Quantifying the Last 24 Hours

8:00 p.m. on April 30 through 8:00 p.m. on May 1
0.33: piano burnings attended (I was there, but had to leave just before the piano was lit)
3.0: approximate bushels of laundry folded (seriously: who knew laundry baskets used the bushel as the unit of measure?)
1: nocturnal pukefests cleaned up
4: miles run (via the Arb and campus; to and from the site of the piano burning)
6: hours slept (see the “pukefest” item, above)
8: approximate minutes of piano-burning video I watched online today
32: ounces of coffee consumed
2: Carleton classes in which I gave a version of my “grants talk”
1: ties worn to work
180: approximate number of days since I last wore a tie to work
360: approximate number of comments from my kids about my wearing a tie to work
40: emails answered (minimum)

BONUS data related to Friday afternoon “bike riding”
60: minutes of total “riding bikes” time
5: number of kid-powered vehicles used
3: number of kids in the expedition
200: maximum total number of feet traveled

When Physicists Joke

Usually, elevators have a little certificate which states that the device has been recently inspected and found safe. Not at Carleton. Oh, no. The inspection-certificate spot in the elevator in Olin Hall, home to the departments of psychology and physics, is occupied by this sign (full size), which demonstrates that undergrads should never have access to specialized vocabulary, advanced scientific concepts, or color printers.

The two bullet points:

  • Do not attempt to calculate space time.
  • Sir Isaac Newton may not be held responsible for failure of second law.

Olin Elevator Sign

Ten Signs of Spring at Carleton

1. Surly geese on the Lyman Lakes
2. The disappearance of every trace of the Bald Spot ice rinks
3. Guys playing open-course frisbee golf all over campus (but never women – why not?)
4. Smokers lingering outside the library
5. Three different sports being practiced at once on the fields behind the Rec Center (Tuesdays rundown: soccer [men’s and women’s], lacrosse, frisbee)
6. The sky slowly disappearing behind budding trees
7. Daffodils sprouting in all the flowerbeds
8. Students whipping frisbees back and forth with enormous precision and force on the Bald Spot
9. Crowded bike racks

And of course
10. Outdoor classes distributed over all available green space

Hustle and Bustle

A guy can get a lot done during the long spring break at Carleton, but the campus is much more pleasing with the students hustling and bustling about. The trickle of suitcases started already last Friday, but today the riptides of backpacks were very strong all day. It was nice, after working in a very quiet building for two weeks, to hear the happy din of kids – they call themselves that! – trooping up and down the steps, catching each other up on their spring breaks, complaining about their classes…

Bizarro Gym

My trip to the gym today was a bizarre one, from the moment I stepped out of my office building into a ridiculously loud cacophony of birdsong. For a second, I thought maybe some students were filming a movie and running a high-volume recording of birds. Nope, just a zillion returned migrators in the trees out front.

I avoided any sort of Tippi Hedren incidents, and made it to the gym. There I discovered that the new fluorescent lights (like many, but not all, others around campus) were producing a horrible low-pitched whine in my hearing aids. (I can barely go to meetings in one campus building, the light-induced whine is so bad.) Luckily, I don’t wear my aids when I work out, so this didn’t bother me for long. As I changed, someone’s cell phone – entombed in a locker – started ringing, a crazy 120bpm rhythm with a rising melody. It rang for an appropriate number of seconds, went quiet, and then started again. Quiet, then ringing again. In a hurry to get the hell away from it, I tied my shoes in the hallway.

Down in the fitness center, I chose a treadmill offering equally good views of two different TVs. I figured that both would probably be airing the usual sorts of noontime crap, but that it would be different crap, and since I could look back and forth between them, that I would consume just half as much crap. Sure enough, the right-hand screen showed first a soap opera (all dark-haired men with lantern jaws and blonde women with Victoria’s Secret cleavage) and then live coverage of the AIG hearings on Capitol Hill (all pasty white guys gesticulating wildly and talking sternly back and forth).

Thankfully, and in utter distinction from those two sorts of drivel, the left-hand screen was tuned to a show on the History Channel: the history of ice cream. It was educational and entertaining! I actually learned quite a bit about the differences between regular ice cream, soft-serve ice cream, and frozen yogurt, and about the corporate niches of Dairy Queen, Ben & Jerry’s, and TCBY. (I also learned about the insane “Vermonster” sundae at B&J’s. The 20 scoops of ice cream just start the craziness.) Actually, come to think of it, the show was basically an advertisements for those companies and their products, a point reinforced by actual ads for DQ between the segments of the show. Well, DQ ads and ads for debt-relief agencies. Which are basically just two forms of commentary on American indulgence.

As the show wound on, its educational aspects were replaced by an insanely strong desire for ice cream, and lots of it. I ended my workout just as the show ended and headed back to the locker room, where, of course, the cell phone was still ringing, and ringing, and ringing. Again hurrying to get away from its satantic ring tone, I chose the nearest shower stall and cranked on the water – and discovered that the shower curtain was a good four inches narrower than the space between the sides of the stall. It was like showering in a hospital gown. I hurried through my shower and went back to the locker room, where the owner of the cell phone – someone who did not look like the sort of person who likes 120bpm music – was happily chatting away. Naked.

I’ve never gotten dressed so fast. I was heading out the front door of the gym within five minutes, back toward the still iced-over Lyman Lakes and my office.

Yuck You Very Much, or, Modern Air Travel

The best moment of this week’s trip to D.C. came early, as I stood at a gate at MSP, waiting to see if I’d move from the standby list onto the plane. I was #4 on the list, then #3 when one guy took himself off, then #2 when another guy got a spot in first class, then #1 with two ticketed passengers still missing.

After roughly a zillion intercom calls, the gate agents said they’d have a spot for me. “Just a second, though. We have to find you a seat.”

