Wednesday, October 31, 2007

the older student

I am an "older" student, even in grad school. This hit home last night on two fronts. On one, I got a B on a paper, and was incredibly upset. The grade was fair, even generous, given what I turned in; it's just that I am used to As, expect As and really don't want to settle for less. I was not like this as an undergrad. I wasn't even like this in my 30s. I think more of myself now than I did then. I am smart, I am capable, and there really isn't any excuse for a B.

The 2nd front came in the form of an anecdote. My professor was on a tangent about gardening. Then she talked about how, the second you turn 50, you get that mail from AARP asking you to join, showing happy old people gardening. Then she looked around the room and said, "of course, none of you are anywhere near 50..." Ummm, yeah, right. I am at least 10 years older than the nearest person my age in the room... And am much closer to 50 than I like to think.

So, why aren't there more older students? is it because education has increasingly been seen in terms of career goals, and nothing else? if it can't get you advancement, should you skip it?

For what it's worth, and despite the difficulties, my B paper notwithstanding, I highly recommend going back to school. Do something different. Shake up your ideas and your life. Take Art, take music, hell take accounting if it floats your boat. Just go to school, so I can have some creaky, old company.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I need people

I need people, as in "I have people for that"... to give you an idea, this is my weekend:

I took my son to the Independent School Entrance Exams. I waited with him and tried to cheer him up until they took him in the room. Then I took the car to the dealer for its 75,000 mile service, and to get a new seat-belt (Largo ate through the other one). And a new battery. Then I drove back to the school, getting there just in time to pick up my son. Then I dropped him at home and went to the bank to deposit a check. I read my book for school for Tuesday night (Candide). I answered email from work. We went out to dinner with friends (Taste restaurant, very very nice evening). On Sunday, I went grocery shopping. I took videos back, bought Halloween decorations, went to PetSmart and got food for the dog. I hard boiled eggs and cooked some chicken breasts for later in the week. I did 5 loads of laundry. I cooked a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. We went to the Park School for an Open House/Tour. I checked in and answered work email. I ran the dog around the back yard for 20 minutes.

I'm tired. And oppressed by the things I left undone: bathrooms to clean, kitchen floor to mop, I haven't filed or put away paperwork for months. My dust bunnies are HUUUGGGEEE, with nasty fangs.

No seriously, I could use a few people to run my errands, clean my house, organize my paperwork. A simple Victorian staff of 2-3 would do it, I think. Or one horribly efficient butler...

Friday, October 26, 2007

it's not magic

I am working on some programming. It sounds fairly simple: create a bunch of custom documents for each of our speakers for a course and email them a packet. But a speaker can be a guest, or staff (different set of documents for each), some documents have to be merged on a per talk basis, some on a per speaker basis, some of the documents are compound docs (page 1 merges with speakers, page 2 -4 have to repeat for each talk, the last page is static, etc).

So I have a process that: merges to word, breaks apart the merges by speakers or talks, shoving the now individual docs into a folder or each speaker, then converts docs to pdfs, then makes multiple pdfs into single pdfs, then zipping contents of each speaker's folder, then attaches and emails with a customized email to each speaker and then cleans up after itself.

So, I have users wondering why this took so long to create, others that are like "thanks - can we change this 1 document here so that it does x?" etc.

I want someone, anyone, to recognize what a huge challenge this was, and how f***ing amazing I am for coming up with a solution at all. We have gotten to the point where they just expect me to solve everything, and so take my efforts for granted.

Like I wave my hands, and MAGIC -- we have new code.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

what do we want our government to do for us

This topic came up in the car, on the way to doggie daycare (!). My son was telling me about a girl at his school, Gemma Frost. Her brother is the twelve year old student who testified before Congress about the sCHIP program (children's health insurance). For those of you not in the Baltimore area, you may not be aware that the Frost family has experienced an avalance of hate mail, invasion of privacy, threats, etc. since speaking up for the continued funding of the program

My son was horrified that this was even an issue. He felt all kids should have access to medical care. Period. I agree. So we started talking about what a government should do for its citizens, and why people would be angry at the Frosts. The anger is that many people feel insurance is a purely private thing; if you want it you buy it, and if you can't afford it, go without. And the Frosts are not poor. They are not rich, but they are not poor. They make ends meet, they own their own home, their children go to private schools (on scholarship, btw). But they are self-employed and do not get health insurance through an employer. Bottom line, they applied and were approved for the SCHIP program. Should they be homeless so they can buy insurance? Should they pull their kids out of their schools and put them in public school to make people feel better?

My argument this morning was that we have to decide what we want government to be, and to do. I feel that the government should protect the most vulnerable among us: the poor, the disabled, children, the elderly, because how we treat these people is what we are as a society. We are a well-off country that spends more on war than we spend on these vulnerable citizens.

So, what do you want from government? what kind of society should we be? and how do we get there?

Friday, October 19, 2007

avoiding my paper

So, I am supposed to be writing my paper for class. Right now. I have my books, I have my notes, I have my trusty laptop. And I am blogging. Writing to avoid writing. As usual, I changed the topic of my paper at the last second. I was going to write on Euripides Electra, but the play *sucks* -- the Greek tragedy equivalent of Atlas Shrugged. Lots of long speeches that interrupt the action so that the POINT can be hammered home.

So now I am writing on Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. Much better. But I keep getting distracted by the background stuff. Like there really was a Doctor Faust, and there was this book: The History of the Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus. It came before Marlowe's play, which came before Goethe's Faust, and so on. And Marlowe was a spy for the Queen. He was stabbed to death at age 29, maybe assassinated. And the play was published posthumously and probably was written as part of a team. A few years later, another edition was published with another 676 lines added, supposedly by Marlowe, but probably not.

