hudebnik: (teacher-mode)
At my new employer, I have no office: I have a desk, a computer, a chair, and enough room for maybe half a dozen books. And people tend to move from one desk location to another every few months, so they're not encouraged to put down too many roots.

So today I went to my University office (for the first time in months) and spent six hours triaging books: discard, leave with the department, or take home. Somewhat to my surprise, the three categories turned out almost exactly equal in size.

This exercise entailed throwing out a lot of proceedings for theoretical-CS conferences I attended and was very interested in at the time, but I realistically haven't done any TCS research in fifteen years. And if I did somehow get back into TCS, it would be easier to find the papers on-line than in a printed volume anyway. But throwing out the proceedings (except the few in which I had papers) carries an air of finality.

My research for the past fifteen years has been mostly in CS Education, so I had three shelves of proceedings from CSE conferences. I kept the ones in which I had papers, and left the rest to the department, on the theory that somebody on the CS faculty will be interested in them. Again, leaving this stuff is a final acknowledgment that (a) my research in CSE will be limited if I'm not in a classroom regularly, and (b) a lot of this stuff is on-line anyway.

I threw out most textbooks older than 5-10 years, except a couple of "classics" and those of which I have particularly fond memories. I left recent textbooks to the department, as above.

Still, I have five good-sized boxes of books in the car for which I haven't found homes in the house yet.
hudebnik: (devil duck)
I just informed my University that I'm staying at Google and resigning my academic position.
<LawrenceOfArabia>It's going to be fun.</LawrenceOfArabia>
hudebnik: (devil duck)
A week or two ago, my employer hosted one of the stops on Marie Kondo's book tour promoting her book the life-changing magic of tidying up. Ms. Kondo was apparently the sort of girl who cleaned not only her own room but her siblings' and the rest of the house, much to the annoyance of the rest of her family, but she's turned it into a profession: she's a home-tidying-and-organization consultant in her native Japan.

Naturally, the difficulty of tidying and organizing your home is a supralinear function of how much stuff you have, so the majority of the book is a collection of psychological tricks to enable yourself to get rid of stuff. I haven't tried much of this yet, but they look very sensible and practical (even the sorta mystical ones like "thanking an object for its good service before sending it on its way"). Some of the more prominent ones:

Major decluttering is a special event, not an everyday habit

Yes, you need to keep things tidy day by day. But getting rid of large amounts of stuff needs to be done in a concentrated block of time; don't try to get rid of a thing per day.

Work by categories, not locations

Don't say "I'm going to declutter Room X," but rather "I'm going to collect all the objects of Category X in the whole house, put them in one place, and decide which ones to keep." This way if you turn out to have essentially the same object stored in several different places, you'll find out about it and can eliminate duplicates. Of course, if "all the books" or "all the clothes" is a dauntingly huge category, you can pick small enough subcategories to fit the block of time you have.

Take everything of the chosen category out of wherever it is, put it on the floor in a big pile, pick up each individual item, touch it, and look for a visceral response: "does it spark joy?"

Putting everything on the floor serves two purposes: it shows you graphically how much stuff you have in this category, and it forces you to actively choose to keep each individual object, rather than passively leaving them where they were. The question "does it spark joy?" aims towards the goal of a home in which everything around you makes you happy. If it doesn't make you happy, and isn't necessary to life, it's not pulling its weight and doesn't need a place in your home.

Start with emotionally-easy categories, to develop discriminatory skill, and work up to the harder categories.

She recommends the order "clothes, books, documents, miscellaneous items, mementoes," although I'm sure different people have different degrees of attachment to these categories. The point is to get practice making the "does it spark joy?" decision on the easy cases, and have an experience of success getting rid of things that don't, before moving on to the emotionally wrenching ones.

Talk to your things

Your things don't enjoy sitting on the shelf (or in the bottom of a box) unused. When a book has taught you all it's going to teach you (including, possibly, the fact that you don't like the subject or the author), thank it for its good service and send it off to teach someone else. When an article of clothing has become, at long last, unwearable, thank it for its years of service and send it into a well-deserved retirement. And so on.

