Advice for a Forty-Odder from a Twenty-Something

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)

Penguin Great Loves series

Penguin has recently published 20 titles under the series title “Great Loves.” I’ve posted 6 of my favorites here; check them all out at the Penguin site. Out of the 20, there’s only about 2 or 3 that appear to lie just a bit outside the style and feel of the whole series; that the one that seems farthest away from the rest (the Freud title) is called “Deviant Love” makes me smile.

A really cool bonus: Penguin designer David Pearson describes one of the production processes employed in the creation of these covers. Fantastic stuff.

There’s a little bit more information over at the Penguin blog.







Penguin Great Loves series

Dictionary of Symbols

dictionary_symbols_sm.jpg

In art, literature, film and life, even the littlest image or reference can open a world of interpretation. This thick encyclopedia, with contributions from scholars in various disciplines, is an excellent guide to the major and more esoteric origins of seemingly everything – from “abracadabra” to “Zodiac.” There are a ton of spiritual, mythological and/or cultural tangents that hopscotch the globe and back in time. Whenever I pick it up, I learn something new. I find the animal and food-related facts particularly enlightening (ex; oranges, a fertility symbol, are given to young married couples in Vietnam; and in Ancient China a formal offer of marriage was accompanied by a gift of oranges to the girl). The book’s title is somewhat misleading. It does not have illustrations – it’s all text. Some entries are a couple sentences, others stretch for a few pages. If you have plans to deconstruct the next season of Lost, you might find this one handy.

– Steven Leckart

Dictionary of Symbols
Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant
1996 (current translation), 1184 pages
$15
Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

abracadabra
This charm was used throughout the Middle Ages. ‘One only had to write it down in the triangular pattern shown below and wear it round one’s neck as a sort of phylactery or charm to be protected from various diseases and to be cured of fever’:

               ABRACADABRA
                ABRACADABR
                 ABRACADAB
                  ABRACADA
                   ABRACAD
                    ABRACA
                     ABRAC
                      ABRA
                       ABR
                        AB
                         A

The word derives from the Hebrew abreg ad habra meaning to ‘strike dead with thy lightning.’ In Hebrew it comprises nine letters. ‘Placing aleph on the left side of the triangle - and its ninefold repetition - is the magical element.’ By arranging the letters in a reverse triangle, the celestial energies which the charm claims to entrap are directed downwards. According, the figure should be seen three-dimensionally as a funnel… Like amulets, talismans and pentacles, this charm seeks to give the individual a sense of protection through communication with the higher powers and with the mysterious laws which govern the universe.

almond (Italian: mandorla)
Because of its husk, the almond is generally taken to symbolize the substance hidden within its accidents; spirituality masked by dogma and ritual; reality concealed by outward appearance; and, according to the secret doctrine, the eternally hidden Truth, Treasure and Fountain… The almond is Christ because his divine nature was hidden in the human, or in the womb of his virgin mother. It is also, according to Adam of St Victor, the mystery of light, that is to say the end of contemplation, the secret of inner illumination… The geometrical shape of the almond associates it with the symbolism of the LOZENGE, since it is a lozenge with the lateral angels rounded off. Like the lozenge it symbolizes the union of Heaven and Earth, of the upper and the lower worlds and, for this reason alone, would be ideally suited to frame the figures of the saints. It symbolizes the harmonious marriage which transcends the dualism of matter and spirit, fire and water, Heaven and Earth… In esoteric tradition the almond symbolizes the secret (a treasure) which is hidden in some dark place and which must be discovered in order to nourish the finder. The husk around it is compared with a wall or a gate. To find the almond or to eat the almond means to discover or to share in a secret.

otter
The otter, which rises to the surface of the water and then dives below it, posses lunar symbolism and from this derive the properties for which it is used in initiation. Otter-skin is used in initiation societies both among North American Indians and among Black Africans, especially the Bantu of Cameroon and Gabon… The shamans of the North American Ojibwa Indians keep their magic shells in an otter-skin bag. The messenger of the Great Spirit, who acts as intercessor between him and mankind, is supposed to have seen the wretched state of human weakness and disease and to have revealed the most sublime secrets to the otter and interfused its body with Migis (symbols of the Mide or members of the Midewiwin Medicine Lodge) so that the creature became immortal and could, by initiating humans, make them holy. All members of the Midewiwin carry otter-skin medicine bags. These are the bags which are aimed at the candidate at initiation ceremonies as if they were fire-arms and ‘kill’ him. They are then laid on his body until he is restored to life. After song and feasting the shamans present the new initiate with his own otter-skin bag. The otter is therefore an initiating spirit which kills and restores to life.


