Modest Goals

This morning, I used Twitter and Facebook to announce four world-shaking goals for the short holiday week. Here’s the update. Please, sit down before reading what follows – it’s riveting stuff.

1. Reduce my email inbox at work to fewer than five messages.
– pending new messages, mostly completed: cut from 22 messages at 8 a.m. to 4 at 4:30 p.m.

2. Reduce my email inbox at home to fewer than five messages.
– pending new messages, incomplete: cut from 26 messages at 6:30 a.m. to 10 at 9:55 p.m.

3. Clean up and clear off my desk.
– halfway completed: lots of papers and random junk either filed correctly or recycled; lots of harder-to-handle stuff to do on Tuesday and Wednesday

4. Finish some key research tasks I haven’t had time to complete at work.
-mostly incomplete: one task mostly finished, a half-dozen still to go

Things are looking up, though: I have a lot of unscheduled time on Tuesday and Wednesday. If only I can just keep away from the coffee bar…

Random Thoughts

1. I wish I’d bought 1000 shares of the puffy-black-vest-over-a-bright-sweater look in late August; I could be selling those shares now and making a fortune.

2. The worse possible autumn-morning ambiance is the combination of cold, thick fog and the stench of the turkey farms.

3. On the other hand, the glow of blinking school-bus lights is actually quite nice, when seen from a distance through the fog.

4. I wish I could short 1000 shares of the fringed-knee-high-boots look; I could sell them in February and make a fortune.

5. I’m not sure if this is quite right, but one week of low-stress, routine work seems to more than make up for two weeks of high-stress deadline-driven work.

6. Basques have the most interesting names around: cyclists Koldo Fernandez and David Etxebarria; ETA terrorist Txeroki…

7. The unrestful-ness of getting kids to bed is a grand cosmic joke. Ha ha ha, cosmos.

Pearrific, or, Knowledge-Worker Drama

No matter how good my intentions, grant application deadline days – like today – are often spent sweating the last-minute acquisition of the last, most critical piece of this or that proposal. Today was no different. By about two this afternoon, I must have looked like I was acquiring an OCD, what with all the watch-checking and FedEx-ETA calculating. But just before the perspiration started, lo! into my hands were delivered the two items I needed, and I rushed off to send the FedEx packet.

On the way to the mailroom, I was suddenly struck by a strong desire for a piece of good fruit. If I hadn’t spent my last cash on cup of coffee in the morning, I’d have hit the snack bar for an overpriced apple. After dropping off the FedEx (12 minutes to spare!), I headed back to the office to do the four or five things that I’d been too twitchy to complete while waiting.

On opening the door, I discovered two enormous boxes of Harry & David pears, sent to me and my colleagues by a faculty member with whom we had recently engineered a rather complicated grant proposal. Wish granted! And thank you!

P.S. Next Friday, I’m wishing for a million dollars.

P.P.S. Oh my god this is a good pear.



Mnemonics: Comprise vs. Compose

I’ve struggled, lo these many years, with a serious issue comprising two interlocking problems:
1. The distinction between “compose” and “comprise” (which are not synonyms, no matter how those hacks at the New York Times use them) and
2. A mnemonic device for remembering that distinction.

Finally, Saturday, subconsciously inspired by multiple readings of this usage post and certain child-induced nocturnal stressors, I woke up in the middle of the night with what appears to be (2), thus perhaps dissolving (1) with a laser-like beam of certitude. Forthwith:

The synonyms “comprise” and “contain” both contain the letter “i” whereas the synonyms “compose” and “make up” do not.

I know; I know. It’s no “every good boy deserves fudge” or even a “Roy G. Biv.” But it works for me, and maybe it’ll work for you. Now, where’d I put that mnemonic for the amendments to the Constitution?

Hoofing It

Today, in my new role as the coordinator of Carleton’s part of Northfield’s (and the country’s) United Way campaign (“Live United”), I schlepped all over campus to deliver more than a thousand pledge packets to every last employee – or actually, to the diligent volunteers who will get the packets to the actual employees.

Though this task took the better part of the day, and proved that those plastic USPS mail trays are meant to sit on carts, not to be carried around, it was actually a fun job. I probably met 20 people whom I didn’t know, explored some of the campus’ interesting corners (or non-corners: Goodsell Observatory is a very cool, very round building), and felt like I was contributing in some small, stair-climbing way to the campus campaign

I also witnessed the raging insanity of Family Weekend. What a madhouse. Current students with their parents, prospective students with their parents, (probably) prospective parents with their prospective students. Campus maps on a third of the eye-level vertical surfaces. Free food everywhere, much of it being consumed by tired-looking adults standing in the middle of the sidewalk. Audiae, Mercedeses, Acurae, and Lexuses crowding the streets. Young kids trailing after mom, dad, and the big sibling, taking advantage of the others’ distraction to help themselves to that free food. (Caramel-covered apple slices and ice cream!) Grown men and women attired unflatteringly like their children. Kids attired flatteringly like their parents. Britney Spears songs blasting from speakers in front of the campus center. The pleasing smell and sigh of damp leaves. Grown-ups standing perfectly still except for their swiveling heads, trying to figure out where the hell they were. Endless Carleton swag flying out of the bookstore. A lot of people looking pretty happy with the whole situation, and with the college.