I had a Sunday with few commitments, so I decided to dip a toe in the water today. I picked two small categories -- computer accessories and old electrical appliances -- and threw three keyboards, two mice, about twenty cables of various descriptions (generally keeping one representative of each equivalence class, e.g. USB-A-to-USB-mini-b, VGA-to-DVI), a toaster, a food processor, a DSL modem, and a wireless router into the recycling bin. There are still a lot of computer CDs that I'll realistically never use, but I haven't looked at them yet. There are at least two computers in the basement, but I think I can wait to take them somewhere that actually recycles computers. It's a tiny step, but I have a feeling of accomplishment.
hudebnik: (teacher-mode)
Just listened to this CBC story about Emily Yoffe, who drew a lot of fire for writing a Slate article suggesting that college women can reduce their likelihood of being raped by not getting blind drunk.

There's a fine line between "blaming the victim" and empowering potential victims to not be victimized.  This applies not only to rape, but also to domestic abuse, addiction, obesity, depression, burglary, fraud, etc.  In each of these areas there are factors the victim can control, and other factors (s)he can't. You can ignore the former and say “there's nothing you can do but hope and pray,” or ignore the latter and say “it's your own damn fault; quit whining.”  Both are unproductive; if you actually want to solve the problem, you might look to the old adage “Grant me the will to change the things I can, the patience to accept the things I can't, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Of course, “accept” in this context doesn't mean “this is OK,” but rather “this is a fact I need to deal with.” Yes, there are rapists and abusers, and society needs to address that problem.  But while you're waiting for society to address that problem, you may find yourself in the presence of such people, and you'll need a more effective tactic than just saying “society's to blame” while you get raped or abused.

Likewise, there are genetic and societal conditions that make addiction, obesity, and depression more likely... but while we wait for cures to those conditions, there's probably something we can do ourselves to avoid or ameliorate those problems in the short run.

And there are societal conditions that make burglary and fraud more likely, but while I wait for those conditions to be improved, I'm going to at least lock my doors and not answer phishing e-mails.
hudebnik: (Default)
Last week, after ten years of "putting it off" and a month of scheduling delays, we had some workmen in to replace the bedroom ceiling. The acoustical tiles (which had been hung poorly, so they'd been sagging since we bought the place) are gone, and replaced with drywall. The overhead light fixture, which was a couple of wires, has been replaced with a proper junction box, braced to hold 250 pounds or so (I saw one of the workmen doing pullups on it).

So over the weekend we went to Home Depot, bought a ceiling-fan-light fixture, and installed it. When we flipped the circuit breaker, there were no sparks, no smoke, no explosions, and the fan started turning. When we turned on the light, it lit up. The bedroom is both more attractive and more comfortable.

Since we had moved some of the furniture out of the bedroom in preparation for the ceiling repair, we're taking the opportunity to finally put down some quarter-round where the baseboards meet the parquet floor we installed three years ago.

This morning I took the car to the body shop to have the hood repaired after a misunderstanding with a truck on the LIE. It was a gorgeous day, so I loaded my bicycle into the back and came home that way. The car should be ready in two or three days.

And I've confirmed a reservation at a B&B for the first night of our trip to Ireland. There are a bunch more reservations to be made, but this is a step in the right direction.
hudebnik: (teacher-mode)

I just attended a talk by Mark Bauerlein, author of The Dumbest Generation and other works exploring the effects of digital media on thinking.

In 1910 (he says), about 10% of the high-school-age population in the U.S. were actually in high school, and 1% of the college-age population were in college. The remaining 90% and 99%, respectively, worked under the supervision of adults. They spent very little time in the company of other teenagers. As a result, there was no such thing as "youth culture", no "peer pressure" (because they seldom interacted with age-group peers), no "generation gap" (because there was more intergenerational than intragenerational communication).

By the 1950's, however, teens and twentysomethings spent much of their time with their age group, and one could talk about "teen music", "teen literature", "teen movies", as opposed to their "old-fogey" analogues. In 2012, teenagers exchange an average of 3500 text messages and hundreds of phone calls per month, almost entirely with their age group; they're unaccustomed to talking with old people (i.e. over 30). In addition, since social media tend to create homogeneous communities that confirm rather than challenge one's beliefs, they're unaccustomed to talking with people who disagree with them.

