versa. And, this is from someone who has had very seriously long commutes, for years. In a way, I’ve learned- it’s not worth the cost to your life. You’re neglecting your life in one place- it doesn’t stop, it just keeps going without you. And, in reality the place where you’re commuting to has a nice potential life of its own. Mountain View, Cupertino, Palo Alto- all very nice places to live. So why do they do it?
“There’s no other job like this one,” or “I own a house, I don’t want to move,” or “SF is so much fun, I don’t want to leave.” Still spending up to 3 hrs a day (or more?) traveling by bus on the roads. My first job in SF, I took Muni to Caltrain, and walked to work. My latest commute was biking, to a ferry, then biking again to work. It was beautiful though, and the journey was most of reason the work seemed so fun. Now I’m walking through downtown, which I love. The rest of the ride is forgetable but it’s only 20 minutes, then a quick 10 minute walk. Public transit commuting means you meet your neighbors. And in that, you are part of the fabric of your community. Being in your car, or in your work’s bus, you are not meeting your neighbors, you are barely, by a thin thread, part of the fabric.
Picture I took walking to work this week. I also buy hats, it seems, on my walk home. So far: 2.
Why do we work far from where we live? Is the job so irreplaceable, or are we lazy and don’t want to hunt down something more convenient, and in the end, gives us more time in our lives?
(inspired this post:) Google Bus Pinata Smashed During Anti-Gentrification Rally
Why we’re invisible to Google bus riders
San Franciscans feel resentful about the technology industry’s lack of civic and community engagement, and the Google bus is our daily reminder.
Beyond the Secret Corporate Shuttle Stop
Silicon Valley’s Exclusive Shuttles
Another Silicon Valley Perk- Free Shuttle Service
Rodenbeck says he thinks the locations are secret because the companies are “sensitive to this idea that they are funding a change in the infrastructure in San Francisco without it being regulated.”
Video: Class War Pending As Google Bus Driver Threatens Irritated Cyclist
StreetsBlog: Private Bus Routes and Silicon Valley’s Outmoded Office Model
I’ve been working in the northeaster corner of the San Francisco neighborhood, the Bay View for a few months now. It’s an geurilla gardener’s delight. There is so much land- unloved, untilled, un-staked out by seemingly anyone. So, if, for example, you are interested in gardening but the closest community garden has a 5-year waiting list (see: Fort Mason), scratch that green thumb itch by grabbing some seeds, a trowel, some clippers, and then catch the T-Sunnydale to Bay View.
Here are some prime gardening locations:
- The Quint street and Caltrain interchange, new Jerrold, has about 4 acres of land
- There are about 3 empty lots on Oakdale, between Third & Bayshore that can be easily slipped through, or you can throw seeds over the fence.
- Tons of little sidewalk squares ripe for the gardener love.
There’s a natural wildness to San Franciscan empty lots and volunteer weeds popping up on the sidewalk. Last week I took a serious look at a few weeds lining my walk:
Eschscholzia californica. Describing to a friend how this is hard to cultivate- you can’t really move poppies from one side of the garden to another. So when I see them popping (haha) out of the pavement, I appreciate it. It’s a really lovely bit of color, and it’s so weedy and grasslike… uh, graceful and delicate. More beautiful when it’s out across a field, turning the hillside lightly orange, but out in the urban wasteland- I’ll get what I can take. It’s one of the few California native plants in this weed line-up.
An aqueous extract of the plant has sedative and anxiolytic action. The extract acts as a mild sedative when smoked. The effect is far milder than that of opium.
Seeds are edible.
Named by a German, after another German, on a Russian ship, pre-American statehood:
Eschscholzia californica was the first named member of the genus Eschscholzia, named by the German botanist Adelbert von Chamisso after the Baltic German botanist Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz, his friend and colleague on Otto von Kotzebue’s scientific expedition to California and the greater Pacific in mid-1810s aboard the Russian ship Rurik.
Vitis californica. I took this photo on Quint Friday- it’s a wild grape. It will be awesome around fall this year. I just read about California wild grapes- didn’t think I’d ever see one so soon after reading about it. May have to do a bit more identification, but seems very unlikely that someone’d cultivate a grape on the side of a gravel lot, across from the water pollution treatment center, ha. Also gets the “noxious weed” assignment, haha. Also a rare SF/California native plant.
