The world is beautiful early in the morning. I have a picture to prove it but Typepad doesn't want to let me post it today. Doh!
In the past week of variously sick children and both parents with inflexible schedules, I've been thinking about how deep a bench a family ought to have. It used to be that we had... hmm... no bench? I mean, there was me. But I was on the field. On the other hand, it was ok because there was pretty much nothing short of hospitalization or death that would have taken me off the field and that would have been an extraordinary crisis and odds are Mr. Right would have been able to step in until things settled out.
Now, we actually have a bench. There's preschool and the regular babysitter and a few ad hoc babysitters. I'm off the field a chunk of the time and they're covering for me and that's fine. Except because they're not Mom, plenty of things way short of hospitalization or death can take them off the field. Planned holidays, unplanned sickness of my children (no preschool), abnormal hours (possibly no regular babysitter for odd hours, no back-up babysitter available during school hours, no preschool during early-morning random required meeting hours)... and BAM! no bench. And if there's no one on the field and there's no bench...
I wonder if it's a bad idea for someone who never ever watches sports to try to explain her life with a sports analogy?
So, um... I'm working on making peace with the idea that I will probably get through grad school OK but only by always trying to be ahead of the game and never actually being ahead of the game for more than an instant.
Whiny? Actually, I'm really enjoying grad school. And even though I feel a little guilty leaving my sick baby with someone else while I go and listen to a lecture about simulating queue systems, mostly I'm pretty happy to have someone I trust to take care of my sick baby while I listen to a lecture about simulating queue systems.
Another analogy! Did you know that if you have a server and the queue is being added to exactly as fast as the server is able to process a thing in the queue, you have an unstable system? You'd kind of think that things would only be disasterous if the queue was being added to a bit faster than the server could work, but there's math that says equal rates is just as bad. The server needs some non-busy time or... foobar. See? Analogy.
Next time I get some non-busy time, I'm going to try to remember to watch the rest of this speech Inventing on Principle by Bret Victor (Typepad's link thingy seems as broken as the pictures and I don't want to bother with the html today, so... https://vimeo.com/36579366). Just one of the cool things I've found in my few weeks of twitter-watching. (That particular one thanks to Daniel Jalkut -> https://www.red-sweater.com/blog/.)
The orange hearts on Tuesday were, in fact, cheese. :)
That's it. What I've got. Now to go see if re-learning Perl to solve my what-I-think-is-probably-Perl-appropriate problem would be more time-efficient than banging said probably-Perl-appropriate problem into C...
Despite my gung-ho announcement, I didn't end up taking that on-line AI course from Stanford this semester. We were still unpacking when it started and I have a bunch of other boring excuses...
But I did start watching the lectures for "iPad and iPhone App Development," CS 193P, taught by Paul Hegarty and offered FREE on iTunesU. If you want to develop iOS apps, watch this course!!!!!
I'm really chugging through the lectures now, nearing the end and planning to leap into a major overhaul of my existing code once I'm done, now that I know a bunch of stuff I didn't fully understand before and also a bunch of things that could be done a lot better now with iOS 5.
I love Hegarty's lecture style and he clearly understands the whole system inside out and backwards (he did a brief eulogy at the beginning of class after Steve Jobs died and I found out he was hired by Jobs to work at NeXT, which is where a whole lot of the underlying technology now used by Apple was developed, so that makes sense). Really, really worth watching. At first, I thought I'd just watch the lectures on stuff I didn't understand well, but then I realized he was dropping little pearls of wisdom throughout and things I thought I understood already were crystalizing into clear little diamond nuggets of knowledge all over the place and so I decided to watch every minute of it all (there has been some knitting, I will admit) and I can't recommend it highly enough.
If you don't already know it from personal experience, I'll tell you right now: knitting a sweater for yourself is a terrible way to save money. I could easily spend three times as much on yarn for a sweater for myself than I would ever spend on a sweater in the store. (I try not to, but it would be easy.)
This used to bother me a lot. What is the point of handwork in the modern day if everything can be had cheaper, faster, and often (let's be honest) better from a factory?