Information technology makes it extremely easy to find, quickly and efficiently, exactly the facts you're looking for, without distracting you with "other books nearby on the shelf", or the font in which a newspaper was printed, or something jotted in the margins by a previous reader. When you want information retrieval, it's great -- but learning is not information retrieval. Sometimes the branches along the way are more interesting than exactly what you started out looking for.

Bauerlein sometimes assigns his students to look up some definitions and turn them in -- written in longhand, with a pen or pencil. This not only prevents simple copy-and-paste, but forces students to spend at least a second or two on each word, and it adds some haptic feedback, all of which increases the likelihood that it'll stick. Likewise, he sometimes assigns students to transcribe a chapter of Walden, in longhand, to get the rhythm and style of Thoreau's words into their heads. It reminded me of the "slow food" and "mindful eating" movements.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.

hudebnik: (teacher-mode)

I attended a live-webcast-seminar on dealing with Asperger's syndrome at the college level. I went into it thinking "I have an unfair advantage, because Aspergerish behavior is almost normal in my field; what's to deal with?" But I figured there would be some useful tips for recognition, accommodation, and referral.

On recognition: one slide showed kids fighting with boffer swords and shields; another showed a table of the Klingon alphabet; another mentioned odd clothing "such as a cape, elaborate jewelry, scarves or embroidery"; D&D, WoW, LARP, and anime were mentioned by name, as were "odd interests" such as car motors, Victorian door hinges or vintage toys. The presenter hastened to point out that not ALL Aspergerians do these things, and some are offended by being lumped in with those people. Notable by its absence was any suggestion that not ALL people who do those things have Asperger's.

[I'm trying to think of people I know who don't do any of these things....]

On accommodation: six slides in a row on being clear, concise, and consistent. Each slide was illustrated with a "do" statement of 5-10 words, and a "don't" statement of 40-60 that said the same thing wrapped in a lot of qualifiers and softening particles. Seriously, would anybody prefer the latter? I guess this is the old tact-filter phenomenon again.

We're past the one-hour mark, I can't think of anything substantial I've learned yet, and I have to catch a train. I guess I'll have to skip the "referral" section.

On my feedback form I expressed a wish that the webinar itself had been more clear, concise, and consistent. :-)

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.

hudebnik: (Default)

There are a few more fruits on the red pepper plant, and dozens on the orange pepper plant, but they're all green. We'll see whether they get a chance to ripen at all.

A lot of basil plants are not expected to survive the winter, and have therefore been asked to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of pesto or something.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.

Snow day

Jan. 27th, 2011 08:18 am
hudebnik: (Default)
So we got about 4" of snow yesterday morning, then it stopped for enough hours that I could shovel the front steps and walk. Then around 8 PM it started again. By 11 PM, when we took the dogs for their bedtime walk, there were a few more inches on the ground and the air was thick with rapidly-falling snow. This morning I measured 11" on the front walk, for a total of 15" in the last 24 hours (which matches the City's report of snowfall in Central Park). [ profile] shalmestere's employer and mine are both closed for the day.

Oh, and it's my birthday.

We had an appointment to take Thing Two to the vet this afternoon, but I don't think that'll happen.

It's a gorgeous day. Maybe we'll go sledding in the park.
hudebnik: (Default)
1) Got a letter from the IRS yesterday. Not the "Guess what, we're auditing your return" letter, but "Guess what, you missed a credit and we owe you $xxx" letter. The good kind of letter from the IRS. (If any of you likewise failed to notice the Making Work Pay credit, go look it up. It's worth $400/individual or $800/couple for most middle-class Americans. This has been a public service announcement.)

2) Went yesterday to inspect a cargo trailer we read about on Craigslist. We seem to be buying it, in hopes of being able to
a) pack more cool furniture, instruments, etc. for SCA events and living-history shows, and
b) pack for said events in advance rather than after work on Friday, so we can get on the road faster.
I'm not sure whether we should decorate it with Gothic tracery and/or a Latin motto around the top....

3) Got an e-mail today inviting me to join AARP. Seriously, folks, I'm 46 years old; isn't that jumping the gun a bit?

