Archive for November, 2010

G is for Grass

I know that grass sometimes gets a bad rap in this day and age. The idea of the gated-community with its pristine lawns, perfectly green, manicured and weed free, seems to be a symbol of upper-class indulgence. Rather than focus on the sometimes crazy things that people do to show off their wealth I want to focus on what grass meant to me as kid growing up.

L-R: Thom, my brother Tim, Me, Kate (Thom & Kate are essentially my siblings too)

We always had a nice thick lawn. My father had the ability to make just about anything grow (in fact I could be doing this post on his garden). The kind of lawn you could run barefoot on and not worry about hitting a bare patch with a potentially deadly rock shard embedded in it. But it seemed like every kid on our street had a good lawn to play on. Whether we were playing running bases, tag, or any number of pretend games, you could be sure that the lawn padded us from the many spills we took in over exuberance to get somewhere. I still enjoy the look of grass stained jeans.

 

Thom and I at a Tee-Ball Game

Of course big grassy areas were the best. On these fields you could play outfield in tee-ball (a position where you mostly stared at the grass because the ball never came out that far) or if you drew a big rectangle on a patch of grass you had a soccer field waiting to be played on. The smell of spring and fresh cut grass still beckons me come to a field with a soccer ball at my feet. I spent countless hours at these rectangular soccer fields all over NJ. Sweating, running, kicking, passing, shoving, sliding, diving.

Grassy hill on MW campus & my feet

I still love walking barefoot on grass or sprinting across a field after lacing up a pair of cleats. Grass is the plant that prevents suburbia from being washed away in the rain, the stuff that childhood memories are literally built upon, a space to play. And if you are lucky enough to stare up at the stars in the middle of a big field, the grass will provide a soft place for you to lay and get lost in the cosmos.

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F is for Feynman

Last November I started a 26 letters in 26 days. I never got past the letter “E” but I figure it is worth picking it up again and see how far through the alphabet I can get again.

F is for Feynman, Richard Feynman. If you don’t know who Richard Feynman was check out his wikipedia page. Feynman was more than a brilliant physicist. He was a teacher, bongo player, safe-cracker and whatever else he put his mind to. I discovered Feynman back in late 2007 when I was taking a physics class at the University and enjoyed it much more than I thought I ever would enjoy a physics class.

For Christmas I asked for a book of his and my brother bought me The Meaning of it All. Feynman’s book, which is actually a publication of a lecture series he gave, examines meta questions of science and of life and the joys of uncertainty. He deeply understood that learning was more than remembering a series of equations and that being able to apply knowledge to new and unknown situations was what what deep knowledge was about. Feynman is both insightful and humorous and the wisdom he shares has helped shape my own journey as a learner and someone that wants to better appreciate the value of science. It is not enough to read Feynman though, you need to see the man in action. He is the type of guy whose enthusiasm for learning is so great he literally cannot sit still when he talks about ideas. Go to YouTube, there are plenty of Feynman videos there, but here is one on atoms:

I adore Feynman for his honesty, brilliance and wit. I am thankful for people like Richard Feynman who have inspired me in many ways and who have pushed my thinking. Lastly I’d like to share what Feynman said about Nature through the examination of wine:

Responding to Tweets in One Sentence

So this evening I asked for a blog topic to write a post on and of course I should have known my network would give me some “interesting” things to work with. So here is my one (or two) sentence responses to what people said to me in the order they were received.

Response to DistinctLaugh: Alas, I did not go to to the Rally but I probably should have because I support the idea of being able to discuss diverging ideas without thinking the other person is Hitler.

Response to DistinctLaugh #2: I think puppies are among the most adorable things on earth but, I’d rather get a full grown dog rather than deal with puppies and all the mayhem them cause.

Response to Pragmanic: I swear that I enjoyed that shrimp scampi. You have redeemed yourself many times over.

Response to DistinctLaugh #3: Well I think the divorce rates have been fairly stable (and high) for awhile and probably have little to do with the rise of egocentrism (whatever that means). No matter how children are raised they will probably find a way to blame their parents.

Response to Leelzebub: LARPing prepares you for a lifetime of being seen as the weirdo with weird habits but makes you realize there are others just like you.

Response to zachwhalen (who linked to this video): This appears to be a meme I am not familiar with but as I see in the sidebar of youtube there are many videos that use the leek spin.

Response to DistinctLaugh #4: While I may have griped about the snark, over time the levels of snark from Joe and Brad has improved the quality of my life and I am sure the lives of many others.

Response to zachwhalen #2 (linked to this site): Is there anything more hypnotic than a YTMND page that has a never ending loop of a meme? I find the leek spin particularly hypnotic.

Response to Leelzebub #2: Yes I should have gone to the rally and I have no good excuse not to go, just the rationalization that I did have a major project due a few days after the rally.

Response to BahktinJali (referring to the film The Best Years of Our Lives): Yes there is something very hot about actresses from an earlier period in Hollywood, mainly because they didn’t have to show a lot of skin or be overtly sexual to be hot. Also I can’t believe you called them chicks.

Procrastination: The War Inside Your Brain

“The future is always ideal: The fridge is stocked, the weather clear, the train runs on schedule and meetings end on time. Today, well, stuff happens.”

– Hara Estroff Marano in Psychology Today

Like nearly every other human being on the earth I suffer from procrastination. My procrastination is also coupled with perfectionist tendencies but, that topic is for another post.

I was reading a blog post on procrastination and it must be the first time I ever heard procrastination framed in such way that wasn’t related to organization and didn’t make me feel like a failure for not being able to fix it. This quote really drove home the point for me:

Procrastination is all about choosing want over should because you don’t have a plan for those times when you can expect to be tempted.

You are really bad at predicting your future mental states. In addition, you are terrible at choosing between now or later. Later is murky place where anything could go wrong.

Now on some level I knew procrastination was related to the inability to delay-gratification but, the article didn’t make me feel like a child for being unable to do it, it just made me feel human. As a human I hate to admit that I am incapable of choosing to delay gratification but, lets be honest that is something we all struggle with and it goes way back in human evolution to impulsively not delay things like sugar or using resources while they are available. So I admit it, I’m an instant-gratification junky. I have tendency to believe that in the future that somehow the conditions will be more suitable to get to work done but, as any procrastinator knows this is simply not true.

I now have a new mantra when I’m trying to get work done and I feel the urge to just check Facebook quickly or watch that one episode. I used to view my future self as someone better at work but my mantra goes something like, “future you is evil, do something while you can!!”. Now this seems a little ridiculous I know but, I’m amazed how it has worked. Especially when it comes to school work, as any professor I have ever had can tell you, I’m a notorious last minute worker. There are many reasons that complicate this but procrastination as a failure to predict my future mental states is one of the major contributors. Now it hasn’t fixed my procrastination completely but, I don’t want to fall into the fallacy of thinking that just because there isn’t an instant and easy change that it doesn’t work.

In addition, I try to no longer frame things I have to do as “I will” but rather as “will I?”. I wish I had the reference handy but, this article discussed how people are more likely to complete a task if they don’t make it something they have to do (I will) but rather frame it as a choice (Will I?).

Combining my new mantra (“future you sucks at work”) and framing my work as “will I?” has been helping me create a new model of approaching work in my head. Sometimes it feels a little ridiculous to go through these phrases and repeat them to myself but, as I have discovered sometimes you are just going to feel a little ridiculous in order to fix things.


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