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It’s not just lemonade, it’s first aid

If life gives you nothing but lemons, I suggest you slice them, add ice, drown them in gin and don’t let too much tonic out of the bottle. The following morning, when you wake with a filthy head and tattered self-esteem, you will need lemonade.

There are probably biological reasons why my body responds with a demand for citrus and sugar after I’ve battered it with alcohol but I have no idea what they are. In this situation, ordinary commercial lemonade will not cut the moaning, membranous mustard. The difference between clear, sugary liquid that may once have met a lemon in a past life and the kind of fierce, murky potion I consume of a morning after is rather like
the gap between Disney and Ingmar Bergman. Lemonade requires a brutal yet artistic truthfulness that shuns chemical sweeteners and sneers at froth.

True lemonade aficionados are, perhaps unsurprisingly, caustic about sweeteners, preservatives and even bubbles but do not agree on much else. Tim Warrillow, co-founder of Fever-Tree, which specialises in mixers, tells me that the sfumatrice method – which involves folding the peel instead of crushing it – is the way to go: it releases many of those volatile, fragrant components that can be lost when more peremptory methods are used. This is how the perfume industry extracts lemon oils and certainly Fever-Tree’s Sicilian Lemonade is a highly aromatic and refreshing concoction, though I would hesitate to dab it behind my ears.

Will Skidelsky, the books editor of the Observer who donated his family lemonade recipe to the deli Mishkin’s, might take issue with Warrillow’s espousal of fizz, because he doesn’t feel that a self-respecting lemonade requires the added pep. His drink demands whole lemons, with the caveat that the imbiber should not be obliged to drink pith. Yet apart from the vexed matter of carbon dioxide, the two men are in agreement: lemon juice, sugar, water and lemon peel are all you need to create a brisk, delicious beverage that’s capable of giving a sluggish constitution a slap.

But I am focusing too closely on the benefits to overindulgers. Good lemonade is a treat even if you aren’t hung over, although the proportions of lemon to sugar may need adjusting. Skidelsky tells me about the pizzeria Franco Manca’s lemonade, for which lemons and sugar are initially cooked together rather than being mixed. I haven’t tried this one – isn’t it terribly sweet? Balance is an important attribute in lemonade, even for those who aren’t feeling a touch out of kilter. No, says Skidelsky, it’s caramelly but in equilibrium. I prefer a tarter concoction but then I’m taking it as medicine.

The real thing

Warrillow, who wouldn’t dream of using the stuff, tells me about decanal, a cheap lemon flavouring. What is the point of a pretend lemon? I accept – reluctantly – that there are people who have never had the chance to try good wine, or possibly even premium gin, and are therefore prepared to settle for low-cost substitutes, but there can’t be many inhabitants of the west who aren’t aware what a lemon tastes like. So why would they wish to drink something unworthy of the name?

Granted, many people like fizzy sugary liquid regardless of what it contains and even I can see the attraction of a cold Sprite on a hot day. But now that we are blessed with decent lemonade in easy locations – Waitrose does a good still lemon as well as stocking Fever-Tree’s – there seems little reason not to indulge. Unless a world shortage occurs, in which case you can all expire from scurvy, for all I care; the garnish for my G&T will take priority.

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 04 June 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The royal makeover

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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.