4) I think we've finished recording and selecting tracks for [ profile] shalmestere's audition CD. The bathroom will no longer be a recording studio.

5) I have a bunch of homework to grade, and I need to write three final exams, in the next week.

6) Still don't know where we're going for vacation in June: it was going to be somewhere in Europe, but we're not sure the volcano will let us. We might end up in California. Or maybe Europe after all.
hudebnik: (Default)
So we're all stressed and cranky from the news yesterday that B. died, and associated drama. It's my first day of classes, and I'm under-prepared. One of the classes is at 9 AM so we both have to be out of the house before 7:30 -- which we've done thousands of times before, but not in the past six months so it's a change in routine. People are having emotional reactions to things that they would normally shrug off. It's rainy and windy and grey. On the way to work, I got a strong gust of wind just as I stepped on a rain-slick metal grate, slipped and fell, scraped my knee, and put a hole in the nice grey washable-wool pants that I pulled the tags off an hour ago. And it's not 8 AM yet.


Nov. 4th, 2009 12:55 pm
hudebnik: (Default)
About a month ago we ordered a couple of quince bushes to put in the front lawn. They arrived yesterday (the nursery doesn't ship until they go dormant in the winter, or something like that), so I decided to plant them first thing this morning.

Planting quince bushes is not particularly complex or difficult, but removing the previous occupants of that space -- a pair of 20-30-year-old boxwood (?) bushes was decidedly more involved. I got the second baby tree into the ground around 11:15, then started cleaning up. I have now had lunch -- a sort of desperate get-food-into-my-body-before-I-crash affair -- and it's nap-time. There are pictures, but I'm too tired to deal with uploading them right now.
hudebnik: (Default)
I am thankful...

  • for walks in the park on a beautiful November day with [ profile] shalmestere and the Things

  • <arlo>for a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat</arlo>, which we cooked together

  • that [ profile] shalmestere and I, despite countless failures of communication, are still together and still trying to understand one another

  • that both [ profile] shalmestere and I have jobs which

    • we believe in, i.e. the world is better with somebody doing this job than without;

    • pay a livable wage;

    • we're reasonably good at; and

    • we mostly enjoy.

  • that we can afford pretty much everything we need, and a fair number of things we want

  • that among all the centuries I might have been born into, I'm privileged to witness the Information Revolution (and therefore I have easy access to learn about the other centuries too, and email, and LJ, and programming languages, and...)

  • that although all four large mammals in the house have minor health issues, we have nothing serious

  • for friends and family, however eccentric

  • that I live in the US; as much as I kvetch about the way it's being run at the moment, there are many worse places I could be living

  • that I live within fifteen minutes' walk of groceries, non-blockbuster movies, doctor, dentist, vet, bike repair, library, barbers, post offices, banks, restaurants, drugstores, public transit that works, and a square mile of forest

  • (especially on Thanksgiving evening) for automatic dishwashers

hudebnik: (teacher-mode)
So for the last eight months or so, we've been making a conscious effort to buy locally-grown groceries. One easy way to do this is at farmer's markets; anything sold at the New York City Greenmarkets has to be grown by the seller, not bought for resale or on commission or anything like that, so the stuff is pretty much guaranteed to be grown within a two-hour driving radius. There's a huge farmer's market at Union Square several times a week, year-round, with an incredible variety of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, flowers, etc. and lots of customers... but it takes us 5-10 minutes in the car, twenty minutes on the train, ten minutes on a subway, and five minutes on another subway, plus unpredictable time transferring between those modes of transport, to get there. There's also a farmer's market at Atlas Park, two miles and ten minutes' drive from our home, but it's only open on Saturdays, only May-October, and much smaller, with seldom more than three stalls. Which one do we shop at, how often?

moderately mathematical discussion )