One turned to the other: “What seat is the last boarder in? He’s eligible for an upgrade.” The other checked the passenger list: “He’s in 22-C.”

The first one curled her nose dramatically. “Yuck. Worst seat on the plane. Move him up!”

She turned to me, smiling brightly. “We have you in 22-C! Enjoy the flight!”

Money, Money, Money

Though the conference I’m attending is, in fact, quite off-the-web, I don’t think that I divulge too much if I say that it’s all about the money. Generally, federal grant funding. Specifically, federal grant funding flowing out of the stimulus bill. Even more specifically, federal grant funding flowing out of the stimulus bill to liberal-arts colleges like the one that employs me.

The news is, by and large, good. Fuzzy, still, but pretty good. The words “astounding” and “stupendous” were thrown around pretty freely as descriptors of the size of the monetary figures. Thankfully, novelist William Gibson has recently provided a little guide to the million/billion/trillion scale:

A million seconds is 11 days
A billion seconds is 32 years.
A trillion seconds is 32,000 years.

This lines up pretty well with how long it’ll take to pay off the debt.

Early Makes for Better Late than Never?

Right about now, I should be checking into my hotel in Washington, D.C. Instead, I’m sitting at my desk in Northfield. This afternoon, I had literally just zipped up my suitcase when I decided to check my email one last time, and there discovered a message from Northwest informing me that my Sunday-evening flight to D.C. had been canceled due to bad weather out east. Crap.

After an hour making calls to the airline, to the MSP and D.C. shuttle services, and to the hotel, I finally hit on a tentative plan for getting to D.C. tomorrow, one which entails a very early ride to MSP, an early flight to DC (if I can get promoted from standby – otherwise, a later one through Boston!), and finally making it to the conference halfway through the first day.

Better late than never, but this is pushing it.

On the plus side, the girls were in great moods all afternoon, so I feel like I got some bonus time with them.

Greatest Commute Ever

Watching the blizzard on Thursday, I was seized by a renewed desire to ski to work. The notion originated in a blog post by Alex, an e-quaintance (and a fast skier) who roller-skied to work in Boston last summer.

The idea really took hold earlier this winter, though, when I realized that my house isn’t too far from the Northfield golf course, which runs close to the Arb, which abuts campus, which contains my office.* Then the snow melted, leaving me to my wheeled devices.

Until today. Yesterday’s “Snowmaggedon” made the ski commute feasible again (as a commenter noted), so I worked out the timing and did it. Owing to an, shall we say, indirect route, I had to budget quite a bit of time, but  I reached the Carleton Rec Center (where, for perspirational reasons, the commute ended) after a solid 55 minutes of skiing.

My route (about 4.2km/2.6 miles altogther) took me out my backyard, along a street, across part of the Northfield Golf Club‘s course, and then through Carleton’s Upper Arboretum. I climbed up and over eight snow berms, sank to my hips in one deceptive drift on the golf course, and made four road crossings, one of which included a satisfyingly odd look from a passing motorist.

It was, in a word, fantastic. Under a brilliant sun and sky, the pure white snow was untracked except by a few critters – deer, rabbits, squirrels, and either a Yeti or a snowshoer. The whole thing was great, but the best moment came as I skied down an incline on the golf course fairway: behind me, the sun suddenly emerged from a cloud, lighting up everything around me and casting my dark black shadow down the hill. Amazing. The view back up the slope wasn’t terrible, either. (Click through for other photos, including one shot by a nice young woman who agreed to take a picture of the dude in the weird hat.)

Down the Fairway I

* My other oddball goal for the winter is to do a 50km ski session in the Lower Arb. It’s harder than it seems, since the trails only let you create 8km or 9km loops. Anyone for a few laps?

Keep the Rubber Side Down

I’ve been biking to work for three years now, which probably means I was due for today’s crash, my first. I had just turned off a street in our subdivision to go down a short, steep slope that leads to the road into town, and I could tell that the car behind me was following really close, even though there was a stop sign just ahead.

In reflexively turning my head every so slightly to check the distance between my rear wheel and his front fender, I must have tweaked my front wheel a tiny bit, because it suddenly expressed a strong preference for a horizontal orientation. Somehow flying both forward and down, I found myself skidding on my hands and knees for a few feet, tangled up in my pedals but avoiding a bump on the head. The driver stopped, but only because I was lying in the road: s/he didn’t get out to ask if I was okay or anything, and in fact inched around me as soon as I was standing up again, no doubt cursing the idiot trying to bike in the snow.

Here’s the tippy velocipede a few minutes later, after I pedaled very carefully to work. It’s actually easier to lock the bike when it’s up on 18 inches of snow.


Short Week Accomplishments

An update of my update on the progress toward my four five big goals for the week, as announced here and here:

1. Reduce my email inbox at work to fewer than five messages.
completed: I reduced the inbox to zero messages as of 12:14 p.m. on Wednesday.

2. Reduce my email inbox at home to fewer than five messages.
completed: I reduced the inbox to five messages as of right now; each of the remaining messages is a tough nut to crack.

3. Finish some key research tasks I haven’t had time to complete at work.
incomplete: I only did one of my ten or so such tasks, but it was the hardest one. And I’ll have a lot of time in December to do the rest, ending the year on a good note.

4. Cut my ridiculous 60-some Firefox tabs down to less than 10.
completed: I got down to six (including dedicated tabs for my work email and the Carleton homepage) as of 12:14 p.m. on Wednesday. Unsurprisingly enough, the pared-back Firefox app dramatically sped up.

5. Clean up and clear off my desk.
completed, as far as I can:

before (ugh)

Desk Before
Desk Before

after (not perfect, but better)

Desk After
Desk After

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…