Faster Than a Dodge Grand Caravan!

I realized a second ago that today marks the beginning of my fourth year at Carleton. I started my job here on October 3, 2005, which seems both a long time ago (I only had one kid then!) and not really that long ago (I only had one kid then!). It’s been a great three years, I must say. When I have another three years under my belt, I might finally stop feeling like a newbie.

I celebrated this milestone by inadvertently resolving an issue I’ve been considering as long as I’ve been riding my bike to and from work: is it faster to bike than to drive? I’ve thought so, but never had the chance to actually test it, since I can’t really race myself.

But this morning, pedalling up the street, I saw one of my neighbors, a professor who works one building away from me, getting into his car. Gentlemen, start your engines! Or your lungs, as the case was. I adjusted my speed so that I passed his driveway just as he finished backing up, giving us a more-or-less equal starting point.

I rode to campus at my usual speed, expecting his Grand Caravan to zoom by on my left at any second. As I approached the turn onto the the straightaway to my building, he hadn’t yet caught up, and I thought that I just might beat him outright – and right there he passed me, trying to break my spirit. But I had a plan – beyond even the application of superhuman willpower. Oh, yes: I would still be riding when he had to make like a hominid and start walking.

So I maintained my speed, and sure enough, I passed him back in the parking lot, where he was getting out of his car for the short walk to his building. 200 yards later, locking my bike to the bike rack, I looked back down the sidewalk to find him still strolling toward his building. Two wheels good, four wheels slow!

News Ealand

For the last week and a half, I’ve been working on a big proposal for a faculty study trip to New Zealand. In addressing the gazillion matters required by the feds for these kinds of proposals (for instance: the international airport code for Rarotonga, Cook Islands, is RAR), I’ve learned at least these seven interesting things about New Zealand:

1. The country’s native Maori people – and many white New Zealanders – use the name “Aotearoa(“land of the long white cloud”) for the country.

2. New Zealand is about as far from Australia as Los Angeles is from Minneapolis.

3. New Zealand actually is a sort of empire, exerting some measure of political and economic influence over other South Pacific states like the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau.

4. These Pacific islands are hollowed-out countries, with the majority of their populations living not on the home islands, but in New Zealand. For instance, the Cook Islands have an on-island population of about 20,000, while 58,000 people who identify themselves as Cook Islanders live in New Zealand.

5. The country’s rugby team, the All Blacks, has been competing internationally since at least 1905, two years before the country became an “independent dominion” of Great Britain and 42 years before full independence. If an American national baseball team had been competing for 101%  as long as the country had existed, the team would have started playing in 1771.

6. Riffing on the “All Blacks” name, the New Zealand national basketball team is the “Tall Blacks.”

7. The All Blacks’ pregame “haka” dance is the very definition of intimidating, and has a fascinating history, too:


I’ve been using the new Google Chrome browser for the past few days – alas, only at work, since Google hasn’t yet released a version for Mac OS X. So far, I’m impressed. First and foremost for a Google fanboy like me, it’s ridiculously well integrated with the Google apps that I use the most: Gmail, Docs, Calendar, Reader, and of course search. Being able to type any random thing into the main bar at the top of the browser window and automagically have it become a Google search is fantastic. And so far, the browser is much faster than even Firefox – which, admittedly, I usually run with 50 tabs open. And there’s a sick amount of screen real-estate, too. Thanks to the trimmed-back toolbars and just plain wasted space at the top of the window, you can see an awful lot more of the actual site you’re visiting. Not a bad idea at all.

On top of all that good stuff, the edges of the user experience are pretty smooth, too. Check out these two screens from the setup and crash-restore processes.

Google Chrome Setup Window
Google Chrome Setup Window
Google Chrome Crash Window
Google Chrome Crash Window

Granted, this is not world-shattering stuff, but the sense of humor is appreciated.

Start Me Up

Today’s the day the freshmen arrive at Carleton and “New Student Week” begins in earnest. I remember my arrival at college very, very clearly – right down to picking my roommate out of the crowd based on his NY Yankees cap.

What better day to read the first page of Don DeLillo’s White Noise, a brilliant novel which starts with the arrival of students to a liberal-arts college? (Click through for a good annotation of this all-important first page…)

White Noise, p. 1
White Noise, p. 1