So, writing about the theme and structure and the Evil in the play doesn't seem that interesting right now. Oh yeah, I also have to prepare a ten minute talk on my paper to present on Tuesday night. Did I mention this is all due Tuesday?

And I have to leave the house at 5:30am on Tuesday, so I can drive to NIH for a 4 hour meeting, then drive back to the office and work, and then go to class and turn in my paper.

And I got myself into this in the first place, because I like school. This is all voluntary. I don't have to do it. I should have my head examined.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

how others see you

I was thinking last night about how others see me. In talking with a classmate, it was clear that she felt I was outgoing and confident. Stunned, I told her I sat through 4 years of college without ever raising my hand. And that not one of my professors would even remember who I was. She said she couldn't believe that was true.

Yet it was. I really did. I was afraid to answer questions, afraid I might seem stupid, afraid I might seem too smart, afraid I was uncool, unpopular, unliked. Mostly just afraid to be myself. I don't remember when it shifted, and I have always assumed that I still appear that way to others, even though I don't feel that way inside.

Is it age that makes you more you? is it experience? Is it that way for everyone? or is it just me? I know I feel like I haven't changed in decades. My "mental self" seems pegged at 22. I have to do the math in my head sometimes to remember how old I am. Yet something unquantifiable has changed; there is a difference in there somewhere. What would it be like, I wonder, if for one fleeting moment, you could see yourself as others see you?

Monday, October 15, 2007

blog about the environment

Nature is my religion, as much as I have one. I feel a sense of connectedness with the world when I am outdoors. I don't have a church. I don't believe in God, at least not the Christian one I grew up with. But I do love and appreciate the world we live in. I love the rivers, the mountains, the trees, the oceans, the creatures that share the planet with us.

I love the sounds and smells, wet raw earth, the air after a thunderstorm, the way warm wood smells different than cold, the trickle of a stream, the wind through the trees, waves crashing on shore, the salty odd smell of marshes.

This planet is a treasure, a museum, a great work of art. However you view it, it is irreplaceable and it is priceless. Try treating it that way.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Congratulations, Al!

I was stunned to see Al Gore awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I think his efforts to educate the planet about global warming have been magnificent, and hopefully not too late. I just thought it was something of a stretch to connect it to Peace. However, in reading the comments from the committee, I agree, it is about Peace. It is about bringing the planet together, not for war, or for commerce, without special interests, to do something together about a problem that affects us all.

I am so pleased to see Al Gore rewarded for doing good. Too often, we see people garner attention for doing all the wrong things. It is a blessing, at least as a parent, to see someone rewarded richly for doing the right thing. Makes my job easier, when I tell my son to do what he loves, and not worry about profit. Gore seems happier than he ever was running for office. His income has soared, he is respected internationally, his ideas get attention, and he looks like he is having a blast. He is doing what he believes in and it shows.

Congratulations, Al, and keep at it. We need to hear it.

Monday, October 08, 2007


This weekend, I read: King Lear by Shakespeare, and Forfeit, by Dick Francis. Guess which one I enjoyed more? If you said Shakespeare, you were way way off. I love Shakespeare, generally, but Lear is one of my least favorite plays, I think because I really don't like anyone but Cordelia, and she doesn't do or say much. I think I have read almost every single Dick Francis, and enjoyed every one. Can't name a single character, the plots are often interchangeable, and they deal with horse racing, which I know very little about. But they are a fun read.

There are books that I think I ought to like, or ought to have read, because they are considered classics. Literature with a capital L. And then there are things I absolutely should NOT enjoy, like comic books, that I thoroughly do. As I get older, I get more comfortable with the thought that I am not as sophisticated as I once thought I was. My tastes are just what they are -- and sometimes that means I am shallow, superficial or just plain brain dead.

Friday, October 05, 2007

we don't torture

We don't torture people here in Amurrriccca. We slap, simulate drowing, waterboard, sleep deprive, use sensory deprivation, force prisoners to endure freezing temperatures. But we don't torture.

According to our beloved leader (the Shrub), we just interrogate, and we get some pretty darned good information too.

Thank god the government is there to keep us safe. I am so happy they are willing to act like a third world dictatorship if need be, just to make sure the bad guys don't get me. I sleep so much better knowing there is no depth this administration will not sink to in order to "protect the people".

Whatever happened to decency? Whatever happened to the idea that the ends DO NOT JUSTIFY the means??

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Americans are prudes

Americans are prudes -- about money. It really is the last taboo in our culture. You can go on Dr Phil and spill all the details of your sex life, or discuss all your mental health problems. People go into great depth and detail about private medical procedures, what got cut where, added, nipped, tucked. But money? No way.

Think about it. You probably guess at what your colleagues and co-workers get paid. You thumbnail the neighbor's income in proportion to your own. But you don't know. Because it is the one private thing in our entire culture.

I wonder why? What's the big secret? Are we afraid of being seen as bragging? Or are we afraid we aren't measuring up? Do we fear envy? Do we think people will judge us harshly?

I was thinking about it the other day. We may try to apply for financial aid for our son's schooling. But I am uncomfortable with having to disclose our finances to strangers. And that's weird. I am, as people who know me will attest, not usually uncomfortable about ANY topic of discussion. And still, the idea bugs me more than if I let strangers rifle through my underwear drawer. How odd is that?

So, ideas? Why the cultural taboo? Are there good reasons for it?