Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Geographic Differences in Reactions to Things

Seattle: Quick, grab gear for an extreme sport and let's get going!
Tucson: Eeeeeewwww.

Texas: We can deep fry that, right? We can deep fry anything.
Seattle: Salmon? Which kind of salmon would you like? We have coho, and Alaskan King (watch out; that one hurts when you get it in the face), chinook.... oh, and how many shots would you like in your espresso?
Hilo: You wan for catch um, or just get um outta da freezah? I got some las week, but I could get da boat readeh.
California: Why cook perfectly good Tuna?


Actually Doing Stuff, Part 2

I don't think people ever do things they really don't like, at least not for more than short periods of time. But, you say, I do it all the time! Work, maybe, or school. But you must like something about it, at least the results, enough to keep you going. Or maybe you, unlike me, have that mystical thing called "willpower." Although I think Scott Adams was right in saying that people don't really have willpower; it's that people need a certain base level of happiness, up to which they'll work very hard to get, but after which they don't care much. So, that actualized starlet may really have a much easier time than you turning down the ice cream; for her, it's extra, but for you, may be the only good thing in your day. (I'll find the link to that post soon....)

I think I may be particularly bad, though, at making myself do things I don't like. Maybe this is due to some combination of liking most things I've tried for most of my life, and not having anybody around telling me that I should do things I don't like. I'm tempted to call it a moral failing and berate myself mercilessly for it, but that has a bad way of making me dangerously miserable, so I've decided not to try that approach anymore. It seems far more productive (not to mention safer) to just get to like more things. Sure, some things are harder to like than others, but once you get into liking something, it's much easier to get into a positive feedback cycle of doing something more, getting better at it, and liking it more. So that seems like pretty good motivation for attempting to get things done this way.

I try to do this with exercise, for instance. It is deliberate that I'm not biking to work right now: I wouldn't enjoy it, and it's extremely important to me to preserve my love of biking. If I still love it, it's easy enough to pick up riding to work again when the weather gets better, and I still go on rides for fun on sunny weekends (like this past one), which is at least some exercise. It's the same reason I'm not super hardcore about hills: don't like them; don't want to build up unpleasant associations. I find I take on more hills as I get more into it anyway, and then I don't mind, so I'm not very motivated to force myself into it when I don't feel like it; I'll get further faster if I just focus on enjoying it and doing it the way I enjoy it.

Hobbies and exercise seem to be the best examples of this, or at least the most obvious (I could list many more specifics - dance, massage, photography), but I think it applies just as much and probably more at work. I like my job, and I don't think I'd be very good at if I didn't. If I'm feeling unfocused, I can usually get myself back on track by going back to the root of why I like programming: it's all puzzle-solving. Even stupid annoying bugs are just another set of clues to unravel, the process of which can be fun, even if the end result seems kind of pointless.

Wow, blogging before I go to work... I am getting up earlier. It did only take me about 20 minutes to write this, though....

Now, off to solve puzzles.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

New Sports

Never let it be said that I let little things keep me from trying new adventures. Little things like, oh, FEAR OF IMPENDING, HORRIBLE DEATH.

Last year when I was snorkeling in Hawaii, I kept kicking off the snorkel, holding my breath, and getting down with the fish. I decided right then that I absolutely must learn scuba diving.

Thus it came to pass that I signed up for scuba lessons. Now, while I paid for the lessons in July (when Underwater Sports had their annual sale), things kept coming up to prevent me from actually taking them. Finally, here we were in December, booking a trip to Hawaii in February, so if I didn't take my lessons soon, it wasn't going to be in time for the original intended purpose. So, in the middle of winter, here I was taking a class that involved going outside and jumping in the water. That alone made it sound pretty questionable.

However, cold was actually not the worst problem. After all the time I've spent in the water, swimming, surfing, and even snorkeling, I was actually quite ashamed of how much it freaked me out to sit underwater and breath. Also, my habit of holding my nose while underwater was finally catching up to me, as one thing you must be able to do to get certified (not to mention for practical safety reasons) is be able to take your mask off, continue breathing through the regulator, and put your mask back on. Now, this is where my body panicked and went DEATH IMPENDING! GET OUT OF WATER NOW!!!

As ways to die go, drowning would be one of my least favorite. Really, I'd rather be burned at the stake. I'm sure there are, in fact, plenty of much worse ways to die, but maybe drowning just seems worse because it's very real to me after all that lovely time in the water.

I think I spent at least half the class wondering why I was still there, being sure I wouldn't finish. Due to this newfound idea I have of following through on things, though, I kept going back for more. It did help that we had a cool teacher, Bob. Bob looked kinda like a truck driver, beard, baseball cap and all. He turned out, though, to be, as he put it, "mother-hen-ish." He really looked after us and wanted us to do well, and he was very practical. On the last pool class (there were 4 pool sessions and 2 "open water" sessions in the Sound), I showed up early and did some practice, and that did make me feel better. Besides which, I figured diving had to be better if I were floating along with something good to look at (like a reef and bright-colored fish), instead of sitting at the bottom of a featureless pool deliberately doing things that made me uncomfortable.

