Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy new b'ak'tun!

(or, I looked up stuff on Wikipedia to jazz up our "end of the world" conversations and party a bit)

I'm in Cleveland for the holidays and it is nice. My feeling mildly out of place here in Cleveland serves only as a counterpoint to how well I am settling into place in Pittsburgh. How well is everything firing on all cylinders? My job, fellow students, advisor, professors, house, roommates, new friends, old friends, and lady friend are all wonderful. It's been a whirlwind, but I don't think I could have hoped that it would all turn out this well.

And dang, it's gone so fast I am afraid I will forget it all. This semester, I (and I mean this in the spirit of reminiscence and not boasting):
- laser tagged like a champ
- looked at birds
- been told not to look at birds
- worn a garbage can
- danced much more frequently than previously
- DJed for expert crepe makers
- passed a test to DJ on the radio again
- went to Ubicomp in Pittsburgh, Quantified Self in Palo Alto, UIST in Boston
- struggled through helping make, then demonstrated to the founder of Adobe, a faceboard
- made a website
- made so much Indian food my roommates got sick of it
- made a bunch of Friendship Drinks
- threw furniture into a fire in our backyard
- got yellow carded for "verbally intimidating" soccer opponents

Whah! Among others. It's been a good end of the b'ak'tun. Here's hoping that you're settling in equally well, wherever you are; and if not, here's another bit of hope that if you've not yet found a good niche, you will eventually. Thank you for everything, I have no complaints whatsoever.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A lot of links that've caught my eye

I can't say it better myself: "Cities: Rather Than Patronizing Young People, Give Them What They Ask For." The city in question is Cleveland. Cleveland, I love you, and you're taking baby steps... but you're also taking backwards steps, and just not taking some steps. I love the part about "... the myth that Cleveland is a great place to live — better than other places even — and that our real problem is not one of the many obvious shortcomings frequently mentioned in the national press, but a woeful and incorrect 'image problem.'"

A few hits of Barking Up The Wrong Tree: The words you use, do what really makes you happy (it is similar to what you are an expert at!)
Recently I've felt like I've got school under control enough to start doing hobbies again. This is neat. I sometimes worry that "hobby" is a depressing word because I'll start to get boring and quietly tend a garden until I die. But I think the word just has a bad rap; I am starting to do things I like, besides riding bikes and drinking coffee. I've been drawing cartoons and I'll be a DJ at WRCT soon enough. Keep life busy and multifaceted. Never stop growing.

College Students Want Quiet Space, Can't Find It. Argh argh yes! First, it's hard to take a nap. Second, it's hard to find a goddamn quiet place to work! Third, it's hard to make phone calls. Fourth, it's hard to find a quiet place to work when your officemate is making phone calls. Etc. Another thing we were spoiled with at Google. And when I say "spoiled at Google", I usually mean "Google was doing it right and most other work environments are varying degrees of broken."

Similarly: CMU and "stress culture." It's better now than as an undergrad (I think) but still, my classmates (and sometimes I) work too much.
If someone says "I worked 60 hours last week", the unstated response should be "you're inefficient", not "you're a hard worker." If someone says "I don't think I can do it", the response should be "let me help you do it." If someone says "I'm stressed and it's affecting my health or my happiness", there should be at least adequate professionals, as well as peer support networks, that can help them handle that. It's hard to get out of our Industrial-Revolution Victorian Puritan Stiff-Upper-Lip mindset, but if we want to be alive, healthy, and happy/fulfilled/flourishing in the future, we've got to get better at it.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

The fall-back plan develops

Apparently it's common among grad students that you have to have a fantasy fall-back plan when the whole PhD thing doesn't work out. You dream of the simplicity: "If I just started a restaurant, it'd be hard work, but it'd be simple. You make food, you bring it to people, they give you money." Never mind the fact that owning a restaurant probably involves more stress and work than a PhD; remember: this is a fantasy plan.

Anyway, I'm working on two. One is a dream cafe: you can go take a nap. Then depending on what kind of dream you'd like (peaceful, interesting, exciting, scary) we can pipe in certain music/smells/etc. We could even have all sorts of tricks to help you get lucid, if you're into that. Even better: we could study how well it works for people!

Whatever. Backup plan two is, of course, a coffee roastery and shop. I don't know many of the details, but it'd probably involve a lot of friggin' awesome coffees, as well as a lot of wood and metal, standing desks, long hours, great music, and public cuppings (coffee tastings). (A lot of Victrola and Commonplace influences here, for sure.)

But I've been wondering: I'd want it to be super coffee-geeky, but I don't want to be mean or exclusive. I know a lot of people who just want "a regular cup of coffee, dammit!" or even "a triple nonfat caramel latte blahblah". I disagree with them, particularly the latter, but there are two good reasons to offer both of those choices:
1. People come to expect both of those options from a coffeeshop, and they'd be pretty easy to provide. Especially in the age of Google Maps and "hmm, I just want some coffee, where does my smartphone say they have coffee around here", I'd hate people who didn't know the store to be disappointed or confused.
2. People come to coffeeshops with friends. If your friends are coffee geeks and you're not, I'd hate for you to feel snobbed. Furthermore, if your friends are not coffee geeks, I don't want them to veto meeting up at my shop because I don't serve a triple caramel blahblah.

But I still want to be coffee geeky! So, talking with another coffee geek last night, we came up with the perfect compromise. Based on the TSA, of all places, and skiing: green circle, blue square, and black diamond. Different lines and different menus. Green circle if you're expecting Starbucks, blue square if you're interested to learn a little more, and black diamond for coffee geeks. Green circle line and you want a triple caramel blahblah? Coming right up! Black diamond line and you want to try our finest new single origin espresso? Sure thing! Cream and sugar? If you're in the green circle line, no problem, but don't try that in the black diamond. You like coffee but are interested to know what makes our pour over Rwanda better than the office sludge? Blue square line, we'll tell you all about it, no attitude.

Someday. When I quit all this computery nonsense.