Anyway, this particular morning we went to Atlas Park, where there were three stalls and a few customers braving the rain. We got some beets (roots to become brownies or cupcakes, greens to go into Le Menagier's spinach tarts), spinach (for both salad and the aforementioned tarts), fennel (again with the tarts), Honeycrisp apples (before they go out of season), a rutabaga (for Scotch broth, using up the frozen remains of a leg of lamb we had several weeks ago), and I don't remember what else. On the way home, we saw a sign for the new Trader Joe's; we had read a year or more ago that one was coming to Queens, but there had been no news of it actually opening, nor indication of exactly where in Queens it would be. So now there will be a Trader Joe's two miles from our home. Yay!
hudebnik: (devil duck)
Several other people on my friends list have posted recently about cleaning house, discarding excess stuff, etc. so I thought I'd join the club. We make a point of hosting the Baronial business meeting in our living room twice a year, which not only gives us an opportunity to cook and throw a party for our friends, but forces us to clean [the public areas of] the house at least twice a year. Of course, reversing entropy is a lot more work than moving it around, so some of it has been shoved into the computer room, the master bedroom, the attic, and the basement, but just at the moment the public areas look pretty decent -- one wouldn't know we're in the SCA unless one looked at the titles of the books on the shelves.

Wednesday night we made tapenade and did some cleaning. Last night we made hummus, experimented with the pommeaulx (Scully and Scully redaction; needed to increase the spices), made beet brownies, and did some cleaning. Today I made a double batch of spinach tarts, a double batch of pommeaulx, a double batch of not-remotely-medieval fruit compote, and did some cleaning. Still ahead: heroin wings, pasta with yogurt sauce, and veggies-n-dip.


Dec. 22nd, 2001 07:29 am
hudebnik: (devil duck)
Major life stress #4: we bought a house yesterday.  We spent two hours signing and initialing papers without reading them, which is scary, but if we had stopped to read them all and have our lawyer explain them, we'd still be there.  There was only one hitch: the mortgage company wanted proof of our liquid assets, e.g. a bank statement, which we hadn't provided earlier because our bank, headquartered two blocks from the World Trade Center, hadn't sent out its September statements until November.  I offered to drive home and retrieve the latest bank statement, but that would have added an hour, and the various lawyeres had other closings scheduled later in the day.  So I called the bank, was told "all customer service representatives are currently busy," and left a message asking them urgently to fax a copy of our statements to the mortgage company's lawyers.  Their voicemail system refused to take my message because it was too long, so I tried again, speaking faster.  On the third try I succeeded in leaving a message, only to be told "Thank you.  Your message will be responded to on the next business day."

I went on signing for a while, called back twenty minutes later, and was put on hold for an estimated ten minutes (progress over simply leaving a message).  While I waited, our lawyer called the mortgage company and was put on hold himself.  Twenty minutes later I got through to a human and was told I could only do this transaction in person at a branch, not over the phone.  Meanwhile, our lawyer got through to a human and successfully convinced the loan manager to drop the requirement for verification.  So then things went through fairly smoothly.

We didn't actually go to the house until after dinner.  The first priority was finding out how difficult it would be to strip wallpaper, as we wanted to do that and paint the walls before pulling up the wall-to-wall carpeting, before moving furniture in.  We were pleasantly surprised: the wallpaper came off easily, in large pieces, and we had removed all but a few tiny patches from living room, dining room, stairwell, hallway, and master bedroom in about an hour.

So we're going to Home Depot this morning to buy paint and painting supplies, then to the house to smooth, prime, and paint the walls.

Except that I still have two sets of final exams and 2-1/2 sets of homeworks to grade, so I can turn in letter grades, which are theoretically due today.

Odo has been standing with his head in my lap, whistling and whimpering, for half an hour, so I'd better get dressed and walk the dogs.


Dec. 3rd, 2001 09:38 pm
hudebnik: (devil duck)
Interest rates were low this summer, so we started looking for a house in earnest.  We made an offer on one in June, then pulled out on receiving a scary engineer's report (face to face, he said "I would buy a house with almost any problem except this one," referring to the warped beam running down the middle of the ground floor).  We made an offer on another one around Labor Day, and had the offer accepted Sept. 10.  And then it was Sept. 11.  More on that later.  Anyway, things have dragged on and on, for no good reason that we can see, and we still don't have a closing date. 