Still, the open water dives were really trying, and through the first one I was back to wondering why I was there, I wasn't going to make it, etc., etc., but by then I was so close I had to try, even it was to say "Been there, done that, and now I'm never doing it again." In addition to having to do all the practical safety skills (read = things that make you uncomfortable because it's for when things go wrong), the water was, well, 46 degrees. Forty six degree water surpasses cold; it's just painful. Seven mil wetsuits keep you at a reasonable temperature (wouldn't call it "warm"), but it doesn't keep you from feeling screaming pain on your face when you put your head in the water, nor does it prevent those first few seconds when the water first gets into the suit and you have 46 degree water running against your bare torso skin. On top of this, we were wearing about 60 lbs of gear, including the wetsuit. Seven mils of neoprene makes it hard to even lift your arms; forget trying to do anything behind your head with your hands, because you just can't bend your joints that much.

The other good FEAR OF IMPENDING DEATH moment is dropping into dark water. Millions of years of evolution tell you that your head going underwater is BAD, and sinking into dark water that you can't see the bottom of is REALLY, REALLY BAD. So, when we had to swim out to the little float and then drop down the line... that was another time I had to fight off panic.

Of course, that skill I'd been most bothered by, mask removal and replacement, was the very last skill in the very last dive (2 each day for 2 days = total of 4). But, sure enough, when the time came, I'd been psyching myself up for it so much that I didn't, after all, have a problem with it. After that was done I had such a sense of relief, none of the cold or dark or anything else we might have to do bothered me a bit. After we finished the skills on the last dive, we went on a "tour," in which we swam around with Bob, the instructor, and looked at nifty stuff on the sea floor.

I can't really think of anything to compare this to in terms of sense of accomplishment. I certainly put a lot more work and time and agony into my academic degree, even within a comparable length of time on many occasions, but I don't think there was ever a point where I was in doubt that I would finish. It's more like things at work, when I fix a bug that I started out having absolutely no clue about and thought maybe it couldn't even be fixed (without something unreasonable like, you know, fixing a browser bug). I don't do many things that I want to point to or get attention for, but I like to send people to the Live Maps site, and after I finished the last dive, I definitely wanted some way of saying, "I finished." I suppose this is it.

I guess the bad thing of not admitting how hard something is for you... when you get to the end and you feel like you deserve a pat on the back, nobody's around to give you one because they didn't know you needed it.


Learning Things Backwards

Funny how when you're learning something out of school, you kind of learn it backwards.

Take javascript, for instance. Since I had learned nothing whatever about web technologies while I was in school, I had to learn javascript on the fly. Now, when you go to look for tutorials or educational materials about javascript online, what you get a lot of pointers toward is either really, really basic intros where they assume you don't know anything about programming (and thus aren't really worth looking at, even if you don't know the language they're using), or elaborate expositions on the subtle points of the language that long-time users might have been wondering about. There doesn't seem to be any happy middle ground on this, or if there is, it's hard to find (some of it does exist in books, I've found). The upshot of this is that I knew about javascript closures and various pros and cons of different ways of declaring functions and how values are stored before I knew about functions like getElementsByTagName. It also took me far too long to figure out what a div was (nobody ever says what a div is; you just sort of infer it after a while of reading code that has lots of them).

I guess it's the way of informal knowledge sharing. School tries to set up a nice order to teach you things in the "right" order, and books, being materials prepared by a stranger rather than something told to you by someone you know, have mostly the same setup. But when your friends tell you about, say, a foreign language, they skip past how to conjugate the verb "to be" and go straight to telling you profanities and how to describe what you did in the back seat last night.

After six and a half years of school, it took quite a while to get used to this ad hoc way of learning things, but I'm getting more into it, and I'd venture to guess this is a big component of that mysterious thing you gain from "experience." So, now, when they say "just include this file and you'll be able to use our library," I at least know what to ask: it's not the bit of how to use the library, it's where and how to include the file at all.

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Wow, Comments :-)

I had no idea that last post was going to be so popular... I don't know if that says as much about my writing as about the names of places in our fair Evergreen State. Anyway, if you like the post, read the comments, because they're at least as good.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Washington Town Names

Washington has a town named Burien. This so sounds like a Redneck Word. As in, "We're Burien the bodies after sundown."

There's another called Cle Elum. This should be the name of Cletus The Slack-Jawed Yokel's cousin.

Snoqualmie? Snoquala-you, too.


If it's been a while since I've posted, I feel a sort of obligation to write something profound. That was not profound, but whatever. I'm feeling a need to write like an itch; however, the rest of life is scratching at me right now, so I might have to wait a bit more, or steal away moments like this, at 1:15 in the morning, when I really, really ought to be sleeping.

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