Monday, December 2, 2013

One More Week

I finish school one week from today. It has been sixteen months since I had more than four weeks off school. The following is a list of things for which I am excited (immediate impact only) - my motivation for this last week:

  • Watching Canucks games: They usually start at 10 pm. I fall asleep halfway through.
  • Pleasure reading: I've read 3 books this year. That's pitiful.
  • Sleeping: 4:30 am wakeup calls are killing me. Oh, how I used to sleep. My bed is so lovely and soft and warm in the morning, and I wish to enjoy it again.
  • Playing with my toys: Since I have far more money than sense, there's a stack of things in my room that I've bought over the last few months and are awaiting my attention. It'll be like Christmas come early, only even better because I don't have to share with my brother.
  • Having days off: Apparently these are a thing? They sure sound nice.
  • Eating lunch: I keep forgetting!
Of course, there's also a list of reasons why I am terrified of being done school, but I wrote this list to forget that one.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Future Is a Scary Place

I'm in full on essay avoidance mode now. Two weeks left to go and I have four major assignments to do, two of which I haven't really started. It'll hit me hard soon, I think. However, this isn't ordinary essay avoidance. Normally I just don't want to do the work, but this is different. I mean, it's true that I don't want to do the work, but it's more than that.

These assignments effectively represent the end of my academic career, an ending about which I feel violently conflicted. I absolutely want to finish school and get on with my life, and I need an extended break from the workload, having not had the past summer off, so I'm looking forward to being done. But I'm also dreading it.

I expect that I'm going to spend far too much time over the next few months at home, desperate for something worthwhile to do. School has given me a purpose for as long as I can remember. I was always working toward finishing, and even when I was doing assignments I thought were a waste of time, I was still working toward my main goal. In a few weeks, I won't have that goal. I'll have to set new priorities and new things to work toward, and in the meantime, I'll be adrift. I've never experienced that before, and it's terrifying.

I'll also miss the social element desperately, especially in the short term. School gave me opportunities to meet new and interesting people all the time, and it's only now that I really realize how miserably I've failed to capitalize on that.

This is probably going to be the biggest life change I've ever experienced, and I feel completely unprepared for it. I've spent so much time focused on finishing, I forgot to figure out what to do when I'm done.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Changing the World

This post isn't really about me, and is probably going to end up more like the kind of work I do for school, but I don't care. It's my blog, so I'll post what I want.

Motorola announced this morning the Moto G, a new smartphone. It's generally an unremarkable mid-range phone, with specs that are comparable to flagship devices of 2011. What is remarkable, however, is the price. Motorola is releasing this phone at $179 outright for the 8 GB model and $199 for the 16 GB model. That is crazy.

This isn't the first $200 smartphone. LG's Optimus One hit that price point a couple of years ago, and Nokia has both Asha and Lumia devices in the $200 range. However, while this phone is not a flagship smartphone by any means, it is by far the best device I've ever seen at that price point.

I just bought a Google/LG Nexus 5 a couple of weeks ago (it's an awesome phone, by the way). I had only had my Nexus 4 for about six months, but at $350 it was cheap enough that I didn't feel like it was a waste of money to upgrade. I use my phone a ton (it's a problem) and having the fastest and best device available matters to me.

This is the second time that Google has hit that price point with a Nexus phone. The Nexus 4 actually launched even cheaper last year, with an 8 GB model available for $299 (I got the 16 GB for $349 both this year and last). At that price, I felt like there was very little excuse for anyone who can handle a smartphone not to have one. If you can't afford data service, Toronto and most major cities have sufficient free WiFi that it would still be totally viable to use an outright purchased smartphone on a talk and text plan.

For me, though, this seals it. $350 may be a little steep for some people still, but $200? Most people will end up paying nearly $100 for an outright featurephone anyway. Unless you can't handle the complicated tech, or the phone is for emergencies only and never gets used, there really isn't any reason not to get a smartphone anymore. This isn't the first smartphone for $200 or less and it won't be the last, but maybe this indicates a change in the way manufacturers will treat this segment. Maybe these phones will finally be good.

And if that's the case, then this will change the world. More than the iPhone. More than the cellphone. Maybe more than personal computer. This can put a powerful personal computer in the hands of every person in the world at all times. If the service providers will play ball, this can put internet access in the hands of every person in the world at all times.

As just about anyone with a smartphone if it has changed the way they live, and they'll almost all say yes. Ask them if they could give it up, and they would almost unanimously answer no. Having the ability to access all the information available on the internet at all times will change the way people live.

