Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sometimes.

Sometimes something just works out. Someone takes you up on an offer. You don't know why. You don't know how. It just does, and they just do, and you just need to get past yourself and your fear and your nerves and your baggage and not read into it too much and enjoy the experience God is giving you for exactly what it is, even when you don't know yet what it is.

That's life.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wake Up Call

I don't know I'm dreaming at the moment, but what I do know is that I feel fantastic. Just perfect. I'm warm without overheating; comfortable. I'm squeezing something, a pillow in the real word, giving it a tight hug. I somehow know by instinct that I don't need to leave for work for a while.

That comfort is slowly being mixed and faded with something less so. It, whatever "it" might be in my current state, is becoming rhythmic, and whatever the subject of my dream may have been is slipping fast into a heavy beat. A pounding. An actual, literal pounding heart beat. The slow fade is now less so.

I'm now overheating. Adrenaline and euphoria have given way to a mild panic. In opening my eyes to confirm that I am in fact safe and in my bed, I confirm only that I am in my bed, greeted by a ring of vision punctuated at its center with a splotch of unnatural colors. But now I am awake, and can gather my wits.

For a moment I make a spirited but futile attempt to grasp at the story my mind had woven and presented to me. As expected, I fail.

Thankfully, in a miracle of chemistry and providence and technology and chocolate and toffee covered pretzels, it turns out that a small snack is all I need to set things right again.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Some Programming Notes

I've officially been working for the man for a month now, and the whole corporate environment has provided some fantastic opportunities to observe people and how they work. (How fitting, considering the company I work for is in the business of improving the ways people work.) I'm trying to make a habit of jotting down things I'd like to think about some more, and I planned to sit down tonight and pound out a thoughtful post about one of the topics, but realized I don't have anything meaningful to say on them yet.

So, in lieu of actual content, I'm listing some of the things I've noted in hopes that getting them in public will force me to come back in a timely manner and expand on them. Note that these thoughts don't necessarily reflect things I've seen going on at work, just things I've thought about in general.

1. Manipulation of employees through corporate culture. I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way, but it's interesting that gaining buy-in from employees is so difficult, and it seems that just recently management is realizing that being honest to their employees is almost always a better way to go than tricking or forcing them into their ideal process.

2. Piggy-backing on that idea, I'm fascinated by the number of buzzwords that are thrown around these days. Phrases like "leveraging social media" and "employee wellness program" are everywhere, and often they serve to put a mismatched faceplate on what's actually happening or mask the fact that those implementing a system or program don't really understand it.

3. In an unrelated topic, I'm interested to see where voice control of gadgets is going to go in the workplace. I'm not a huge fan, at least not yet, but folks seem to love their Siri, and while I haven't seen it going on at work yet I wouldn't be surprised to see it seeping in a bit here or there.

4. And finally, I want to take a while to try to understand how successful companies go about making the distinction between designing products, systems, and processes to try to meet their vision of some utopia out in the future and innovating to meet a future that isn't perfect but can actually happen. There's no better way to kill a project than to assume nothing will go wrong, and the same is true with a vision for the future.

Anyway, just some things to ponder. If anyone has thoughts or comments, please share, I'd love to hear some ideas other than my own.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Let's Do This.

One thing I've noticed about myself is that I'm not very good at sticking to things if I don't have documentation, but if I do, things get much easier. My best example of this is my blood glucose tracking web-app, which currently contains every single measurement I've ever taken (at least four per day for the past five months...) and helps me keep track of where I've been, where I'm at, and where I want to go.

A second thing I've noticed about myself is that I'm incredibly good at making excuses. It's time for that to change at least a little bit.

So, when I heard myself making every excuse in the book for why I couldn't actually get in shape or exercise regularly, I figured a good solution would be to apply thing one. Should be interesting to see what happens. Anyway, getting to the point...

I'm setting a goal. Right now. It's lofty, it will be tough to attain, and quite frankly, I might not. So what. Let's do this.

By my birthday, August 3, I will run 10 miles. That's 10 miles at once, not cumulatively over the next 177 days. I clarify that because I know I'll find a way to cop out if I don't. I'll be tracking my progress in a spreadsheet, which should be equal parts fun and depressing.

For some perspective, the furthest I've ever run at one time is somewhere around 3 miles. From the research I've done, diabetes will be a significant obstacle. I went for a run tonight and successfully made it an impressive .9 miles before I gave up.

Hopefully more goals to come; make up some of your own and we can work toward them together.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Social Networking

If you've seen the timestamp you can probably guess that there's a greater than fifty percent chance this will deteriorate into mindless ramblings. Diet Dr Pepper was a great choice at the time, but even though I'd love to claim otherwise, it seems caffeine still works as well on me as it always has.

As an aside, I find it amusing that I feel a need to justify and downplay my reasons for posting here. I clearly don't want anyone thinking that I actually enjoy it. Anyway, getting on with it...

With employment looming (just realized I haven't posted since I accepted a job, so if you didn't know, that happened) I've spent a considerable amount of time thinking about how I spend my time, mainly because it will all be changing drastically in the very near future. Some of the things I spend my time on are solid, useful things. Homework. Checking my blood sugar. Eating. Sleeping. All good things. Other activities are productive or meaningful in different ways. Prayer. Spending time with friends. One time-sink that I still haven't quite wrapped my head around though is the internet.

I'd be lying if I said I spent less than six or seven hours a day on the internet. It might be more, I've never really taken the time to document it. Granted, if I'm on my computer, I'm on the internet, and as a computer scientist that happens to be almost all the time. Large chunks of time are spent on homework (well, the chunks SEEM large), but the lions share tends to be spent checking email, facebook, twitter, and any number of other online communities that I'm a part of.

