After the Spring 2007 semester, I asked Marilyn what she did with all of her notes, drafts of papers and presentations, and so on. She said that she used to keep everything, but now she kept only the final copies and threw the rest away.That struck me as a sensible way to go. When I was a reporter, one piece of advice I got was to destroy my reporter notebooks when I was done with them. If the story had been printed, it was part of the public record and that's where people should go for the information. So here's what I'm planning to do as I wrap up the end of a very busy Fall 2007:
Now, keeping track of all this mess during the semester is another challenge I haven't conquered yet. I like the intellectual tidiness of keeping everything online, but it's not always practical. For one class, I kept my graded critiques in a binder; for the other, I stuffed the graded paper into a pouch that held all my readings for the semester.
For the last month, just as I thought I was nearing the finish line or reaching a milestone where I could catch my breath, another deadline or commitment loomed, both at work and at school. I spent last weekend binge-grading grant projects submitted by other teams in my Digital Preservation and Archiving class, reading an article, drafting a critique of said article, and drafting a research proposal. The grant info was due Monday, the critique due Wednesday, the proposal due Friday. Ho ho, thought I, can I turn in the proposal on Wednesday and avoid a commute to campus on Friday?
Well, no. The grant stuff and critique got done, but the proposal was a disaster. I just finished it tonight, printed it out, and after tomorrow morning, Christmas shopping can finally begin.
But here are lessons learned on the proposal:
Harry, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it, don’t wait for it - just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at a men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black coffee.
Audiobooks are my e-books. ... Audiobooks take the content from a novel and turn it into something else - something I can use when I can't read a novel. That’s what these e-book readers seem to miss. I want to search text, transform it, cut and paste it, and listen to it. If I want to sit and read it, I’ll go with the actual book. They’re about fifty times cheaper, more durable (do you think you can read a Kindle if you bury it in the mud for 1000 years?), and far more lovable than some plastic box with a bunch of buttons on it.
One of the disadvantages I felt coming back to school is that I’m ignorant of a whole body of knowledge (library science, library processes, library history) that I think many of the younger grads around me have already ingested. The more I hear about catalogers, indexers, and archivers, the more I feel I’m missing out on a deeper conversation. Because I’m not a specialist, I have to survive as a generalist.
But. An advantage to being a forty-odder is that I can bring a wider range of associations to bear on certain topics, or at least a perspective that wouldn’t occur to many of my peers, and that can give me an advantage. Many of my oddball interests of the last 20 years are for whatever reason surfacing now and then in my studies, and I’m able to use them in class discussions or papers.
Rebecca says the best scholars are specialists in one area but generalists in others. Certainly, if we’re going to make our careers matter in the few decades left to us, it’s up to us to see the associations our work can have in other areas of life: the community, the family, social institutions, and so on. That may mean specializing in what we study and research, but finding ways we can apply it generally to the world.
I see myself as a jack-of-some-trades and have always withheld part of myself from becoming too specialist, but I think now is a good time for me to explore how deeply I can go into a topic and really own it intellectually.
This reminds me two oddball thoughts, just to show where these ramblings can lead:
(originally posted in 2007-11-10, updated for micro.blog)
But in the movie, as always in the movies, writing flows easily and life is hard, when in reality life is hard and writing is harder.
On actual Halloween night I didn’t even dress up, me and a group of friends just went to Keagan’s where my sister bartends. … Earlier that night I forgot to buy candy so all these little kids were coming to the door looking for candy. All I had handy were airplane bottles of Captain Morgan and some birth control pills — but hey, at least it’s something. I don’t see you giving back to the community.
What I found out on set on other films is, what makes a crew really roll is when the director makes decisions very quickly and very straight. What confuses a crew and actors is when the director is a little bit like, “I’m not sure what to do there.” The minute you’re confused, you lose everybody. But what’s funny is, I didn’t have to push myself too hard—I was never confused. I was always pretty strong and knowing exactly what I wanted to do, and when I didn't—when I had a moment where I didn’t know exactly what to do, I pretended I did. Which made the crew entirely follow me.
I started the fall semester a younger and more idealistic man than I am here at the halfway point (fall break). Still, I survived (and thrived) and things are looking up. September was my transition month from going to grad school to being a grad student: that is, I can say now that if the task or decision before me has nothing to do with 1) my job or 2) school, then its value is marginal and I have to consider whether to spend time/energy on it. (The beauteous Liz, of course, excepted.)
What was so different about this semester?
My manager, who's getting his MBA, had a teacher who often repeated the motto, "Don't wish it was easier--wish you were better." I thought of that often during my transition period--I can't change my deadlines, I'm not going to drop the classes, I can't make the buses run faster, I need to maintain my 45-hour work schedule so I can meet my financial obligations.
And so, at some point, I realized that all this meta-thinking and self-management is part of the learning experience. I've had to re-frame a typical workday from 8a-5pm to 12pm-9pm. I have to dedicate some portion of the weekend to making up time I miss from the office, which means getting better at scheduling. I had to drop my writing group and my banjo lessons, so I could focus my disposable time on school. Many of the habits and routines of my old life that I thought immovable I now see as malleable and, in many ways, optional. Liz has been great about taking on some of my old chores and agreeing that some chores (like yardwork) will have to wait for my attention until the semester is over.