You can (I have) thought about this in lots of different ways. If you're spending that much on yarn, for instance, you're going to end up with something so luxurious (if you do it right) that you'd have to pay extravagant designer prices to get anything comparable readymade. You're also getting exactly what you want (with luck and the benefit of bitter experience), most likely something that isn't for sale anywhere. Maybe it's just a subtle design detail, or maybe it's an entire genre. I think wool sweaters are perfect for kids — they're warm and light and stretchy and don't need cleaning often — but there aren't many for sale (certainly not for cheap) because everyone's decided that you can't put a handwash-only on a kid.
Someone at a yarn store once told me not to think of the yarn cost as the price of a sweater, but as an entertainment cost. How many hours will it take you to knit this $100 pile of yarn? Right. You'll be entertained for much less than the cost of a movie or a dinner out. But I have vestigial puritan problems with justifying any kind of entertainment cost, so that didn't help me as much as it might have.
It was reading Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World that finally got me to shift my thinking completely. Just like a good game, which Jane McGonigal describes so convincingly that I went from feeling smugly superior for hardly ever playing games to feeling horribly guilty that games are not an integral part of my life, knitting is an interesting challenge taken on voluntarily, with a clear set of rules (or maybe just one: Make something out of only yarn using only sticks).
McGonigal's inspiring argument — that games can provide the ideal environment for awakening positive emotions, the experience of which carries over real benefits into real life — makes total sense, but I still don't feel drawn to games. This is just terrible, according to McGonigal. I'm missing out on so much!
But I've been thinking it over (I spend a lot of time thinking things over in order to justify to myself the way I want to live; I'm trying to cut back, but there it is) and I've decided that I get all these things from knitting, anyway. The challenge, the creativity, the self-directedness, the definite, achievable-but-difficult goal and the epic win feeling (I've learned this is called 'fiero') that comes with getting it done. Even social benefits, if you've got at least one knitting friend — sharing a passion, collaborating on solving project confusions, teaching someone something new, learning something new yourself.
The near-miraculous consequences of these things are all in the book, about games, and I can assure you they're all in knitting, too (along with the mild brain-boosting power of fidgeting, according to Brain Rules, and the enjoyable feeling of doing something familiarly repititious with enough variety layered in to keep it interesting, according to Your Brain at Work, both of which I am currently reading/listening to... while knitting).
And instead of virtual gold coins or fancy weapons, I've got real sweaters to put on my real kids to keep fanning that ember of fiero until they grow out of them and need new ones.
Of all things, I was planning to write today about what exactly I'm planning to do with my "shiny new GRE scores," which is... pretty much the only thing you can do with GRE scores (other than shove them in a file for ten years and then not be able to find them) — apply to grad school.
You'd have to know me pretty well (I think?) to be properly surprised that I now want to go to grad school and, unfortunately for any still-curious readers out there, I'm not up to quite the level of existential navel gazing today that would be required to properly explain why.
But a lot of my change of heart is, ironically, thanks to Steve Jobs. Not because my elementary school's biweekly Logo sessions on Apple IIs hooked me on programming before I ever saw a color monitor (sadly, I remember those sessions being dull as dirt and utterly unilluminating). Not because I've been in love with Macs since before I was born (I haven't; we stuck with Windows even through the brightly colored iMac craze). And certainly not because I ever met Jobs or even, honestly, knew who he was before, say, 2002.
The thing is, I always considered myself an artsy type. And everyone knows (well, everyone knew; the paradigms have been seriously shifting) that artsy types hate computers. By the time I was in high school, an artsy type might deign to, say, write fiction using a word processing program, but Computer Science, a fairly new elective offering, was clearly to be avoided at all costs. Too boring. Too soulless. And — above all — too hard.
Fast forward a few years (remember the sound cassete tapes used to make when you fast forwarded?) — I was in college, majoring in Linguistics, and my father was getting worried that I'd never earn a living wage.
Similar though we were in many ways, Dad had always been fascinated by computers. He even took a programming course in college, back when the huge final project was to write a chess playing program (I think it played against itself? I don't think you could interact with it while it was running) and (I'm pretty sure I'm remembering his story right) the whole thing had to be done on punched cards, which sounded just miserable. I think it was the misery of punched cards and the low-level languages that went with them that turned him off the subject, actually. If he'd hit college ten years later, he might have gone into Computer Science for good.
Anyway, I finally promised him I'd take one Computer Science course and if I didn't hate it, I'd get a minor in it. I'm pretty sure my intention was to prove to him that I knew myself better than he knew me... by taking a course I knew I'd hate and... hating it, obviously.
