Math Gives Me Migraines

The ALB blog just happened to feature another book that I can’t ignore, a book that claims to teach you how to have fun with your calculator. Here’s the thing: I am terrible at math, and I can’t think of anything you could do to it that would make it “fun” for me. But I suppose asking the libraries of the world to weed out all the math books in the world is a bit much.

On the other hand, I have been assured by people who enjoy math that you can’t find a better “fun math” author than Martin Gardner, so if you’re interested in that sort of thing, by all means, check him out. Enjoy.

I think I’ll stick with crossword puzzles, though.

(Not that I’m any good at those, either.)

They Just Want to Get it Out

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work charts the schedules of visionaries from Mozart to Milton and Thomas Mann in order to figure how they found time to ‘do it all.’ (The underlying promise is that by studying their schedules, maybe you can figure out how to do it all too.) [...] Artistic production is marked in equal parts by idiosyncrasy and mundane routine, but neither perspective gets much closer than the Greeks did to answering the question. If anything, the attempt to unveil THE PROCESS shows how fascinatingly—almost theologically—opaque the origins of art really are.” {From: The Millions : How to be James Joyce, or the Habits of Great Writers}

There’s a bunch of books out there that detail the weird habits of notably productive artists, and I suppose that, in a way, you might find this depressing. Abject emulation — it’s a game for fools, isn’t it? After all, no amount of scheduling, standing, walking, nudity, or bathtubs will make up for a lack of talent, will they? But production precedes talent. You won’t know if you’ve got the knack (or if you’re near enough to the knack to someday get there with practice) until you actually get started trying.

Some people just need a little help getting started. It’s not even a question of dedication, sometimes. Sometimes it’s straight up blockage.

A lot of people feel like they need to write, but somehow find that they don’t actually get any writing done. It’s a kind of mental constipation, and it’s just as frustrating as the other kind.  I bet a lot of them buy these “writers’ habits” books. These folks aren’t necessarily slavish imitators, on the hunt for the “trick” that makes one a writer, nor are they looking for a hidden shortcut that propels one from scrubbiness to mastery ; they are searching for relief. While that’s sad in its own way, it’s at least a little more noble.

Fine, Feathered Fossils

Siberian Discovery Suggests Almost All Dinosaurs Were Feathered. (National Geographic | via The Morning News)

It makes me a little sad to think that the 19th century folks who got swept up in the original “dinosaur mania” are missing out on the exciting new things we’re learning about the beasts these days. Especially this most important discovery, possibly the most significant finding in the history of paleontology: The fact that dinosaurs were cute.


Seriously, How Was This Not Called “Behind the Bell”?

From Awful Library Books, a look at a behind-the-scenes exposé of Saved by the Bell.

I’ve got to be honest with you: though many people my age were into the show when it first aired, and have fuzzy, nostalgic memories of it now, I absolutely fucking hate Saved by the Bell.

I don’t mind that other people like it. I don’t hold it against them. I’m not going to use a person’s affection for a 90’s era children’s program as a criteria when deciding whether I can be friends with them. As a Doctor Who fan, I have no right to judge.

But if someone tells me that Zack Morris (that fucking prick) is their role model, or hero, or spirit animal or something, then I would at least be very, very suspicious.

Or Maybe Sex Ain’t for Everyone, and He Should Find Another Hobby?

Ask Polly: I Want to Get Laid But I’m Afraid of Oppressing Women – The Awl.

As a guy who has been dumped a few times for not making a move under what I thought at the time were ambiguous circumstances (“I broke up with you because, I guess, I just thought you didn’t like me very much. Remember that one time, at that Halloween party, when I got you alone in that walk-in closet? Why didn’t you do anything?”), all I can say after reading that column is: Ouch. For a long time, I too had trouble taking “yes” for an answer.

In my case it wasn’t entirely about fears of oppression, per se (though that was certainly a factor). In the end, it was more to do with a deep-seated sense of how grossly unappealing I was. (“Hmm, she just sat in my lap. Maybe she likes me? No, no, that can’t be right, seeing as how I’m a hideous piece of garbage. Yikes, I almost stepped out of line there for a second. It’s good thing I applied logic and reason to the situation before I accidentally misinterpreted an innocent gesture as a romantic overture. Wait, now she appears to be mad. She obviously sensed my brief impure thoughts and is justifiably angry with me. Dammit, why must I hurt people with my brain?”)