I've also discovered that, even with this tough schedule, I like taking 2 classes at a time. I find that jamming together the class readings causes me to see connections that I would miss were I taking each class on its own. There's also the pressure of trying to meet my obligations that obliges me to make faster connections and discover new ways to re-frame current problems or speed up time.
When I eventually signed up for next semester's classes, I picked one 3-hr class that meets on Mondays, and then picked a Monday-Wednesday class that meets in the morning. I've cleared it with my manager that I will be out of the office on Monday but will make up the time on Saturday and throughout the week. It's an unconventional schedule, but I'm living an unconventional life right now, and that's also something I needed to learn.
Charcoal Drawing from Rushlight Literary Magazine (Wheaton College) via dspace.nitle.org
All the loves in the strip are unrequited; all the baseball games are lost; all the test scores are D-minuses; the Great Pumpkin never comes; and the football is always pulled away.
The SILS MSIS curriculum requires a master's paper or project and the professors of even the core required classes encourage the students to begin thinking early about likely topics. Fortunately, it's possible to review a database of previous master's papers from SILS graduates so you can gauge the scope and treatment of the topic areas. As a result, I'm always on the prowl for good topics, for others if not for myself (I may have my own gem of a topic, but it's too early to talk about it now). Earlier this year, I ran across the following Schneier on Security blog posting, on the public overreaction to rare risks, in response to the Virginia Tech shootings. It's a sobering testament to how human we are--which is a mixed blessing, in this case.
I was especially struck by the following comment on the post:
As a student of behavioral decision making, I see irrational decisions made on a regular (and unfortunately, in many cases, predictable) basis. And as you alluded to, the reactions to these can often lead to ridiculous policies and unproductive debate over preventing the effects, not the causes. However, there is something so human about these errors that seems to be impossible to overcome. The real next frontier, in my opinion, is to understand these biases better, and to use them (perhaps through policy) to aid in productive, positive decision making.
The world of economics has its own problems with this, since so many of its models assume rational consumers. Define "rational." (Today, I spent a half hour in Circuit City looking at stuff so I could spend a $25 gift certificate, only to find at the counter it was a Best Buy certificate.)
So, in relation to research for a master's paper, think about how much information does a user need to absorb before making a decision? But that topic has surely been done to death. However, even if you take in just enough information, not too much, when would information overrule emotion in the decision-making process? Can it ever? How can you measure the before and after of an emotional (ie, unconscious or reactive) decision? Or could you build an interface or algorithm that either allowed for users' unique mixes of rational/irrational, naive/experienced, emotional/logical, etc. or confronted them with the results of their choices? How to build in bias when the user wants it but leave it out when the user needs it to be left out?
As a child, Mr. Newman decided to pursue a career in bio-technology. This vision lasted until he landed a biotech internship the summer before college. “I soon discovered that this was a place where people told jokes with the punch line: ‘And that’s why they call it reverse-transcriptase,’” says Mr. Newman. “I was like: Get me out of here.”
So now listen up. We need to get these boxes the hell out of the warehouse. Meaning, if you are thinking of buying a set of figures, stop thinking, stop thinking immediately, and just do it. Feel, don’t think. Spend, don’t think. Be an American. Spend money you don’t have on something cool you don’t need. It’s only money. You’ll make more. I assure you, you will. But we might not make more of these Chinese-produced plastic hate effigies. Really, now, what would you rather be – safe, sane and sad, or devil-may-carefree and (momentarily) happy? Think about it. No wait, don’t think, stop, just do it!
At the Kilgour lectures, OCLC President Robert Jordan said some rather challenging things to the assembled SILS throng. As an MBA and business guy, he up front admitted that his ideas might rub people the wrong way (but then, so did Fred Kilgour’s).
One of his ideas that stuck with me was his notion that, since UNC SILS requires a student to take more hours and do more work than comparable programs, it’s reasonable to ask whether the degree will make you more money or give you a chance at a more prestigious institution when you graduate.
That idea rattles around in the back of my brain during my classes, even the fun intellectual ones I take. And then, so do articles like this one by Penelope Trunk, on what to do in college to be more successful in your career. Of course, she’s talking to twenty-somethings rather than forty-odders, but let’s see how much of it I can apply to my situation.
Get out of the library. Hm, well, the point of my going to back to school is to get out of the office and spend time in a library (and it is a library school, after all). I have a lot of work and life experience, but I want the education to formalize what I know and give me a framework to learn new things.
Get involved on campus. It’s tough to be involved with many school activities because I don’t live on-campus, parking is a joke, and I have to give up the hours I would normally work to be on campus for special events. I read somewhere that being involved in career-oriented organizations–like ACM or ASIS&T–are preferred over school-related ones, given the brief time I have to devote to extracurriculars. Also, although I’m plenty involved with outside groups, I’ve never been asked about such participations in an interview and I don’t put them on my resume. At this stage, I have plenty of career experience that takes precedence.