In thinking about how social networking affects my relationships (I typed, then deleted, "real relationships" there, but I'm not entirely sure that there's a distinction... which is sortof my point.) I found myself wondering why it is that people, including myself, spend so much time tending to these digital representations of ourselves. The conclusions I've come to aren't exactly novel, and I'm certainly not the first person to think about this, but it's fascinating to me nonetheless.

First of all, we spend time on social networking because in so many situations, our digital, online presence is the only presence we've got or we can use it to make us seem better than we are. Applying for jobs, schools, or anything else? Better make sure your facebook profile, your linkedin profile, and your twitter feed are in order. Polish your rough edges so you can edge out that guy who has a picture of himself with a beer at a New Year's Day party.We spend time on these things because it's beneficial and profitable for us to do so.

Second, and this might be the biggest reason, we spend time on social networks because we're conceited. You know as well as I do the shot of endorphins that come with that "like" or comment you got on that last status update. I regularly find myself wondering, "How many people read that tweet and found it really deep and impactful."

Social networking strips away all of the interesting things about interaction and replaces them with carbon-copied, pre-defined actions. Like that status? Click "like." Like that tweet? Click "retweet."

The same is true of controlling who sees the things we put online. In the real world, we're careful about who we share things with because there's no other way to do it. You say something, and the people within earshot hear you. They get one chance to hear it because after that the sound waves have dissipated and they're left with silence. Online, the opposite is true. We technically have the ability to control who hears us, but it's complicated and time-consuming (by design, I might add...) to be perfectly efficient communicators online, only saying things to the people we mean to say them to.

Social networking discretizes our actual social lives, not only by literally storing it as zeros and ones on a server farm somewhere in silicon valley, but also by forcing us to enumerate individually who we do and don't want to hear or see what we're sharing.

So what's the solution? I don't know. Besides being terrible, social networking and the internet are awesome. They allow communication over distances that would otherwise be unimaginable. I don't plan to shut off my accounts, but I do plan to try to avoid condensing and simplifying my interactions unnecessarily if I can.

And yes, I fully realize the humor in the fact that in order to share this, I've posted it on facebook and twitter.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lightning Strikes

Well, this semester is approximately 1/3 complete, which is absolutely absurd. The classes I'm currently taking aren't all that interesting to me, but that doesn't mean I'm itching for them to be done. School has been my life for so long, and I've loved every minute of it. (It's possible to love something without liking it all the time...) Time trudges on at an ever increasing pace, and I'm dragged along whether I like it or not.

The biggest sign of this is my job search, and I seem to be making at least a little progress. Next week I'm interviewing at a company in Holland on Monday before flying out that evening to Madison, Wisconsin for an interview at Epic Systems on Tuesday, followed by a technical phone interview with MathWorks (makers of MATLAB) on Wednesday.

The fact that I'm getting interviews at all is a huge blessing, and I couldn't be more thankful for the opportunities, but at this point I'm still feeling a bit apathetic about the whole process. Anyone who knows me well could probably tell you that I prefer long-term decisions are backed by complete confidence. I hesitate to take a first step unless I know what the end result will be. I'm sure that quality has saved me a fair bit of grief over the last twenty-three years, but the great things I'm bound to have missed force me to consider it a character flaw. I want so badly for a job description to send a shiver down my spine; a lightning strike of serendipity and mutual interest to hit me right between the eyes. (If you think you have a job, or know of a job, that might be such a lightning bolt, my contact information and resume are located at http://www-personal.umich.edu/~pnbloem/index.html. I look forward to hearing from you.)

It's probably naive of me to expect that, but that's not going to stop me from praying constantly that it happens. That prayer happens to be comically short and repetitive, but I'm holding out hope that it will be answered:
Show me where you want me. Show me what to do.
Let's be honest, decisions about the location and objectives of the coming years of my life will be handled much better by someone with a better big-picture comprehension than me.

So I'm standing on a golf course during a thunder-storm with my five iron in the air. Hit me.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Considering Mortality

Yes, I'm typing this on my MacBook Pro, and I've owned quite a few iPods of different shapes and sizes, but I wouldn't exactly call myself an Apple fanatic. I appreciate good design, take genuine pleasure in things that work incredibly well, and don't have a problem with companies that make said products charging a premium for them. (Side note: If you claim Apple's products are too expensive, you don't understand economics. Once people stop buying them because they cost so much, they've become too expensive. When the company is one of the largest in the world and selling things at the rate Apple is currently, things are priced pretty darn well.)

Steve Jobs was a lot of things. He was the epitome of the American dream, a visionary, and incredibly intelligent. His biggest asset, in my opinion, was breaking through all the crap consumers have expressed as what they "want" and figuring out, time and time again, what they need. His life and accomplishments  are documented thoroughly across the web, so I won't take time to re-hash them. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Jobs) 

One thing has stood out to me throughout the coverage of and conversation over his passing, though, and that's the sentiment that when someone this influential dies relatively young, it forces us to consider our mortality. In fact, Jobs himself touched on this when he said:
"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. ... Stay hungry. Stay foolish."
Many people have described how this event is causing them to reevaluate their lives and to take some chances. I'm not convinced.

I agree with everything Jobs said in that quote, and I hope I can take it to heart and act on it, but let's be honest for a moment here and recognize the fact that there just aren't that many people out there that are going to change their day-to-day lives because a person they've never met is now gone. I might have a moment of inspiration, but if I really want to do something great, the motivation for that has to come from within, and I have to do something about it.

This post serves more as a reminder to myself to improve in this area. And if I'm lucky, maybe I'll prove myself wrong about this whole thing and I can thank Steve for forcing me to consider my mortality and its ramifications en route to making the most of myself.