It should be a nice house, though. Built c. 1910, and apparently very well taken care of. Not much curb appeal, but the inside of the house is in excellent condition, and it's well laid-out for the way we're likely to live. The previous owner (who lived there for 40 years before moving to a nursing home and dying two days later) sacrificed one of the three second-floor bedrooms to enlarge the bathroom and the master bedroom, and at some point part of the attic was finished; we plan to use that for sewing and the like. There's vinyl siding on the outside, which neither of us likes aesthetically, but reason to believe the original 1910 cedar shingles are underneath, so we may take off the siding at some point and have (as [ profile] shalmestere puts it) a house that looks like a pine cone or a molting artichoke.

The separate garage will be an issue. It was expanded to two-car size some time between 1910 and 1961, in a very odd way because it's on an odd, triangular patch of land. It has visible termite damage, badly peeling (presumably lead) exterior paint, and the entrance to the older half of the garage requires maneuvering between a telephone pole and a maple tree, the distance between which is about the width of an average car. So we may just take it down and put up a new, one-car garage in its place, reclaiming a bit of scarce back yard.

But we'll have a dishwasher, and a washer and dryer, and our own thermostate, and closets, and storage space, and a little bit of a yard. Oh boy!

Back to... Sept. 11. I was scheduled to teach four classes that Tuesday, starting at 9:25. When I got to the department office after walking from the train, Marie (the department secretary) told me that two planes had collided with the towers of the World Trade Center, a few minutes apart; obviously not an accident. I agreed and went to class. When I got out, around noon, I passed the front desk of the library, where people were standing, their eyes glued to the television news: both towers had collapsed into a five-story-high pile of burning rubble, and thousands of people had died. Television commentators were at a loss for words.

Back at my office, I found that the local SCA email list was buzzing with people checking in and saying they were alive. (Over the next few days, it came out that at least four people I know well were alive because they had missed their usual train, or had an appointment at the DMV, etc.) One, a paramedic, was sitting in his ambulance fuming that he wasn't being allowed into the site to do his job, when he saw the towers fall and crush several of his co-workers who had been in an earlier ambulance.)

Not many students were in my afternoon classes. I announced to them "If you'd like to talk about the WTC, we can do that. If not, then considering there's nothing we can do about it, we may as well go on with today's scheduled topic."

That afternoon, when I took the train home, I changed trains at Jamaica. I walked to the west end of the platform and looked towards lower Manhattan. I couldn't see many buildings, only an enormous plume of smoke leading off to the southern horizon.

New York City was in a state of shock for several days, needless to say.

But it's been almost three months since then. Demolition workers have removed a good fraction of the rubble to Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island (which had been officially closed last March, the day of [ profile] shalmestere's surgery, but reopened for the emergency), and firefighters have put out almost all of the fires. (The easiest ticket to getting laid in NYC, it's said, is to introduce yourself as a firefighter.) Innumerable commercial, charitable, and political groups have rushed to capitalize: every business of any size displays a U.S. flag in the window, major charities like the Red Cross and the United Way have collected literally billions of dollars in three months (at the expensive of those charities that don't have anything to do with the 9/11 attacks), and the Justice Department has seized wide powers to tap phones, detain accused terrorists (especially non-citizens), and try accused (non-citizen) terrorists in military tribunals rather than jury trials. Thousands of Middle Eastern men have been called in for "voluntary questioning," and approximately a thousand people (we don't know exactly, since the information is classified) have been detained, many without charges, as "potential material witnesses." Meanwhile, U.S. and British aircraft have been bombing Afghanistan for over a month, on the somewhat shaky grounds that the Afghan government was harboring Osama bin Laden, who is suspected of having encouraged and trained the people who carried out the attacks, and that that government didn't hand him over upon demand to U.S. custody (they wanted something outrageous in return, like evidence of his guilt).

Bush, on microphone: "[We don't need evidence.] We know he's guilty; hand him over."

The Taliban government has collapsed, and is now fighting a last-ditch defense in one remaining city. (The fall of the Taliban is almost certainly a good thing for human dignity and freedom, but is this a good excuse for overthrowing them?)

And, some time in November, [ profile] alazka left the country to serve the Peace Corps for two years in Lesotho. I haven't heard anything from him directly since a week before he left, although he called [ profile] marchforth2 to say he'd reached South Africa intact.


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