Dictionary of Symbols

If I don’t type to you before we leave, have a nice weekend, be sure to eat and dress sensibly, and be good to your mother. Unless she’s a roaring bitch hag who deserves the worst you can dish out without going to jail for it.

Oikos

Spotted last week in a New Jersey supermarket:



[Photograph by Rachel Leddy.]
Oikos

(οίκος) is one of my favorite ancient Greek words. Its meanings include house, dwelling, household, and family (as in “the house of Atreus”). Oikos the source of ec- and eco-, as in ecology and economics. It’s a key word in Homer’s Odyssey, which is about finding one’s way back home.

The cover of Stanley Lombardo’s translation of the Odyssey makes this point beautifully, with a cropped version of “Earthrise,” an Apollo 8 photograph of our one oikos, taken as the astronauts orbited the moon. When the Odyssey begins, Odysseus may as well be on the moon: he has been removed from all possibilities of human culture.

Earthrise (NASA)
All Homer posts (via del.icio.us)

(Thanks, Rachel!)

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Oikos

Comments by readers on the last few posts

I do enjoy the comments I get and am grateful for them as I do learn a great deal from them.

My guess on tennis players and their tummies seems to be confirmed by several commenters, a tennis coach and a Spaniard who knows what Nadal eats. Their diets will shorten their careers and leave a competitive edge to someone who takes the next step toward fitness by abandoning outmoded and incorrect advice from fitness experts.

As to Barry Bonds, I do not know if he ever took steroids or if he unknowingly took them, thinking they may have been flax seed oil. He has never tested positive. Even though his “trainer” had a protocol that included steroids, he has said Barry was not on that. My main point is that you cannot see what his critics seem to see in his statistics.

Too many people are seeing patterns where there is only randomness. Humans do that. It may have been adaptive in the evolutionary environment, which though complex did not approach the complexity we confront now. This is really a failing; a failure to see randomness rather than pattern. Nassim Taleb has written a nice book on this called Fooled by Randomness. This whole home run thing is a problem of being fooled by randomness.

Barry may or may not have taken steroids. His increased mass is easily attainable by someone who trains for mass and speed without steroids. I weighed just a bit less than he at the age of 65, though I have recently gone for more power to weight in my body composition. The decline of other athletes that is cited as evidence of steroid use is illusory. Aaron did not decline by much either. And nobody among older players trained like Barry. Moreover, there is not a shred of evidence that steroids alter aging patterns.

Journalists have to sell papers. Ted Williams was excoriated in the Boston press, largely by a single sports writer who later told Ted that he had to sell papers. This is one of the greatest and most disciplined and moral players ever to play the game. So, ignore the journalists. What do they know or care about but to sell papers.

Thus, where do we go for the “truth”? What do you want for truth? You seldom will get it when things are as variable as home run hitting is. The truth is that we can’t see patterns in the data that confirm any belief and yet, if we are eager enough, we can see things that confirm any belief you want to have.


Comments by readers on the last few posts

My friend David Warlick gave me a great tip about searching the Web. Instead of starting with a huge search engine such as Google, start small. Pick an engine with a smaller database, such as Yahoo, and work through its directory, which is arranged by subject and sub-topic. Then, having identified one or two high-quality Web sites, go back and create a search phrase based on frequently found terms in the pages you’ve found. Now proceed to a big search engine and plug in these keywords for your search. Focus is everything: Get the search terms right and you’ll wind up with a much more useful list of results.

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 little bit more like Jesus than I am like George W. Bush. And sometimes, that IS the choice we have to make.

I also learned that a twinkie is about half sugar, sulfuric acid is the most produced chemical in the world, sugar is used to clean out cement mixers, phosphate rock and limestone make Twinkies light and airy, Twinkies’ butter flavor is created out of gas, Twinkies contain only one preservative (sorbic acid), and the original 1930 Twinkies were filled with banana flavor, not vanilla.

For the past several years I’ve been actively auditing podcasts while in my car. I’ve tried all kinds of stuff – one time talks, home-made riffs, occasional raves by brilliant geniuses, and regular fragments of broadcast material. I have two criteria: I want to be surprised, and I want to learn.

