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Posts tagged 'draft'

  • The Curse of Memory.

    My first year in college, I was best friends with someone whose entire existence has since been reduced to a single anecdote about spoons.

    This isn't to say that I never think of him in any other context, nor that he didn't have any other effect on me. However, the only reason I ever have to bring him up to other people is to mention the following: I knew a guy who decided to steal a spoon from the cafeteria every time he went for a meal, to the point that they no longer had enough to make it through the day without constant washing. Meanwhile, he had an entire desk drawer full of spoons that he brought with him when he moved out of the dorms.

    It's not a particularly interesting anecdote, and I can't recall a single time someone has requested a follow-up. "Oh, that's interesting; why did he do it? How many did he accumulate in the end? He sounds like an interesting guy; tell me more about him…" When I'm reminded of it, I could probably chuckle quietly and reminisce to myself rather than inflict the non-story on another person, but that never happens. I can't say why, precisely, but I have some theories.

    When I arrived in my dorm, the college hadn't opened "officially" yet. Due to the nature of the residence community—we were two floors within a four-building, twenty-floor complex dedicated to people from overseas or who had an interest in international "stuff", for lack of a better word—we were allowed to move in early. For the students who chose to take this option, it was an unparalleled opportunity to explore the college in that golden moment of perfect anticipation, where everything is open and available but not ruined by the pressing crowd.

    The beginning of the semester is defined by people exploring themselves, trying to start anew. This is doubly true for the beginning of the academic year, when the light and warmth of the summer are still making their presence felt, and the clarity provided by three months' vacation meets the promise of all new courses untainted by the anxieties of years past. While the beginning of the spring term is defined by resolutions to do better—the gyms and dining halls are full-up with students trying to make up for past failures, by eating right, working out, waking up early, and so forth—the end of summer is an explosion on all fronts. Freshman are learning what it means to define oneself in the vacuum created by the absence of authority; sophomores and juniors are seeing the world with the veneer of experience (and taking advantage of freshman naïveté), making up for missed opportunities by exploring those places that went ignored in earlier years; and seniors break in the old favorites for the first time of a new year. The end of August is the true spring in a college town: no venue goes unvisited, no random adventure goes untaken, no resource or club goes unconsidered.

    Moving in early allowed us to get a jump on the lines. In the first days before move-in, the international students (real and fake), gained the jaded veneer that only occurs during mass transitions. "Student rate football tickets? Yeah, me and a bunch of the guys bought a block of ten consecutive seats a while back" (yesterday afternoon). "

  • Educational progression

    When students have to make a time/effort tradeoff when swamped with work, not all the work that the professor desires students to complete will be done. Students are still capable of achieving high marks in the absence of 100% commitment, which indicates that there's a disconnect between the work assigned and the demands of a given quantum of instruction.

    Matching these would be a challenge, but consider this:

    • Instructors identify the highest-level skills that students who are successful in the class should possess
    • Instructors make a hierarchy of skills that students would have to progress through in order to develop and demonstrate skills, and connect them together
    • Students are given high-level skills to practice, and if they can't manage them, are given easier and more fundamental skills until they are making progress at their experience level
  • A strange Mail.app bug

    To begin, it helps to understand that things get under my skin easily. I was running Word 2004 on a recent Intel Mac, and spent two hours toggling options and configuring my environment to try to get rid of a 50 ms lag in characters appearing on screen. (I never was able to, and ended up using Word 2010 on a PC to do that piece of work.) I argued with a guy for three hours about the use of a particular piece of iconography and the role of consistency in UI design, because a visual confusion was causing me thirty seconds of inconvenience per day.

    So basically, I'm an asshole (to many of you) or particular ("OCD") about a couple things, which can be roughly boiled down to "responsiveness" and "flow". I'll upgrade my phone to reduce typing lag, I won't use a device that's too old if fast tasks aren't fast—app switching, typing, mouse input—and I hate chrome, animation, and interfaces that reduce application interaction speed. This leads into flow: if a button isn't clear after using it five times, or I mis-hit a menu because my understanding of an app is different from the designers' intent, I get increasingly frustrated. Adobe Reader using the Windows XP file dialog for saving/opening files (as opposed to the Windows 7 version) is one of my pet peeves. Thus, the main reason I prefer OS X is that there are so few exceptions: Apple's "update or get left behind" dictum to software developers is, in my mind, a virtue, because when everything is up-to-date everything behaves predictably and I can flow more easily.

  • A model of how social interaction works, for sociopaths

    "Never dine alone." There's a purpose to this: if you're dining, you should seek to share food with someone whose social bonds and career trajectory might benefit you down the road, or with someone you could mentor in some way. In all aspects, you should seek to dine (that is, eat out) with people who can enrich your life, and who can benefit from or provide benefit to you through the social bonds created by the ancient rites of breaking bread together.

    Jesus said:

    "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."

    Genius works the same way. Somewhere in the universe is a creature of an alien species that knows the answers to the problem you're working on, but just as his knowledge does you no good in your life, knowledge you don't share with others does them no good in their lives. People work better in messy offices, where ideas can cross-pollinate and you can (hopefully) find someone who speaks a dialect of the language of your problem, and skip out on a lot of the infrastructure that would accompany writing.

    In general, a good intellectual peer allows you to do what I've heard referred to as "skip talk": you skip a lot of words and ideas because your companion indicates, using non-verbal and sub-verbal cues that they see where you're going because they've already been there. So you quickly get to the meat of the discussion, and gain a lot of ground there because that person can help you recognize which ideas are worth pursuing.

    Once you create something, though, you should polish it to a point that someone who doesn't know you and doesn't necessarily like you can understand it. This is the work that happens alone, for the most part, and that which most resembles "work". The endless polishing, cleaning up of ambiguities, and presentation of data in an understandable format for all to see takes a lot of time, but this is where true genius lives.

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