People sometimes talk about the information revolution as though it has already happened, but I don't think we're close to the peak yet. In fact, I think everything that brought us to this point has just been laying groundwork. The real revolution is about to come, and this is a big step toward it.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Missed Opportunities

I like to think I'm pretty good at reading people. I find that I can usually figure out what someone is thinking pretty quickly, and before long I understand their thought process. I use that to deal with them when I need to. The negative view is that I use that skill to manipulate people, and while I can't deny that there may be some truth to that, I like to think that I use it more to find outcomes that satisfy everyone. It can be an extremely useful skill in advancing at work, in particular.

I do this mostly by paying attention. I'm nearly always paying attention. I listen to everything people say, and I store it away. Later, I use that information to build a holistic profile of people. Nobody says or does anything in a vacuum, you always have to put it into the broader context. I take all the context I have on that person specifically and fill in the gaps with what I know about their personality types, people like them, or myself. After some time, I can usually pull together a pretty good picture, and I use that to frame my interactions with them.

That's a very sterile and scientific way to describe a very organic process. It's not like I'm keeping notes on people on purpose, I did this for years and years before I even realized what I was doing. I still do it without thinking about it. It's just a part of who I am, and how I deal with people. It also sounds way more creepy when I write it out like that.

While this is a very useful skill to have, the biggest problem is that I find it is most effective by far as a reflective process. That is, I interact with someone and gather a lot of information, then I (usually subconsciously) analyze it later, and next time I interact with that person I am far better prepared. That's great, except you don't always get a second chance to interact with someone.

What I am really, truly atrociously bad at is reading someone in the moment. Picking up hints and figuring out someone's intentions in real time just doesn't come naturally for me. Mix in a not-so-healthy dose of social anxiety, and I'll often struggle with maintaining "small-talk" type conversations too. As you might imagine, this makes things particularly difficult for me with women. I just don't pick up on the signals that they're interested in me, and I'm usually so preoccupied with not killing a conversation, that I don't have enough mindshare to watch for them.

Of course, hours later (right around the time that I'm figuring out all the perfect things I should have said earlier), I'll clue in. By that point, it's usually too late. It's incredibly frustrating, and I have no idea how to fix it, other than practice.

The worst, however, is realizing weeks or months later that I missed something. That happened to me recently, and it really, really sucks. I had an opportunity for something, and I missed all the signs. Worse still, it happened over the course of several weeks. I had the chance to take in everything I needed, process it, and still had an opportunity to act on it. This is supposed to be what I'm really good at! Unfortunately, other things in my life at the time had me completely preoccupied, and I missed it all. I only just clued in, and short of not at all subtly manufacturing another opportunity (and I really can't think of a way that doesn't come off as borderline creepy at best), the chance is probably gone. At least gone for now.

Missed opportunities suck.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Having Tasted, A Life Wasted

And here I thought a month was a long time between posts. I've been meaning to post, but I've been so damn busy that I just keep pushing it further and further back. Every year I feel like time flies by faster and faster, but this semester has been absolutely insane. The older I get, the more it seems that time slips through my fingers. I guess working two jobs with a full course load will do that to you.

I ran my marathon a little over a week ago. I was publicly hoping to finish under for hours, and privately hoping for three and three quarter hours. I finished at 3:40:02, so I was pretty thrilled with that. About 15 km in I developed a blister on my heel, and I altered my stride to compensate, causing my hip to start bothering me around the 30 km mark, so I feel like I even have room to improve on that time if I can stay healthy. Next year.

I got my UTAPS grant funding last week too, which was fantastic. I'm now less than $3,000 in debt to the government, a mark which I think I can bring to zero early next year. That means that all I'll need to move out is a permanent job, hopefully also early next year.

I need to hold onto that hope tight, because the interim is going to be unbelievably depressing. Without school, I'll be stuck living and working in Scarborough, limited to an extremely narrow social circle. This is not something to which I am looking forward. The time between finishing school and leaving home I expect to be extremely unpleasant. Next week is reading, and I expect that to be a grim vision of my future.

Now I'm sad. Maybe that's why I don't post much anymore?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

How Did I Get Here?

I started work at UTSC this week. I'm still not entirely clear on what exactly I do; I understand the broad vision of my role, but the actual practical application seems to still be to be determined. What I did come to understand is exactly why I was brought on board.

I added this job to my LinkedIn page, and it really stood out to me that I have a very specific experience set. Somehow, without ever trying, I've become a relative expert in project administration, community engagement, and non-profit work. I don't know how I ended up here. I never tried to get into this industry, and I never made a concerted effort to channel my experience in this direction. I started as a Page nearly a decade ago because I wanted a decent, safe part-time job. My other relative skills (mostly being good at writing and talking, and adept with technology) opened up opportunities for me with other projects within the library system, most of which I did because they paid well. I eventually settled with Leading to Reading because I knew the job, I was comfortable doing it, and at that time I needed to settle somewhere.