Lemonade and lies

In a Dashiell Hammett story, the Continental Op looks at a sign in a bar — “ONLY GENUINE PRE-WAR BRITISH AND AMERICAN WHISKEYS SERVED HERE” — and begins to count the lies. I thought of that moment when examining a bottle in the supermarket today. The beverage inside is distributed by Supervalu Inc. The label reads:

ORIGINAL
LEMONADE
FLAVORED BEVERAGE WITH OTHER NATURAL FLAVORS
Old Fashioned Recipe

The old-fashioned recipe?

INGREDIENTS: FILTERED WATER,
CITRIC ACID, POTASSIUM CITRATE,
SODIUM HEXAMETAPHOSPHATE,
ASPARTAME, POTASSIUM SORBATE
AND POTASSIUM BENZOATE
(PRESERVATIVES), GUM ACACIA,
SUCROSE ACETATE ISOBUTYRATE,
NATURAL FLAVOR, ACESULFAME
POTASSIUM, CALCIUM DISODIUM EDTA
(TO PROTECT FLAVOR), YELLOW 5.

How many lies do you see?

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Lemonade and lies

Visuals of the World

“Scroll through yards of inspirational images. Share and contribute, see what you can do. Add a personal link to your submission or just engage anonymous. Be part of the longest visual website in the world!” (Note: Could have NSFW images…)


Visuals of the World

Homer then and now

The Nation has an extensive report on the experiences of American veterans of the war in Iraq. An excerpt:

We heard a few reports, in one case corroborated by photographs, that some soldiers had so lost their moral compass that they’d mocked or desecrated Iraqi corpses. One photo, among dozens turned over to The Nation during the investigation, shows an American soldier acting as if he is about to eat the spilled brains of a dead Iraqi man with his brown plastic Army-issue spoon… .

The scene, Sergeant [Camilo] Mejía said, was witnessed by the dead man’s brothers and cousins.

A reader of Homer’s Iliad will find nothing surprising in such accounts. Achilles’ character is undone in the course of the Iliad; the warrior who once displayed the greatest concern for his comrades and the greatest compassion toward the enemy descends into self-absorbed brutality. Here is Achilles speaking to the Trojan warrior Hector, before killing him and dragging his body behind a chariot:

               "I wish my stomach would let me
Cut off your flesh in strips and eat it raw
For what you’ve done to me. There is no one
And no way to keep the dogs off your head.“

(Iliad 22, translated by Stanley Lombardo)

Standing on Troy’s wall, Hector’s father and mother witness Achilles’ treatment of their son’s body, groaning and screaming as they watch.

And here we are, twenty-seven centuries later, in the same story.

The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness (The Nation, via Boing Boing)
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Homer then and now

Fighting overextension; First look at Numbers; “Linkable” notebooks; Doing v. tracking; Better 404s

Start Here - Notebooks


Fighting overextension; First look at Numbers; “Linkable” notebooks; Doing v. tracking; Better 404s

Things I learned on my summer vacation (2007)

Solvent cups are great for packing vitamins, meds, and other small items.



Ashland, Ohio, claims to be “the world headquarters of nice people.”



Jesse’s Café (139 Brighton Ave, Long Branch, New Jersey) is a wonderful mostly-vegan restaurant. The baba ghanoush is spectacular.



Ratatouille is a noun made from two verbs: ratouiller (to disturb, shake) and tatouiller (to stir).




Manhattan Special is an espresso soda from Brooklyn, New York, bottled since 1895. It is everything Coke Black wants (and fails) to be.



Older wine — a 1989 Bordeaux, almost brown in color, earthy in taste — is very different from the 2005, 2006 stuff I buy.



Fuller’s earth is a special-effects material used in simulating explosions. When you see the dirt flying up in a big plume, that’s Fuller’s earth.



Desert Spring is a house-brand imitation of Poland Spring.



“Oprah and her friends are just a call away.” (Slogan on a cell-service kiosk in a New Jersey mall.)



Rob Zseleczky can play a note-perfect guitar part for “Scarborough Fair.”



My sister-in-law Susie can draw manga characters.



Most events in one’s life happened “fifteen or twenty years ago.”



KARL BUSH EATS HOAGIES. (Painted on an overpass in Pennsylvania.)



Singing along with Pete Seeger while driving lightens and brightens all moods.



Coming back is so much nicer when the house is decluttered.

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Things I learned on my summer vacation (2006)
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Things I learned on my summer vacation (2007)