But honestly? Even as a world-class self-hating, wet-blanket-wrapped-around-a-cold-fish, I still think this guy is kind of a whiny baby — who’s possibly incapable of admitting that he’s less concerned about actually being the GREAT OPPRESSOR, than he is about women disliking him in general. That is to say, I think he might — he might — be very invested in the notion that he is a good guy, and does not under any circumstances want to give anyone an excuse to believe for a moment that he is not.

Okay, now I’m projecting.


Getting From “Who?” to “You’ll Do”

Let me tell you a little story about a job I didn’t get.

A long time ago, I worked at a job with a manager who didn’t like me very much. I’m not projecting here — he pretty much said so, in a sleight-of-hand non-actionable way. It wasn’t a question of professional ability; he just didn’t like my personality.

Eventually though, he left the company. We had a meeting shortly before his last day, which I will never forget. Because this guy — who thought I was grating, who thought I wasn’t funny, who thought I was a little bit weird — offered me a job. What he actually said was, in reference to his new employer, “You know, we’re always looking for good people…” He left that hanging. Significant looks were exchanged.

In the end I stayed where I was. The new commute would have been miserable and besides, I liked where I was at the time. But it was nice to get the offer anyway. It speaks to the power of networking.

Yeah, networking. That awful soft-skill that everybody talks about that seems to exist solely to weed introverts out of the workforce. That squishy concept that leads the least genuine of us to feign extravagant interest in everyone they meet, in a way that actually ends up making everybody uncomfortable. You know what I mean.

That old manager of mine — he looked at the prospect of sifting an applicant pool of total strangers for an acceptable team member, and decided that in the end, he’d rather work with a known quantity (me), even if he didn’t particularly like spending time around me very much (thanks a lot). See? Networking is powerful stuff.

Or, perhaps we’re phrasing that wrong. Rather, we should say: hiring people and giving them all a fair shake is a pain in the ass. It is generally faster, easier, and cheaper to think, “Oh yeah, that one individual on my contact list seemed all right. Let’s just see if that person wants to do this job,” and then make a phone call. Or whatever.

This is what we want from networking, apparently. We want someone to look out at a sea of unknown faces, with unknown levels of ability, and we want them to think, “Ugggggh — this sucks! I wish I didn’t have to dooooo this — oh wait, don’t I know somebody who could…?”

Yes, they just might.

And yes, it might just be you. You, the slightly better alternative than assessment and interviewing.The candidate of least resistance.

Makes you proud, doesn’t it?

Pocket Problems

I generally like Pocket (formerly Read It Later). As someone who has a cell phone without a data plan, it is incredibly useful to me. I can save a bunch of articles to Pocket from my browser, download them to my phone via wi-fi, and then leave the house, secure in the knowledge that I’ll have reading material for the rest of the day, should I require it. I can read the Internet without actually being connected, at that moment, to the Internet, hurray!

Unless I save a webpage that has an embedded video in it. Then everything gets fucked. When attempting to read an article which, in spite of being mostly comprised of written words had the gall to also include an embedded video, the Pocket app will insistently complain about its inability to load the video. “HEY!” it screams, “THERE’S A VIDEO IN THIS ARTICLE, BUT I CAN’T LOAD IT! STOP READING! LOOK AT THIS BIG, FULLSCREEN ERROR MESSAGE!”

It’s annoying. But that’s not what’s bothering me. No, what really bugs me is that once this error comes up, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Just look:


Note that the only available button says “RELOAD” — which of course does nothing if you have no data connection. Note the complete lack of an, “Okay, thank you, I don’t want to watch the video anyway, so you can stop trying to load it — I want to read the 1,500 or so words that you are currently obscuring, if you would be so kind.”

But no. If you can’t load the video, then you can’t read the words. To hell with the words, I guess.

Who designs an un-dismissable error message? Someone to whom it did not occur that it might be possible to have a smartphone that doesn’t have a data plan. Or, perhaps it’s someone who also forgot that you can install Pocket on things like iPods and iPads, many of which do not have wireless data plans. Or, maybe it’s somebody who just doesn’t realize that many websites often have articles where the bulk of the content is comprised of readable words, that are merely embellished with video content, rather than completely useless without it.

I don’t know.

I guess there’s always Readability, but maybe that sucks, too.