The cultivar ‘Roger’s Red’ (named for noted horticulturist Roger Raiche) turns brilliant red in fall and is a hybrid with a wine grape, Vitis vinifera Alicante Bouschet. The cultivar ‘Walker Ridge’ turns yellow in the autumn.
Centranthus ruber. Beautiful flower, popping up among grasses or just right out of the sidewalk. “They have a strong and somewhat rank scent.”, “Often seen in urban wasteland” (poor Bay View). I’ve also heard it described as “burnt tire” smell. Why would you smell it- that’s something funny with plants, rarely do people actually crinkle and smell them (anymore?).
Both leaves and roots can be eaten, the leaves either fresh in salads or lightly boiled, the roots boiled in soups. Opinions differ as to whether either make very good eating, however. Although it is sometimes reported to have medicinal properties, there is no basis for this view, which is almost certainly due to confusion with true valerian, (Valeriana officinalis).
Geranium robertianum. “… it is known as Stinky Bob and classified as a noxious weed” NOt sure I’ve ever heard of noxious weed outside of Monty Python.
In traditional herbalism, Herb Robert was used as a remedy for toothache and nosebleeds. Freshly picked leaves have an odor resembling burning tires when crushed, and if they are rubbed on the body the smell is said to repel mosquitoes. The active ingredients are tannins, a bitter compound called geraniin, and essential oils. It was carried to attract good luck, and due to its analogical association with storks, to enhance fertility.
Foeniculum vulgare . I love fennel- it smells like licorice, the bulb is a great starchy root. I replace fennel root with potatoes in some recipes to liven them up. It’s a big, boisterous, invasive weed but has so many uses. Namely, for San Franciscians who love their booze, its’ the primary ingredient in absinthe.
The word “fennel” developed from the Middle English fenel or fenyl. This came from the Old English fenol or finol, which in turn came from the Latin feniculum or foeniculum, the diminutive of fenum or faenum, meaning “hay”. The Latin word for the plant was ferula, which is now used as the genus name of a related plant. As Old English finule, it is one of the nine plants invoked in the pagan Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century.
In Greek mythology, Prometheus used the stalk of a fennel plant to steal fire from the gods. Also, it was from the giant fennel, Ferula communis, that the Bacchanalian wands of the god Dionysus and his followers were said to have come.
The Greek name for fennel is marathon (μάραθον) or marathos (μάραθος), and the place of the famous battle of Marathon and the subsequent sports event Marathon (Μαραθών), literally means a plain with fennels.
Tropaeolum majus. I grew up with this landscaped along our driveway by gardeners hired by the housing development. Somewhat OK for landscaping though it tends to look messy. You find it all over SF- it grows in big swathes low to the ground, cascading down Telegraph Hill on the steep unpopulated eastern cliffs. Beautiful, and edible, what more could you ask for?
Note: it’s *not* the plant with the Latin name nasturtium. That had me confused for a while. Fun fact: It’s from Bolivia, near the Andes.
Seeds, flowers and leaves are all edible. Good “companion” plant to broccoli and cauliflower, to repel aphids.
Oxalis pres caprae. This weed is the scourge of my father- he literally has spent many, many hours pulling it from their garden. As a kid growing up in California, this was always a tasty treat- I’d grab a handful and suck on the stems- they were sour and bright tasting.
It’s from Africa, and now a weed in coastal California. It propogates with tiny little bulbs in its stem, so when you pull it you really have to dig deep.
The plant is palatable and in modest quantities is reasonably harmless to humans and livestock. In South Africa it is a traditional ingredient in dishes such as waterblommetjiebredie (water flower stew). The plant has been used in various ways as a source of oxalic acid, as food, and in folk medicine. The raw bulbs have been used to deal with tapeworm and possibly other worms. The plant has been used as a diuretic, possibly hazardously, in the light of observations in the following section. The lateral underground runners, which tend to be fleshy, have been eaten raw or boiled and served with milk. The golden petals can be used to produce a yellow dye
Note- there’s some associated sheep death when they are hungry and eat a large amount, though they don’t know why or how it happens.
And thus ends our gardening hour. Stay tuned for: Good Eats in Bay View.