He was too wise to rub it in, but he won that wager handily. I didn't just not hate Computer Science, I actually almost loved it. I kicked myself for not trying it sooner, when I still would have had time to get the major.
But, I wasn't utterly sold. Computers were still ugly and I still wished I could give it all up and be a sheep farmer (for the wool; I was a vegetarian at the time; now I eat meat but have discovered mutton isn't worth the trouble, anyway). I was more in love with sewing, knitting, even spinning and plain old art drawing, because in those crafts I could imagine something useful and beautiful and then make it so.
It wasn't until two years ago, when I got an iPhone for the first time, that I was able to see programming in the same way. Just like I can imagine a useful, non-ugly sweater and (with enough skill, time, and perseverance) knit it into reality, I could now imagine a useful, non-ugly computer program and (with some skill and a whole lot of time and perseverance) program it into reality.
It was Steve Jobs's vision of beautiful, enchanting computing made reality through his leadership that opened that door for me.
So, it's thanks to Steve Jobs and thanks to my dad that I'm hoping to go back to school in Computer Science. Even though I still don't know exactly how all the passions of my life connect with each other, it feels like the right thing to do right now, and I felt that way even before I read Jobs's inspiring commencement address from 2005. You should read it if you haven't already. Or even if you have. It bears rereading very well.
The question recently came up whether I had ever taken Linear Algebra.
I do not remember.
The transcripts that would tell me are in a file somewhere that I do not care to dig for and I was in a puckish mood, so I asked Google, "have i ever taken linear algebra," from which I got to the Wikipedia page on Linear Algebra, from which I quickly deduced that I have... some kind of familiarity with Linear Algebra.
Not like I could actually do any of it right now, but the notation and terminology ring a faint bell. But does that mean I ever actually took it? And if I can't actually solve any Linear Algebra problems anymore, does whether I ever took it even matter?
You know how when you get CPR certified or anything like that, you have to continually recertify? Every few years?
Yeah. So why is academic knowledge not like that (other than the purely practical reason that no one could keep up)? I'm as likely to forget how to actually integrate a function five years after not touching Calculus (highly likely... that is, I have definitely forgotten how to integrate a function; although, to be fair, it's been more than five years) as I would be to forget how to do CPR after five years (possibly less likely, actually, although I'll admit the consequences would probably be more dire), so why is it that once I've got a transcript proving that I once studied Calculus, that's supposed to be good indefinitely? Or maybe the point of these classes is not so much that you will forever after be able to manually solve equations, but rather that you will forever after retain the logical structures of the disciplines in your way of thinking?
Have you forgotten more than you'd wish? Still remember odd things you never would have expected?
Do you listen to audio books? I love them.* How else would I be able to read anything and still go to bed with a clean kitchen or have clean underwear for everyone?
Still, there are things that go well with audiobooks and things that don't.
Things that go well with audiobooks:
Things that do not go well with audiobooks:
Today I'm wishing I could code and listen to an audiobook at the same time and I'm finding myself distracted by the question of whether it doesn't work because (a) coding uses the same language processes in the brain as listening to language does (b) coding requires too much gross brain concentration, language or not (I don't think I could code while knitting, even though I can listen while knitting, even if I had four arms; but, then again, I *can* puzzle through code *mentally* while knitting, so...) or (c) I'm just not good enough at coding (or listening?)
Whatever. The point is I need to code today and I am unenthusiastic (I'm switching file formats within the app and need to clean up after myself; dull + dangerous = bad combination). I would much rather be listening to another few chapters of The Information, by James Gleick, which is a mighty awesome nerdzy book so far (part way through chapter 6). I can also highly recommend Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal, although it started to feel a bit long in the second half.
*We've had a subscription to Audible for years, but are getting much better use out of it now that they have an extremely convenient app.
I wish I had some new feature excitement to share today, but I'm technologically hobbled at the moment (not to mention free-time challenged).
I do hope to fix those problems soon enough, though, and in a grand show of optimism, I've signed up (preliminarily) for the Intro to AI course being offered by Stanford this fall. It's apparently been one of their most popular courses for a while and they've decided to try an experiment, offering it concurrently online to anyone interested, for free. Kinda cool, eh?
(https://www.ai-class.com/ if you're interested... And thanks to DiDi for the tip off!)