Separate your expectations from those of your parents. I would amend this to include co-workers and friends. I would also amend this to yourself. Some older adults going back to school see the degree as the end-all and that the degree will, on its own, open doors to new opportunity. It won’t. My expectations are that my pursuit of the degree will open the doors–the hours spent studying, reading, thinking, meeting people, and so on. By the time the degree is handed to me on graduation day, I should already have plans in place for what happens the day after.
Try new things you aren’t good at. Just going back to school is a big new thing. To me, any other new thing is a little new thing.
Make your job search a top priority. Ye-e-es, I agree, to a point. If you hate your job, or don’t have a job, getting a job should be the most important thing. In my case, since I’m already working, I’m more concerned with meeting people affiliated with the school and its mission who are in a position to offer jobs. So I would say that meeting people and expanding my network is a top priority.
Take an acting course. I used to act in community theater and in college; it’s a great place for meeting people. I think most people, though, would get more out of an improv comedy course: learning to think on your feet, under pressure, with people watching you, is a great experience to have. I took one at Dirty South Comedy Theater in January 2006 and it was a great experience. I actually felt my brain make new connections and re-shape itself. Bizarre. I’d like to take another course again.
Get rid of your perfectionist streak. My goal in school is to get B or better grades so that I can 1) get tuition reimbursement from my employer and 2) not obsess over my schoolwork. As one of my managers drilled into me, “Just give me 80 percent. Your quality level is already high enough that it’ll be better than someone else’s 100 percent.” The key is to balance effort against value: if it’s a paper that only counts 10 points, it’ll get less attention than the presentation worth 30 points. Depend on your teachers/teammates for feedback indicating if the work isn’t good enough.
Work your way through college. Heh. Next.
Make to-do lists. I’m performing much better in school having spent the last 20 years learning about productivity and efficiency systems. My favorite methodology at the moment is Mark Forster’s book Do It Tomorrow. (Here is Mark’s website, filled to bursting with great and actionable ideas.)
Considering that I’m now juggling a full-time job, family, banjo practice, and school, efficiency and productivity help me keep it all together.
(originally posted 2007-08-19, updated for micro.blog)
I give money to beggars. Am I a sucker? Probably. Yes. I am a sucker. I’m proud to think that I am a sucker and not a mean, judgmental, suspicious tightwad. So in that one tiny respect I think that I am a little bit more like Jesus than I am like George W. Bush. And sometimes, that IS the choice we have to make.
From Art de Vany’s web site, ca. 2007:
I ran into a guy at the gym whom I had not seen for a couple of months, maybe more.
He was in the gym hours on end (when I used to see him) doing aerobics. He did so much treadmill work that he constantly limped and had a brace on his foot, sometimes on his knee. He had poor posture from walking slumped over looking at the track or the monitor. Nothing in his work outs addressed his posture and his aerobic work only reinforced it. He worked out every day as far as I could tell because he was always there when I came in.
He was a pure vegetarian. He ate a lot of beans and spinach and always told me how fresh he felt from his food. He had no muscle and was a “fat-skinny” jogger or treadmill addict. Sklnny arms, little legs and a bony back.
I was a bit shocked though to see how his appearance had degraded in the few months since I had last seen him. He had gotten quite thick around the waist, but not anywhere else. Still no muscle and a tired, haggard look and slumped posture. At least he was not limping and had no braces on. Rather than ask him if he had been ill, I just asked how he was doing. He really didn’t answer but he did say he had been gone 2 months working on a cabin.
I don’t want to speculate, but it does seem to me that his diet and training make his fitness vulnerable or brittle. He is poised on a razor’s edge in a sense that any small change in diet or exercise sends him down a steep slope. He quickly loses fitness and his body composition quickly fades if he changes either his diet or his exercise. I doubt that his diet changed. So, it is likely his energy expenditures and particularly his peak expenditures that changed. It was easy to see that his insulin sensitivity had declined because all the new weight was gathered in the abdominal area. Maybe he had an illness or went through a major stress. On the other hand, there is seldom a “cause” for human physiology is so complex it is not possible to trace a major change of this magnitude to a single factor.
What I am driving at is that his approach to diet and fitness left him vulnerable. He has to stay on that treadmill or he falls hard. Even on the treadmill, though he managed his weight, he was on the boundary of good health. Not enough nutrition or rest and doing the wrong sorts of exercise. He looked depleted then and even more so now.
I am sorry to see this happen, but I don’t think I can do anything about it. If there is any lesson here it is to adopt a fitness approach that does not leave you vulnerable to damage, poor nutrition, or unusual stress. If you are on the edge in terms of nutrition (either trying to “bulk up” or lose weight or eating a narrow range of foods) or exercise (over training and doing repetitive work outs), you become vulnerable. You are living on the edge. An easy approach mixing intensity, variety, and great food is more healthful and leaves you poised to adapt to stresses that are bound to occur.
A Vegan/Aerobicizer Hits the Wall