I've worked in a number of different jobs now, but I haven't worked for a for-profit company since tenth grade, over a decade ago. My education is geared toward work in libraries, particularly public libraries. There is an excellent chance that I will never work anywhere but non-profit and government roles again.

This isn't a problem, I actually quite like what I do. It was just a bit of a stunning realization that , while I thought I was just meandering through life taking my time, it turns out I was gathering skills and experience which all pointed me in the same direction, I just wasn't looking.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

So, That Was Interesting

I took my cycling trip last week. I made it from Montreal to Ottawa, and then back to Toronto, just not quite how I had planned.

Montreal was fantastic. I'd only been once or twice before, and the last time I think I was still in high school, and was there for one of my brother's soccer tournaments. Also, since I'd last been to Montreal I've been to Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, and Halifax, as well as countless smaller Canadian cities and a few American ones as well. I may have written here before, but as much as I loved some of those cities (particularly Vancouver, Victoria, and Halifax) and would be happy to live there, none of them ever felt close to the same size as Toronto. Even Vancouver, which truly is a big city in relative terms, is only about half the size of Toronto, and felt every bit that way.

Montreal, however, was a completely different story. Montreal felt like a big city, comparable to Toronto. Unlike Toronto, Montreal has done a fantastic job of preserving its history and historic areas, which I really appreciated. There are bike paths everywhere in the downtown, and drivers go out of there way to stop for cyclists. The city felt vibrant and alive, and it felt big without feeling like it was trying to be a big city when it wasn't, a vibe I get from some places (Ottawa, being a prime example). When I eventually left, it took me hours to cycle through all the suburbs to get out. The saddest part for me was that I don't have a good reason to go back any time soon.

After two days in Montreal, I set out bright and early on my bike toward Ottawa. The first day, it poured with rain. I got absolutely drenched. It wasn't as awful as I thought it could be, and I wasn't miserable, but I was wet and uncomfortable. It also rained all evening, which had me going to bed at 9:30 after eating soggy freeze dried mac and cheese in the rain. I made it just under 100 km on the first day, going from Montreal to Voyageur Provincial Park. The campsite was beautiful, particularly in the morning when the sun came up. I was situated right on the side of the Ottawa River, and it was very scenic.

The second day, I covered a lot more ground. I left the park bright and early again, and rode the entire Prescott-Russell Trail and Trail link, more than 100 km. The trail is along a Via rail rail-bed through rural Ontario; I saw an awful lot of cows and corn. I didn't realize that the trail doesn't really cross any towns, and while I brought two water bottles, 100 km is a long way on a hot day. By the time I reached the outskirts of Ottawa I had long run dry, and I stopped at the first place I could buy water to load up. Lesson learned: never count on finding water.

I continued through Ottawa, cycling through some decrepit industrial parks, as well as a beautiful section along the Rideau Canal and then an extended stretch along the Ottawa River. My campground was on the far side of Ottawa, in Nepean, Ontario. In all, I cycled over 140 km, which took me over eight and a half hours, under heavy load. I am actually really proud of that mark; it was really tough and I don't anticipate breaking it any time soon. I think I could have gone further, if I'd had to, but I don't know how much further.

Unfortunately, I wasn't given a choice about stopping. About a kilometer outside my destination, my chain jammed, and my rear derailleur folded like a cheap suit and snapped, taking my chain with it. My chain I could have fixed, but the derailleur was done, and without it so was I. Putting my bike in fixed gear for 350+ km simply wasn't an option. I camped overnight, and in the morning I was forced to call my parents to get me.

It was an incredibly disappointing end, but I'm glad that I at least made it as far as Ottawa. I did have a really great time in the short period I was cycling, and I can't wait to try another trip next year. I've got another overnight trip planned for this weekend to Emily Provincial Park, about 100 km away, but that's it until next year. I'm thinking that in the spring, after beefing up some of my bike components, I might try and make it to Ottawa from Toronto and back again. We'll see.

I spent the next day in Ottawa with my parents, before heading back to Toronto. One nice perk was that I was able to make an extra run into Quebec and pick up some beer, where it's far cheaper. Between that and Montreal, I brought home quite a haul:

Of course, in a couple of weeks when I have to quit drinking for a month for my marathon training, this pile will be teasing me every day.

I also had something else exciting happen over this trip. I was offered, and accepted, a position as a Project Coordinator at University of Toronto Scarborough, my former school. I start next week, but from what I understand, I'll be primarily coordinating undergraduate fieldwork. I'm really excited about this, and I can't wait to get going.